Essay by Philipp Thesen
High-tech companies have started to employ designers to create attractive layouts as well as the looks and feel of the hardware on electronic devices. They would also assign them to work on the graphics of interface and software programs. The less the designer was committed to the world of physical products, the more his intellectual principles were transferred into the new discipline of Design Thinking, a new way of thinking that can solve far more complex issues and challenges within society and companies.
Today, design is indispensable for the systematic management of customer experience and complex innovation processes within large organizations (which still tend to work in isolated silos). It is no longer only about product design. Design Thinking is an integral part of the corporate strategy, creating complete business ecosystems. Take as an example the market success of self-driving cars. To get there has required a new way of collaborating, with collaborations arising between automobile manufacturers and technology providers, municipal and governmental regulators, as well as innovative mobility providers. It also demanded an extensive change of attitude and the dismantling of serious reservations on the user side.
Consider a few questions that need to be answered in such a case: How will insurance companies collaborate with manufacturers and users to analyze risks? How will the data collected from self-driving cars be shared to control traffic while at the same time protecting privacy? Specifically when creating a complete business ecosystem, startups have the chance to set up a company within design principles. The automobile industry in contrast shows that large companies with a “heavy” mindset will find it more difficult to do so yet the revolution in mobility will not happen without them.
While the significance of the designer remains unbroken, designers are experiencing a veritable crisis of purpose. Despite their astonishing ascent into relevant spheres of company management in the course of digital transformation, the designer will lose his actual task. As a vicarious agent who effectively optimizes the establishment of new business models, innovative products and services via the complete value chain, the designer’s responsibility to radically arrange his strategies around human needs and wishes at the center of attention will shift.
That is why a designer should reflect on his actual role in the digital age. Becoming a mediator between technology and the living environment could be their way out, as this was their immanent function. It would only need a new interpretation under the new digital regime. The design consumer needs a powerful partner again. In every customer-oriented company, a designer should be fighting for the consumer and the best customer experience – to make products and services to be enthusiastic about.
To be able to do so, designers observe, study, and analyze their clients intensely. Without the ability to listen, it would be impossible to create relevant practical value and meaning. Design can be of significant help here, by articulating the needs of customers and integrating them into solutions exceeding the technologically feasible. They give a product essentially important meaning within the intuitive relationships between the people, their things, and their own digital interactive representation.
The still predominantly positive attitude that society holds toward the digital transformation in industry and everyday life can only last if designers create holding points with lighthouse functions for orientation that provide a feeling of safety and security in the digital world. At a point where the virtual and material worlds are less and less separated, the need for a stable location in the digital world will grow stronger. This is most definitely a challenging task, as fixed guardrails are not provided in the digital stream.
But this liquid environment is also a great opportunity for design as a discipline. The extraordinary mobility of liquid brings a certain idea of ease and speed.
Today designers are traveling with carry-on bags only. They efficiently resolve digital pain points along the customer journey. This role as subordinate assistant is decidedly not enough for me. To further develop the societal relevance and economic potency of design, it is necessary to insist on the tools of a qualified education and a broad intellectual foundation. If designers want to continue the success of their glorified pasts, they will have to create great moments of meaning today as well, radically humanizing technology. In the public and in our communities, we therefore need more fundamental debates about the role of the designer in the digital age.
Essay by Philipp Thesen
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