Design is dead. Trends are dead. What discipline’s demise is next? In June of this year, Philippe Starck announced “The End of Trends” in an interview with FRAME magazine at the inaugural Mooi Design Competition in Paris. Then in August, my trends colleague Valerie Jacobs announced “The End of Cool” at the IDSA 2012 International Conference. Are these mere provocations, or are these aesthetic disciplines and epithets alike truly going the way of the dinosaur?
If we look to the future of technology, it’s easy to foresee the obsolescence of traditional aesthetic disciplines. This is nothing new. Technology has long been the key driver in challenging conventional wisdom and redefining the practices of design and art. The advent of the photograph in the 1800s upended the traditional practices of painters, television challenged the role of the performing arts, desktop publishing revolutionized graphic design and so on.
The standard narrative about the role of design can no longer be merely aesthetically centric. Worse yet, we can’t cloak our discipline’s inability to define our new role by turning to clichés like “problem solving” or “design thinking.”
Technology will turn what we do on its head yet again. Algorithms and mathematic code can already generate what we as humans define as “beautiful.” Parametric architecture, algorithmic landscapes and Julia set fractals are signposts to the inevitability of technology’s potential. Aesthetics are a calculable commodity.
If we’re no longer tastemakers divining what is considered beautiful in the future, what’s next? Designers have an ability that has not yet been supplanted by technology. Beauty as defined by something far more intrinsic than the aesthetic exercise will define our roles in the future. Our task is to reconnect design with our humanness. Our role is to imbue experiences with a sense of meaning—time, place and purpose. My friend Dr. Liz Sanders often said, “Meaning is in people,” and she is right.
Reconnecting design with our humanness will involve a practice of exercising a mindset of genuine empathy for real people, shedding the modernist mindset of divining “timeless solutions” for “consumers, users and target audiences.” We will need to harness the new tools that technology presents us (like facial recognition) to help us glean insights. Rather than allowing ourselves to be subsequent to these new tools, we will need to lead the way in incorporating them into our practice.
We cannot assume that this role of “tapping into meaning” may not also be a calculable task in the future, but for now it should be the new focus of those of us optimistic about the future of what we call design.
Bryan Goodpaster is a design director in LPK Trends. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.