Designing Tomorrow

Summary: In a survey of 11,362 designers across 147 countries, 81% taught themselves new professional skills during the pandemic. If you’re a designer, or a studio lead, what are you learning? How are you preparing for tomorrow?

With the pandemic set to continue for some time to come, I’ve been developing a curriculum for mid-career designers (~25–35?) that want to level up their careers. I envisage a programme that is: 1. priced affordably; and 2. designed to run alongside studio work.

If this curriculum interests you or your team, please get in touch. I’d love to talk to you so that I’m designing around real needs.

How will we design tomorrow?

The world has changed and the world of tomorrow – post-pandemic – won’t be the same.

We’ve heard this message, over and over, but the seismic shift we’re experiencing is just too big for us to fully grasp at this point in time, and I suspect it won’t be for some time yet.

Because we’re stuck in tight cycles – closing down, opening up, closing down, opening up – we can’t clearly see the future. It’s also difficult to define what the designer of the next decade will focus on when we can barely get through the next day, week or month.

On Tuesday, 20 October, in my weekly coaching call, my coach, Ian Browne, threw down a gauntlet, asking me to forecast the skills that the designer of tomorrow would need. 1

You might notice a great deal of overlap with how startups approach problems (not to mention scientists 2). That’s not a coincidence. Having just completed IGNITE’s Propel programme I’m still immersed in startup culture, but one thing I’m certain of:

The design school curriculum of tomorrow will share a great deal of the DNA of pre-accelerator and accelerator programmes.

Why is that?

(Pre-) Accelerators equip their founders with the ability to think and act quickly: establishing a hypothesis, testing that hypothesis and iterating. This intensely iterative approach maps neatly to human-centred design, the double diamond and contemporary design thinking.

In a world of uncertainty, design has a huge role to play, but many designers aren’t equipped with the tools they need to design for the world ahead. To address these knowledge voids, designers need to lifelong learning, , beyond art school.

After working in an art school for two decades, I’ve shifted focus to lifelong learning and this set of short courses sits at the heart of it.

Finally, we might be facing uncertainty, but I truly believe that, in uncertainty, there is opportunity. Here’s Browne:

…those who look towards 2021 as a time of opportunity are the ones who will emerge with momentum and the ability to capitalise.

I wholeheartedly agree. We’re facing the unknown and in my experience, if there’s one thing most designers thrive on, it’s a blank canvas. Here are some of the things you’ll need to learn +/ improve. 3

Module: Venture Testing

I think I should kick off with this module (as IB + DU want me to run it), then follow that by writing up and running the Cultivating Insight module.

This module addresses the world outside of traditional, client-facing design work. I call this venture testing. (These approaches can, of course, be applied to client work too.)

The module marries design thinking, business thinking and startup thinking to build a more rounded designer, capable of addressing the problems of tomorrow.

Themes:

  • Idea Testing
  • Audience Generation
  • Research
  • Diffusion of Innovations
  • Experiments (Cf. The Library)

Module Overview

Cultivating Insight (Module, Self-Directed?)

This module addresses how to gather, organise and synthesise information. In a world drowning in information, you need to be able to swim and this module shows you how.

Tools like Roam, Notion and Airtable are massively redefining the landscape of how we gather information, parse it and share it. This self-directed module introduces the idea of research repositories, which embrace a modular – build anything – approach to units of information.

The module doesn’t just explore tools, it also explores methodologies. I'll be including practical exercises, like progressive summarisation.

This could be a progressive summarisation of Forte’s Progressive Summarisation post. In passing, it could also touch on Dan Shipper’s Action Items, which are a useful by-product of this methodology, i.e. progressively summarise, then use the summarisation as a value-added (potentially commercial) by-product.

This should be hands-on. Take a research topic: gather content, dive deeper, surface ideas, distill and remix (as per the link above).

Themes:

  • Digital Gardening
  • Knowledge Blocks
  • Taxonomies
  • Ownership vs. Non-Ownership

Module Overview

Module: Distributed Collaboration

/* This is the content Vitaly Friedman(Smashing Magazine) and I discussed at the start of lockdown. In retrospect, this module seems least interesting to me. Unless it’s a practical, hands-on partnership with Smashing Magazine? (I suspect I’m too late for that.) Alternatively, it’s self-directed? */

In this module we confront a design problem with a range of international stakeholders (a 'client' in Australia with stakeholders in the US and UK).

The intent is to develop native skills for distributed collaboration, foregrounding tools like: Figma, Miro, Zoom+mmhmm, and others. The project is based on an investigative brief for a digital challenger bank.

Themes:

  • Facilitation, Empathy
  • Interpersonal Skills
  • Distributed vs. ~Remote~ Collaboration
  • Managing Hierarchy

Growth Design

This is along the lines of Lex Roman’s work. This isn't even started yet, but it's about audience building using marketing strategies.

Module: Pattern Migration

This module emphasises the importance of T-shaped approaches towards design. By looking sideways we identify pattern languages across a series of sectors (interaction design, product design, service design).

The goal is to establish a ‘product map’ that encompasses a variety of discipline-specific ways of working. It’s about widening your field of vision and opening the aperture to understand other ways of working.

Themes:

  • Buildings → Bits (Christopher Alexander)
  • Multidisciplinarity
  • Off×On-line

1000 × 500

Module: Performative Artefacts (Self-Directed)

/* This crosses over into a lot of the above. Delete? */

As designers we create a wide range of artefacts (drawing, mockups, prototypes), which we use as props to support our stories. This self-directed module explores the role that #nocode tools can play in the designers’ toolbox.

Through a series of self-directed studies, we’ll build micro-prototypes using tools like Bubble, Glide and webflow. The module concludes with a series of pitches, designed to improve learners’ performative capabilities.

Other topics…

  • Authentic Brands

    • Storytelling × Media × Content
    • Marketing
    • Audience Management
  • Behavioural Science

    • Behavioural Microeconomics
    • Nudge Theory

  1. Google’s Eric Schmidt, states: The right coach can be a company’s most valuable asset. I agree.

    Three months after the conclusion of Propel, I realised I needed to find a coach. I needed focus and accountability. Ian Browne – my mentor on Propel – seamlessly stepped into the role and has been working wonders.

    If you’ve seen Billions, the role a (design) coach plays is akin to Wendy Rhoades, my favourite fictional performance coach. She can turn a poorly performing situation around, massively impacting the bottom line.

    Rhoades demonstrates again and again that, in the right hands, coaching is a set of reliable techniques that improve individual performance, dramatically shifting a company’s bottom line and paying for itself over and over. 

  2. The scientific method is worth expanding upon, but I’ll leave that for another day for fear of over-burdening this outline.

    (A useful shorthand: “The scientific method is an empirical method of acquiring knowledge […] it involves careful observation and applies rigorous skepticism about what is observed, given that cognitive assumptions can distort how one interprets the observation. (You’ll doubtless see overlaps in Design Thinking and Human-Centred Design.)) 

  3. This curriculum, shared as part of my #opencurriculum initiative, addresses many of the issues we need to prepare for. It’s the core course I’ll be running at The School of Design. If you’d like to be in Cohort 1, please get in touch.

    The curriculum is licensed under CC BY 4.0. If you’d like to collaborate on delivery of the material, I’m open to conversations.