With the aid of technology and mass media, design has gone from a niche field to mainstream awareness relatively quickly. As graphic designer Dave Whitling observed, they’re asking questions about typefaces on Jeopardy now. Few from the general public would have known anything about typeface or font 10 years ago.
The increasing awareness of design is a good thing, but there are growing pains — namely, fast-moving homogeneity. Certain ideas get into high-traffic internet spaces and suddenly they’re everywhere. For example, consider the aggressive takeover of millennial pink, the sudden prevalence and then backlash against standing desks, or the rise of specially-designed Instagram-friendly “moments” in restaurants. While the mainstream expectation of design is elevated, the general public may have room to grow where ideation of design is concerned.
Ultimately design is about intentionally living better and more efficiently. To get a sense of where design is headed, we asked experts from all corners of the industry, from architecture to lifestyle branding, what big influences they’ve witnessed and what changes are taking shape for the future.
Design will be less tethered to specific places — school, the office, or the big city
Dave Whitling, Graphic Designer, The Bitter Southerner/Portfolio Center
On technology: Technology has made graphic design more ubiquitous. There’s an awareness around aesthetic value now. With the proliferation of the Macbook, everybody having a great camera in their pocket, access to the Adobe creative suite… They’re editing video in middle school now. Will they be better earlier? I went to design school. Will people do that 10 years from now, or will it be second nature? There’s lots of bad mixed with the good. It will be interesting to see how people begin to differentiate.
On not living in a big city: I graduated from design school 10-11 yrs ago and there was a notion or expectation to run to NYC, San Francisco or Seattle, that if you were in that field you had to go to an epicenter or the mothership. But fast forward to now and there is a large portion of people who are staying here, moving to Nashville or Charleston. The new notion is that these are cities you can do great work in, and that New York will be fine if you don’t go do graphic design there. Now it’s shaping an emerging scene.
On the freelancing boom: There’s an inherent freedom in freelancing, to be less tethered to formal infrastructures. But also, 2008 was a tipping point for every business on planet Earth. Corporations tightened budgets and the big agency model was having a hard time keeping its footing. What may have been a quarter million budget was now a $30,000-40,000 budget. The large staff, big office, hierarchy — it’s expensive for agencies to maintain and for companies to hire. Agencies started to scale down.
Design will be more malleable and responsive to what works
Janet Simpson, President, tvsdesign
People often talk about what’s happening in design as a trend, but I’m not interested in trends. If you’re following what’s
popular, you may get everyone in your office a standing desk, but then realize everyone is finding ways to sit down. I’m interested in design that responds to and elevates human needs and the human experience. In other words, those designed spaces people will actually use.
A constant of the built environment is that it meets the basic human needs for shelter and comfort. A big change, however, is that we’re now designing for a variety of human expectations that are constantly evolving. We have to be flexible.
What’s primarily driving our expectations about experience now is technology, because it has changed our expectation of how our experience can be individualized, what choices are available to us, and even how we expect to move through the world. Ultimately, the future of design is about being malleable and giving people choices to live and work at their best.
Design will be more collaborative amongst industries
Laura Flusche, Museum of Design Atlanta (MODA) Executive Director
I’m very excited about the dissolution of the divisions between design disciplines that’s increasingly happening. I believe that design is one of the most important tools we have for addressing the challenges of the 21st century, from figuring out how to get fresh water to those who don’t have it, to building cities allow us to live healthy and fulfilling lives, to reframing social and political structures in order to eliminate barriers related to race, gender, sexual orientation, ability, social class, or geography. Designers can lead the way in addressing all of those challenges and so many more, but in order to do so, their thinking must be as broad as the issues themselves.
At MODA, we’re excited about the power of design to shape the future — we’re working to create a museum that presents design as an inherently optimistic act. We often say that we’re re-designing the design museum to meet the needs of 21st-century museum-goers. We’re doing this by advocating for design as a process that can inspire change, transform lives, and make the world a better place; by empowering visitors to adopt designer mindsets and use them to address the challenges they encounter in their everyday lives; and by making the power of design to effect change more visible than it has ever been in Atlanta.
Design will influence the economy, for better or worse
Danasia Fantastic, founder, The Urban Realist
From a lifestyle branding perspective, the idea of “self-care” or “self-love” is having a big influence in how people look at design and decor to sell products. Now, perhaps more than ever, people want their homes to be sanctuaries and retreats. The branding and marketing industry has responded accordingly by designing products and campaigns with this minimalist aesthetic that incorporates softer, more neutral colors, simple lines and craftsman backstories.
Through design, brands intend to evoke feelings of peace, community, and importantly, a high-quality purchase. The result? This consumer narrative to go with it of, “I want those $600 sheets because they will make my bed the calming sanctuary I deserve.”
Design will be changed by technology, but the fundamental connection remains the same
Kevin Gordon, Architect
For me, Zaha and Frank Gehry had it right 30 years ago. Design is an emotive, tactile, physical act. The hot, messy explorations of painting, modeling, or sketching are the procreative precursor to the emotive, tactile and physical joy of experiencing a lyrical work of architecture. Part of the human joy of inhabiting a work of architecture is the acknowledgement of the wonder of its creation by human hands and imagination. It is the unsung chorus between author and audience. Fortunately, the computer graphics industry, or CGI, is working to replicate a sense of Gehry’s process from the 1990’s… Some apps are working on the “slick” problem — the lack of the rewarding tactile “tooth” between paper and pencil. eMarkable touts a paper replacement which uses digital ink with a paper-like surface to simulate the most common and direct design tool — paper and ink. The “hot” market has even conjured up paint brushes that work on tablets.
However, I’ll probably never swap out my collection of Architectural drawings, or my beloved Kurt Vonnegut doodles for glowing iPads on my dining room walls. In the end, architecture is a “tangible” art. It’s goal is to make something lasting, physical and memorable, and the record trace of its making should share those attributes. So the challenge remains for the software industry — bridging the gaps between the physical (design) to the digital (production/ fabrication) back to physical. [Read more on Gordon’s thoughts on the future of design here.]
Featured image via Museum of Design Atlanta (MODA)
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