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Everyone is Designer.

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Welcome back to our Design at Scale™–Academy series, focusing on design practice in a team of one hundred. This article will explore the shift in the perception of the importance of design in large organisations and how you can navigate it.  

Art 

The distinction between art and design has evolved considerably over time.  Before the 17th century, a clear separation did not exist.  Academic art and artistic expression were not fundamentally different from blueprints,  design drawings for everyday objects like shoes or clothing, or engineering schematics for engines and tools.

The early 20th century witnessed a paradigm shift.  The differentiation between artistic expression, often subjective and open to interpretation, and the role of the observer became more distinct.  This period, marked by a proliferation of artistic movements and styles,  laid the groundwork for defining design as a particular discipline,  one focused on purpose and function rather than solely on creative expression.

This evolution fundamentally altered how we perceive and interact with crafted artefacts.  The emphasis shifted from the purely emotional response elicited by artistic creations to considering the object's practical functionality.

Design 

The Evolution of Design Communication

Design has dramatically transformed, establishing itself as a distinct communication discipline during the 20th century.  This shift coincided with the move from print to digital media, significantly impacting how design is briefed, researched, created, and delivered.  The single "observer" of the past has morphed into today's "user," and design practices have adapted accordingly.

The Unbundling of Design

The perception of design work has also fundamentally changed.  Gone are the days of grand, persuasive advertising campaigns pushing singular ideas (e.g., "Marlboro cigarettes are the best").  Modern design emphasises iterative refinement,  informed by rigorous testing and evaluation.  The focus is on achieving specific goals in product design or advertising strategies.

This evolution has led to the "unbundling" of design.  Previously encompassing a broad range of functions, design has become distributed across various specialities.  Business research, solution architecture, platform integration, and touchpoint design are just a few examples, each evolving into a distinct profession.  However, this fragmented landscape raises a critical question:  Has design lost its power to influence in this new ecosystem, where multiple stakeholders contribute to the final user experience?

Artistic design 

The 20th century witnessed a paradigm shift in design aesthetics.  Early design movements, dating back to the 1900s, prioritised clarity, simplicity, and a strong visual message.  Clean layouts, bold colours, and clear signposting characterised this minimalist approach.

This precedent influenced countless design styles that emerged throughout the latter half of the 20th century,  particularly during the 1970s and 1980s,  as design transitioned from print to digital mediums.  Technological advancements further revolutionised how designs are delivered, maintained, and scaled.

A  distinct perception of "artistic" design has evolved in the modern era.  Minimalism has become synonymous with artistry.  Gone are the days of cluttered layouts with overwhelming product offerings (e.g., "suggested items" pages).  User research plays a critical role in this shift towards simplicity and clarity.   Designers are discovering that clean,  uncluttered interfaces supported by bold typography and strategic colour palettes resonate most effectively with users.

Design at Scale 

The Power of Simplicity in Scalable Design

Simplicity is a key driver of design scalability. Many companies are re-evaluating existing design systems, design propositions, and marketing campaigns. The goal is to simplify these elements, align them with core brand values, and culminate in a well-defined design language. These cohesive design systems serve as a foundation for designers, facilitating the scaling of design concepts to their full potential.

It's important to clarify that a design system is not solely a scaling tool. It's a comprehensive resource that streamlines a designer's workflow, which empowers the creation of scalable design solutions.

Design at Scale: A Broader Impact

The benefits of design at scale extend beyond design teams.  In today's digital landscape,  user empowerment is paramount.  An estimated 79% of users actively customise their digital experiences,  tailoring interfaces to their individual preferences.  Design systems support this user-driven approach,  providing the building blocks for personalised and engaging digital experiences.

Design is everything 

In an era where user empowerment is increasingly valued, the lines between designer and user are blurring.  Accessible design tools and automation now enable the creation of multiple design options in minutes.  This empowers designers and non-designers to consciously select elements (shapes, colours, typography, spacing) based on user research and testing data,  informing informed decisions about product development.

Does this democratisation of design signal the decline of the design profession? Absolutely not. Human designers' expertise remains critical. Their strength lies in continuously improving and innovating everyday products and services. They help us navigate the increasing complexity of our technology-driven world by streamlining user experiences and minimising clutter.

Everyone is a designer. 

Even within a design-centric team,  communication styles may necessitate adapting approaches.  While in-depth discussions about graphic details (colour variations, layouts)  might not resonate with everyone,  the impact of design on various areas of expertise can be a powerful common ground.

For instance,  business conversations can centre on how design influences business objectives and user journeys.  Designers can partner with engineering teams to prototype and test products or services before full-scale development,  potentially saving months of refactoring time.

Furthermore, design extends beyond the realm of traditional design professionals.  The emergence of creative technologies empowers users and non-designers to leverage existing data sources for visualisation purposes.  These tools can illuminate situations,  predict future trends, and shed light on past experiences.  In essence,  design encompasses a broader spectrum of activities than ever before, and many of these contributions now come from individuals outside of the traditional design discipline.

What is your role?

The designer transforms from creator to strategic navigator in this expanding design landscape.  Designers facilitate informed decision-making by presenting multiple design possibilities tailored to business objectives and customer needs.  They weave a compelling narrative that resonates with all stakeholders.

This evolution positions designers as trusted thought leaders.  They champion great design within organisations,  ensuring accessibility and integration throughout all levels.   By empowering others to leverage design principles in day-to-day interactions, designers contribute to the organisation's overall success.  This increased focus on strategic value makes designers indispensable assets across industries regardless of experience.

The democratisation of design tools offers a particular advantage to younger generations.  They have the potential to upskill and mature as designers at an accelerated pace compared to previous generations.

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