Limited resources, a wealth of information, and transforming social contracts are only but a few of the concepts that will likely shape the future of our industry. At the same time, the design process is increasingly digitized, globalized, and constantly evolving. Change can be hard, but it is inevitable in design.
In the face of change, design professionals must be nimble, casting their gaze in many directions and sometimes far into the future. I teach in areas of communication and technology, where change is especially swift and relevancy fleeting. To stay ahead of changes, I reach out to leading practitioners to understand what’s working, what’s on the horizon, and what keeps them up at night.
For instance, a colleague and I surveyed designers who noted 110 different software programs used in their practices.1 So it seems our industry is very willing to adopt technological tools. On the other hand, a recent interview revealed the potential pitfalls of this inclination, when one firm’s chief of design noted that one of his teams was bound to a rendering that they generated very early in the design process. So it seems that our tools can get ahead of our process.
I also participate in software conferences to stay abreast of developments. At one such conference, I saw firsthand the rapid-fire output of generative design, wherein space plans are produced via algorithms. While this technology is nascent, and currently only tackling singular aspects of design, software developers acknowledge that their programs are already learning from us. With each keystroke they are hoping to track our processes, thus gleaning insight about what we do and how we do it.
Initially, this had me questioning if artificial intelligence will beset the design industry with the same fate as switchboard operators, stenographers, and blacksmiths.
My fear is not new. The hope that technological advances might liberate us from burdensome tasks bears the risks that will someday also force us from those that give us purpose and meaning. Why hire a designer when a computer can do the work for us? Will executives ask this question in the not-so-distant future? Amidst these changes, some economists and technologists warn: Is any job truly safe?2
On the other hand, evidence suggests that design demands qualities that even with the cleverest of artificial intelligence would be hard to replicate. In a recent study, a colleague and I found that character, trustworthiness, the abilities to work well with others and to communicate, as well as creative and critical thinking are the most coveted characteristics for job candidates.3 What sets designers apart from artificial intelligence is our ability to seek problems and to share solutions.
Moving forward, the key, I believe, is to use our tools and talents wisely. This means basing decisions on the best available evidence, choosing only those sources that are credible and unbiased. We must also strive to be neophiliacs—curious to discover new things, and willing to listen to a range of voices. Finally, we need to masterfully leverage a range of communication tools so that our clients see our value and recognize our ideas as solutions to their problems.
While there are likely many challenges ahead, what strikes me about the future of design is the eagerness and potential of those entering the profession. Their audacity is contagious. Each day I am privileged to work with students who have an innate desire to help others. One needs only to look at some of our students’ self-selected thesis topics—employee wellness, refuge enculturation, neighborhood blight—to see this. Their willingness to explore such complex issues gives me hope that they will thrive in the face of change, challenge our industry, and shape its future.
Amy Huber is an assistant professor at Florida State University. Prior to entering academia she was a senior designer with Gensler in Denver. Her upcoming book “Telling the Design Story: Effective and Engaging Communication,” will be available Spring 2018.
1 Dyar, C., & Huber, A. M. (2015). How are practitioners leveraging technology in the design process? Implications for design education. In Tina Sarawgi (Ed.), Interior Design Educators Council (pp. 292-297). Chicago, IL: Interior Design Educators Council. Retrieved from http://www.idec.org/files/2015%20IDEC%20Proceedings.pdf
2 Thompson, D. (2015, July/August). The World Without Work. The Atlantic, 115(6), Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/07/world-without-work/395294/
3 Huber, A., & Pable, J. (submitted). Aristotelian appeals and the role of candidate generated videos in talent assessment. International Journal of Art & Design Education. Manuscript submitted for publication, 28 pages.