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From Stuff To Non-Stuff: The Future Of Design

The Future of Design could possibly have two concurrent facets. One is that of the changing nature of the designed product and also the changing nature of the design practice.

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Design, as a profession and as we understood it till now, has been a result of the industrial economy. As we move from the industrial to the non-industrial economy, it stands to logic that the nature of the design will change. 

Hitherto it has been linked with making of objects, artefacts or other such physically tangible outputs. 

As we move towards more invisible artefacts like interfaces, smart technologies, VR, AR etc., the nature of the designed artefact is also evolving. In fact, if we stick to the traditional definition of the word artefact to refer to the future design outcomes, it may be limiting. The designed artefact has already evolved to encompass not just objects, but also processes, systems and behaviour. 

To cite an example, we now do not seek more gadgets or physical environments (like television, music players, cinema theatres etc.) to access our media and entertainment needs. These have all but coalesced into a single device, whatever that may be (for eg. the laptop or the smartphone). We instead seek more scintillating experiences and seamless immersions into these experiences. At the same time, we want the interfaces of these experiences to be intuitive and as non-intrusive as possible.  

Thus, a traditional role of a designer, to produce constantly advanced versions of 3-dimensional objects (like the television or the theatre) which would be our platforms of accessing our entertainment needs, is replaced by generating constantly evolving multi-dimensional, or even non-dimensional (so to say) interfaces for our consumption. We have literally moved away from production to generation. 

So, what does the future of design look like and what would it demand of its practitioners. 

Increasingly design is acknowledged as a process and methodology to tackle wicked problems, i.e. highly complex problems that require a breadth of systemic thinking. These wicked problems are only increasing given the complexity of contemporary life on this planet. Design trained professionals are capable of visualizing 360-degree scenarios for these complexities and thus also begin to look at them from multiple perspectives and possible solution standpoints. 

This trait is something that is going to be the keystone of any design trained professional going forth and the education of design has to be very cognizant of this reality and train the students accordingly. 

That said, such complex issues are never the domain of any single process, training or methodology. What this implies is that however well trained a design professional may be in addressing these issues, she is not going to be able to do this alone. Times, current and future, demand a highly multi-disciplinary approach to working through these problems and this is only going to be even more essential going forward. 

What this means, both for the profession and education of design is that the design professional has to be open to working in collaborative groups comprising of various domain competencies. The days of the individual star designer are all but over and perhaps rightly so. We don’t need more inflated egos and prescriptive attitudes if we have to live peacefully and safely on this planet. Such attitudes have anyway brought us to the brink of natural as well as man-made apocalypse. If we are to survive and prosper, the future has to be about collaboration and community rather than that of singular identity and the individual.  

To reiterate, the Future of Design could possibly have two concurrent facets. One is that of the changing nature of the designed product and also the changing nature of the design practice.

Both of these are already changing; from the artisanal or the physical to the non-tangible and the non-physical, as well as from the individually directed process to a more collaborative process. 

This is a thought that we need to hold in our sightlines very clearly and evolve the education of design in a way that it prepares the coming generation of design practitioners to be confident and capable of slipping into their roles. This change needs to happen now if we have to be future-ready. Are we? 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Dr Jitin Chadha

The author is Founder, Indian Institute of Art & Design and also Founder & Director, ISBF, Delhi

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