Changing Landscape of Design

The comments posted in response to my query on opportunities has me tingling to write.These are the questions posted by Hans Henrik, I thought I’d explore the answer a little today.

area for investigation could be the landscape in which you will make a
completely new offering. Who are the players of today? How are they
positioned? Where do you plan your position and again – How?

IMHO, the landscape of the
design industry is in a state of flux. I intend to explore this
further, than just this one post, as it is a subject that has been
fascinating me over the past 18 months. I’m looking at it on two
levels, one, the changes taking place amongst the different flavors of
design, both as a blurring of boundaries – viz., the design of product
interfaces, as well as the perceptual evolution of definitions i.e.,
communication design being so much more than graphic design.

The other level at which I’ve been looking at the changes is on a
global level. “Design” as a profession, and it’s perception and
function, has changed among the ASEAN nations, India, China, the
differences of approach in the EU, not only the change in design,
design management but also the delta of definition.

This is a topic that I am going to come back to in bits and pieces as I
observe and integrate the evolving landscape. Here, though, is a
compilation of some of my early notes:

March 19, 2005
– Within the past six months there has been a visible
shift in the perception of design and designers as evidenced by the
news media. Articles and columns abound with references to design,
design studios and, most importantly, “design thinking” as the “Next
Big Thing”. Broadly speaking, there are two emerging themes. One, that
design has become a commodity, a major portion of which has been
outsourced, along with manufacturing to Asia, and that designers in the
US and the developed world are finding that their role has become
obsolete in their home ground. The other, which states that as
competition increases in the global economy and profit margins shrink
further, companies need to innovate faster and with a greater chance of
success just to stay in business. That cost cutting measures embraced
till now can go only so far to bolster profits and quarterly earnings
before hitting a dead-end. And that the only way for these corporations
to innovate is to connect with their customers. You cannot offshore
cultural and social understanding of your geographical market. This is
where “design thinking” is plugged as the means by which to observe and
understand customers. A very clear message is emerging for the future
of design. If traditional applications of design are being commoditized
and outsourced, new areas of practice are emerging, where the same
skills can be used to enhance the process of innovation and increasing
the success rate of new products and services.

February 26th 2005
– A cursory glance at the positioning statements of
design firms points to the increasing conviction that this shift is
being spearheaded by the UI industry as opposed to the industrial
design practitioners. One hypothesis is that while traditional product
and graphic design practitioners enter the field with a heritage of
design education based on design history, emphasis on form, method and
process, the practitioners in the UI field have entered from myriad
backgrounds such as software engineering, marketing, finance, print
design, and have no common heritage leading to an increase in
interdisciplinary thinking and it’s applications in the field.
Furthermore, the interactive design and user experience field is such
that a successful end product requires an indepth study of the client’s
business strategy and marketing or corporate objectives. Thus, from the
very beginning, interaction design professionals have been involved in
the manifestation of business strategy to a greater degree than product
designers, who, until recently, have been called in only after key
decisions such as what to make, whom to make it for, and why have been
taken. Design strategy in this context has the implicit reference to
either a specific member of a product family or range of products,
integrating with the company’s positioning and brand image, rather than
defining the company itself, then manifesting it’s positioning and
brand image.

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