Manufacturing mogul Henry Ford once famously quipped that his groundbreaking automobile was available in any color his customers wanted, as long as that color was black. This quote was indicative of Mr. Ford’s philosophy that was so successful in creating the assembly line: that efficiency was more valuable than style. That’s a philosophy that still rings true today, but historically in fields like computing, the disciplines of coding and of graphic design have been synonymous with tedium and, well, inefficiency. Still, good designs and good code don’t create themselves, so we muddle through the long and tedious processes, because it’s better to do something right.
More recently, thoughts have shifted in terms of design. Steve Jobs took design to another level: for him, a good design didn’t stop at a product’s appearance, but was fully integrated with its function. In the past few decades, we have seen a fundamental shift of the role of design, and today it isn’t just bells-and-whistles; it is a vital part of a product’s value. And so today, what used to be a fairly specialized field has become ubiquitous to the point that design is central to performance, and disciplines that used to be entirely separate, like coding and graphic design, are merging. Today, everyone needs to be at least somewhat literate in design.
Design Intervention – The Democratization of a Discipline
By streamlining and rationalizing the process of production, the industrial revolution’s changes led to the democratization of consumption. Products that were once difficult to create and very expensive became increasingly cheaper to produce and more widely available. Today, the average consumer in a developed country enjoys access to vastly more products than were even enjoyed by royalty 100 years ago.
Still, even as production broadened, there were some compromises to be made. Craftsmen once crafted products in their entirely – today, each individual piece of the creation process is specialized. Even something as simple as the pencil is today produced by many more than one pair of hands.
In terms of design, the same process can be seen. In the hands of a craftsman, a design is more or less unique to a single product. As industry makes production more streamlined, a single design can be recreated millions of times over – sometimes leaving little room for creative freedom on the part of the creator.
Today, we find ourselves in the middle of a new kind of revolution – the information age. In the industrial past, material was all that mattered – how a product used matter, and energy to produce results was almost the sum total of its value. Henry Ford’s car ran reliably (well, more or less) and took people from point A to point B because of matter and energy. Today, value isn’t tied up in atoms – but in bits and bytes. Information produces value in the new revolution. The algorithms designed by a company like Google aren’t made of better materials or burn more expensive fuel than anyone else’s – they’re just digital information – it is the ideas that drive them that makes Google so valuable.
Transitioning to a Design Based Economy
The effects of transitioning to an economy based on design will be nothing less than fundamentally transformative. The process of creation moves faster and faster, and companies that were once able to utilize lags inherent in tooling, shipping, and other such processes now have to work more or less in real-time. The spaces separating design from production, and production from distribution are narrowing and may soon vanish. Design isn’t something we apply to our product anymore – it is our product.
The Onset of AI, and the Implications for the Design Economy
A few years back, a piece by Marc Andressen in the Wall Street Journal proclaimed that “Software is Eating the World.” The argument of the piece was that the rapid growth of cloud-based computing and development environments was creating a tech industry in which software was surpassing actual hardware in creating value – something that had never happened before.
Today, the principles of design don’t only apply to physical objects, or even only to discrete areas like websites where design has previously maintained a foothold since the dot-com boom. Instead, today design has crept into areas such as software, services, user interface, and nearly every facet of the way we interact with a brand, product or service. The “emotional experience” of interacting with a company, even via something as simple as social media or an email, have some element of design in them today.
Today, the democratization of design is happening in full force. A trend that began with freelancing portals like UpWork and FlexJobs have now expanded into even more transparent crowd-sourced solutions like Fiverr and CrowdSpring. Crowd-sourced designs have to be produced more and more quickly, and one thing that is helping this process is artificial intelligence – two concepts that most of us never ever thought of having anything to do with each other. But today, in particular with cloud-based design and development environments, artificial intelligence is helping creators to write more efficient code more quickly, to put together stunning websites without typing a single line of css, and even to create vibrant and effective graphic designs effectively and easily.
Sites like Logojoy are utilizing AI in radical new ways to help bring design literacy to anyone in industry – Logojoy is a website that makes it easy for anyone to create a sleek, eye-catching, modern designed logo. Simply type in the name of your company or product, choose some designs that appeal to you and a color palette, and Logojoy’s AI will automatically craft several designs for you to choose from – all of which are based upon the preferences you indicated. Have a product or service you’re looking to create a brand for? Give Logojoy a try.
If technology has taught us anything, it’s that it doesn’t slow down to wait for companies to keep up. The music industry tried unsuccessfully for years to reverse the trend toward digital music; and it is only by jumping on board with both feet that they finally reaped the benefit they were seeking. If you find yourself treating design and development, or design and production, as separate things that have little to do with each other, the more quickly you work to integrate the two, and to make design an integral part of your product or service, the better. While working to integrate design into what you do every day, take part in the many avenues for democratization available to you –