The difference between a designer and design is simple. A designer is someone who is trained, has expert skill and knowledge in a discipline of design. Design is the methods used, the thought process, the plan or drawing produced to show the look, function or workings of a product or service or artefact.
With the growing interest in methods of design, the next shift in the design industry is here. It has crept up slowly and everyone now 'gets it' and wants to be a part of it.
The first shift was the desktop computer. This invention revolutionised the work practices of designers globally by providing greater outputs in less time at the same time reducing costs. The desktop computer and later the powerful notebooks, also opened a niche industry to anyone who had the money to buy the hardware, software and some spare time to learn. Visual designers were faced with having to defend their skills and expertise because they were pitched against 'nephews or nieces who could knock up a logo or brochure in Photoshop for a fraction of the price.’ Clients began to believe that they could produce designs, products and artefacts at a fraction of the cost in less time.
The second shift came with the proliferation of the internet. Platforms such as 99Designs, Designcrowd and Canva took advantage of the new medium, the global labour force and the do-it-yourself movement. They provided an easy way to outsource the design capability to virtual design sweatshops. This transformed design services and products into a functional business requirement, like finance and sales, which can be completed without a high level of specialised skills or expertise.
We now are at the beginning of the next shift in design. Although the outputs of designers, especially visual designers, have increasingly becoming undervalued because of the previous shifts the methodology, principles and processes used by these skilled and experienced designers have become a valuable commodity. The adoption of design principles, commonly known as 'design thinking' or 'user-centred design', is increasingly being used to address and solve complex problems. With this there is a rise in 'design practitioners', these are people who have educated themselves in the design methods, principles and processes and may have become experts in applying them, but they do no have the expert skills or knowledge of the designer disciplines. Design practitioners come from a diverse range of backgrounds and may have additional expertise in areas such as finance, law, management, communication and policy. With the need for a variety of viewpoints and ideas, this diversity becomes an asset to providing a broad range of possible solution to any problem.
This paradigm splits design into two new disciplines, Design Practitioners and Design Producers. I like to think a Design Practitioner is someone similar to a General Practitioner (GP) in the health industry. A GP is someone who has a broad range of general knowledge and information. A person who is well regarded and respected and is often the first point of contact when consulting on an illness or health-related issue. A GP will also refer people on to specialists when the condition is serious or specific and needs expert knowledge, for example, a cardiologist. The Design Producer is the specialist the practitioner refers people too; they are someone with expert skills and knowledge, someone who has spent a considerable portion of their life dedicated to a discipline or field in the larger ecosystem. The Specialist is respected and regarded for their insight and expert knowledge in their discipline. In the health industry the GP and the Specialist work in tandem to solve the problems of their patient. The Design Practitioner and the Design Producer need to form partnerships to solve complex business and social problems so they can deliver solutions for their clients and society in a way that adds value and meaning.
As the world becomes more complicated and connected; the problems are also becoming more complex and critical, and new ways of solving these problems are needed. For the moment design thinking is a popular method, and because of this, we are at the beginning of a design shift where the methodology, principles and processes of design are becoming more valuable for its problem-solving capacity than the function or product of design.
Thanks to designers like Henry Dreyfuss, David Kelley from IDEO and the design school at Stanford University we now have the design methodology, principles and processes mapped out in clear steps. These steps offer Design Producers a blueprint to expanding their services as well as opening up potential micro-markets where they can execute their knowledge and expertise and add value to solving the problems of society through their design skills.
If you are a designer and want to take advantage of this new shift, I suggest you adopt the design thinking methodology, principles and processes and identify the step in the process where you can adapt your skills, knowledge and expertise and then partner up with a Practitioner. Because everyone can design, but not everyone is a designer.
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