It’s no longer enough for designers to simply be good at art. Design is becoming a more generalist profession, with an increasing demand for versatile and well-rounded individuals.

Alongside traditional skills, they need excellent communication abilities, an objective and analytical mindset, and a holistic, global perspective—just to name a few.

From contributors to leaders

Over the past decade, design has evolved from having a background role to become a driving force within organizations all over the globe. As digital transformation brings an array of numbers and algorithms with it, design is a key factor in keeping products human-centered and accessible.

Some of today’s most successful organizations were founded or co-founded by designers with little business background. Take Airbnb for instance. The three founders channeled their design backgrounds to transform the company from a failing startup to a billion-dollar success. Even the simplest design change—changing the wishlist button from a star to a heart—increased customer engagement by more than 30%.

That’s not to say that business acumen isn’t extremely important. Of course it is. But design can be equally as decisive for business performance.

Individualized design

In today’s globalized business environment, competition has never been greater. Brands need to explore innovative ways of engaging customers or risk being left behind. Tapping into individuals’ likes and dislikes will make them feel more directly connected with a product, increasing their engagement and satisfaction as they do.

We’re talking personalized nutella jars, customized soaps, and even individualized pillows. The “Share a Coke” marketing campaign resulted in a four percent revenue increase in Australia, and helped put an end to a decade of declining Coke sales in America. And this was all down to design!

Next-level user experience

As consumers become more emotionally connected with brands, designers are harnessing technology to bridge the gap between the consumer and the product. Far from simply being presented with products and services, consumers are increasingly able to shape them themselves. This allows them to modify the products according to their own personal needs at that specific moment in time.

For instance, at certain Nike stores in Shanghai and New York, customers can create their own trainers with the help of professional designers in the “Nike By You” space.

Can smart cities really get any smarter?

Designers also have the power to transform how we live, and in turn make our lives easier and more sustainable. Urban designers have already modified city plans to alleviate problems including pollution, traffic, security, and housing issues. But with the rapid advance of technology, new digital infrastructure will allow residents to become even more involved in how their cities operate.

Just look at Buenos Aires. Using an app called “allGreenup” users can earn points by sharing vehicles, and then exchange these points for rewards and discounts at participating businesses. This is a clear and inspiring example of how urban designers can use new technology to improve how we interact with our surroundings.

Make or break

Ultimately, designers play a crucial role in the success of a product, brand, or service. Nowadays, designers are faced with an incredible amount of criteria. From functionality and price to audience and localization, designers have to strike the perfect balance between all of these components (and more) while also ensuring their creation stands out from the crowd.

And it’s not always about designing something entirely new—designers also have to continually improve products. For example, they were the masterminds behind turning desktops into laptops, and bulky plastic phones into paper-thin mobile devices. 


Solving problems with design

As Deyan Sudjic, Director of the Design Museum of London, says:

“Design is not only about offering functional solutions; it’s also about asking questions.”

It goes beyond creating and enhancing products to actually solving everyday problems. For example, strategic design involves applying ingenious design principles to solve complex problems in areas across the board, including business and governance.

Because sometimes, even the latest technology is no match for our fabulous human brains. According to Gartner, only seven to eighteen percent of organizations are digitally advanced enough to adapt to the new collaborative and technology-driven ways of working. Although digital transformation is changing the world for the better, it’s also hugely important that humans, and their innate creativity and imagination, remain at the center.