What is design? What is design thinking? According to Strate School of Design, it is the process of envisioning and planning the creation of objects and systems. It is user-centred, creates solutions and thereby addressing a need or a problem[1]. A misconception of design is that many associates it with just making things pretty for the sake of it. I agreed with this definition fully. I feel that design is so much more than aesthetics. It is about the process and solutions it offers. To me, design has existed long before civilisations. From stone art and wooden arrows to graphic and industrial design and eventually, to UI/UX and 3D printing, design has evolved a lot to what it is today and will continue evolving. What does the future entail? How, as designers, are we going to adapt to the new way of designing? In this essay, I would be highlighting present-day technologies in design, how design could evolve in the future as we continue to progress as a highly technological society and how designers could prepare and adapt to it.

In the present day, Design includes skills in User Experience (UX), User Experience Design (UXD), Customer Experience, User Interface (UI), or Graphical User Interface (GUI), Interaction Design (IDX). Knowledge in areas as the following is also widely seen: Sketching, Wireframe, Mockup, Prototype, A/B Testing, Accessibility, Colour, Contrast, Card Sorting Method, Mindmap, Customer Journey Map (CJM)[2], and many more. As time passes, design starts to separate and go into more and more specialisations. For example, User interface design has separated itself from Industrial Design, becoming a specialisation as itself[3]. Sustainable Design is also foreseen to be next, followed by additive manufacturing which is also increasingly coined as a similar term to “3D printing”. As design starts to diverge into more and more specialisations with the advancement of technology, designers have to learn to adapt and pick up more skills, covering more areas of expertise to stay relevant. This is a present-day phenomenon and brings us to a common term in the design world — “T-Shaped Designers”[4].

With present-day technology, many applications in design seem to be quite promising and would greatly change the way we design in the future. One such example would be an AR/VR (Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality) video my lecturer showed in class, which was what eventually inspired me to write this essay. The video showcases HoloLens which uses Mixed Reality (MR), the combination of AR and VR to produce environments and digital interactive objects such as buttons, screens and even a piano. The video left a deep impression on me as this meant there would be a huge revolution in the way we design. This got me researching into this field, and I found similar products such as Tilt Brush by Google where users can paint in 3 dimensional in virtual reality, SketchAR for HoloLens where users can draw in Mixed Reality and Holoportation by Microsoft which allows high-quality models of people being reconstructed and transmitted anywhere in the world.

Generative design could be another major and popular design method in the future. “Generative design mimics nature’s evolutionary approach to design. Designers or engineers input design goals into generative design software, along with parameters such as materials, manufacturing methods, and cost constraints” — Autodesk, Inc[5]. Simply put, instead of drawing and playing with the form, we can input factors such as the cost, size, material and weight and the computer would come up with thousands of variations of models that fit these criteria. From this, the designer would be able to choose the one design out of all that best fits the project (see Fig. 1)

Fig. 1: Generative Design of a chair (Future of Making things: Generative Design) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E2SxqUvtpIk

We can also see generative design being applied in graphic design. Remember how we all started drawing as a kid, playing with forms and shapes and how we were taught by our art teacher. We all started from zero. Imagine teaching the computer how to draw, and getting it produces outputs and variations of what we are trying to achieve. A generative design process can be seen below (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2: The Generative Design Process [6]

The generative design process is nothing different from a regular design process. It is a computerised design process. Instead of picking up his pencil and starts going crazy with his exploration, a designer keys in inputs, constraints and variables into a program and the computer generates thousands and millions of iterations based on the programmed code.

Fig. 3: Generative Design applied in Graphic Design

In UI/UX, we can also see machine learning being applied. One example would Hotjar and Mouseflow. These 2 softwares uses machine learning to inform UI/UX designers and product managers user behaviour and trends, which areas of the website’s users are focusing on using heatmaps, recordings, funnels, forms and polls[7]. This allows designers and product manager to focus on improving the popular parts of the website instead of focusing on the parts users completely ignore. Therefore, this optimises productivity for designers instead of the old school traditional guesswork.

What does this leave us as designers? What would this mean for our society as we make a shift towards machine learning and AI? Some may argue that Generative design is very rigid and less creative. I disagree with this statement as I feel it is a sweeping statement, and people are too fast to make a judgement. I feel it is being underestimated for what it can accomplish. According to an article on Marvelapp by Pat Riley, Creative Director at BTC Inc, he mentions that there are 4 things that a computer is good at that we aren’t, Repetition, Randomness, logic and Happy Accidents[8]. Repetition means that the computer will work on a problem until it is solved tirelessly, randomness talks about how humans are predictable and a computer would come up with more desirable results of randomness. Logic is how when you create a system and code for the product, you have a structure for you to work with and you would only have to worry about the variables. Lastly, happy accidents refer to when a computer has a glitch and how sometimes that is all you need to set off a new creative idea. In a video by Jeff Kowalski, CTO of Autodesk, he talks about how generative design would also mean a reduction in costs, development time, material consumption and combined with 3D printing, it would open so much more room for innovation.

On the other hand, some would say this makes the future for designers very uncertain and as the old cliché goes “Robots will replace us or steal our jobs”. I disagree with this as well. I feel that the data, content and idea is by human, while the variations and drawings are by machine. To me, much like cave paintings where we carve out drawings on stone walls or drawing on our IPads with our stylus, generative design is much like another medium for us to express art and design. It does not have to be accepted by all or widely used but it is the future of design in my opinion.

In conclusion, I envision a future where designers would be more accepting of technology such as AI and machine learning and it would be a tool widely used and leverage upon. This would greatly improve productivity, exploring more outcomes and pushing the boundaries of design. Nothing is constant and being designers, we will be ready as creativity will always find a way to express itself.

Bibliography

Strate School of Design. (2018). Strate School of Design. Retrieved from Strate School of Design: https://www.strate.education/gallery/news/design-definition

Debobrata Debnath . (2020, January 6). uxdesign. Retrieved from uxdesign: https://uxdesign.cc/evolution-of-designers-5cca05cf838d

Bradford Goldense. (2019, March 29). Machine Design. Retrieved from Machine Design: https://www.machinedesign.com/automation-iiot/article/21837666/a-history-of-product-design

Autodesk . (2020). Autodesk. Retrieved from Autodesk: https://www.autodesk.com.sg/solutions/generative-design

Pat Riley. (2020). Marvelapp. Retrieved from Marvelapp: https://marvelapp.com/blog/generative-design-for-graphic-designers/

Hotjar. (2020). Hotjar. Retrieved from Hotjar: https://www.hotjar.com/product-managers-business-case/?utm_source=Google&utm_medium=display&utm_campaign=HJ-US-Youtube-Display-Prospecting-Product-Management&utm_content=HJ-US-Youtube-Prospecting-Heatmaps-Promo-20&gclid=CjwKCAjwjuqDBhAGEiwAdX2cj3DAqAJNtBY

[1]

Strate School of Design. (2018). Strate School of Design. Retrieved from Strate School of Design: https://www.strate.education/gallery/news/design-definition

[2] Debobrata Debnath . (2020, January 6). uxdesign. Retrieved from uxdesign: https://uxdesign.cc/evolution-of-designers-5cca05cf838d

[3] Bradford Goldense. (2019, March 29). Machine Design. Retrieved from Machine Design: https://www.machinedesign.com/automation-iiot/article/21837666/a-history-of-product-design

[4] “T-shaped designer” refers to designers who are “specialized generalists”, meaning experts in multiple fields and covers a wide range of skills.

[5] Autodesk . (2020). Autodesk. Retrieved from Autodesk: https://www.autodesk.com.sg/solutions/generative-design

[6] Pat Riley. (2020). Marvelapp. Retrieved from Marvelapp: https://marvelapp.com/blog/generative-design-for-graphic-designers/

[7] Hotjar. (2020). Hotjar. Retrieved from Hotjar: https://www.hotjar.com/product-managers-business-case/?utm_source=Google&utm_medium=display&utm_campaign=HJ-US-Youtube-Display-Prospecting-Product-Management&utm_content=HJ-US-Youtube-Prospecting-Heatmaps-Promo-20&gclid=CjwKCAjwjuqDBhAGEiwAdX2cj3DAqAJNtBY

[8] Pat Riley. (2020). Marvelapp. Retrieved from Marvelapp: https://marvelapp.com/blog/generative-design-for-graphic-designers/