The importance of designers in the future?


As manufacturing becomes easier who will be designing the products of the future? Jason Morris writes that there are to schools of thought about what rapid manufacturing means for the future of professional industrial designers. One thought is that industrial designers will become unnecessary as individuals will be able to manufacture their own products like they can here at Ponoko and therefore professional designer will no longer be required. The other possibility is that designers will actually get more work because instead of one design being mass produced by the thousands their will be many more designs available to the user.

I’m not sure what I think, for my own selfish reasons (because I am an Industrial Designer) I hope designers will not become obsolete, but part of me thinks that this might happen. I like to design my own stuff and always have. If I could cheaply manufacture individual products, I think that when I see something I like I would be more likely to want to try to design one even better rather than want to buy that design. Is it the same for non-designers? If you can purchase a product for a reasonable price and it has a good design would you bother to spend the time designing your own when a perfectly good version is already available. An interesting example to think about is wedding invitations. Most people have a printer in their own home and could therefore produce their own wedding invitation but when it comes to a big occasion like a wedding they prefer to purchase a nicely designed professional invitation.

So I’m interested in what the non-designers think, do you have a desire to create your own products or would you still prefer to buy a professionally designed product?

There’s some more info about rapid manufacturing at industrial design sandbox and future of objects blog.

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As enabling technologies like Ponoko become more available the most interesting change will be in the middle space — non-professional designers will be able to make meaningful contributions.

Small good ideas from a wider variety of people is what I predict. Good design will be more available than it is now because the start up costs are lowered — so better design more frequently is what I’ll want to see.

Bad design will also become more available for the same reason.

I won’t care (or know) if it came from someone who is a professional designer or not just so long and I like it.

To answer your actual question – on average I would expect to have someone else do the designing except when I have some particular insight into the thing I need. In that case maybe I modify an existing design from a public library of similar solutions. And then contribute my small idea back to the community because there’s no reason not to and it might help someone else.

I can’t help thinking of the open source software model in this context. A thing is built incrementally by folks with a range of skills and the better solutions tend to become more popular. The design changes as new needs or new ideas emerge.

So, that’s one path this could take — the communal hippie everybody’s a designer on the side. A certain amount of that is likely and desirable.

This is pretty much the exact subject of my PhD research at Loughborough University in the UK: the title is “An investigation of the feasibility of product architectures to facilitate consumer-created designs in the consumer electronics industry, using rapid manufacturing technologies as an enabler,” but as that’s a bit of a mouthful I tend to subtitle it “What will designers do when everyone can be a designer?”

I believe we’ll see consumers designing, customising and manufacturing their own products, and doing these things whether designers or companies like it or not. But that doesn’t mean industrial designers will become obsolete. Consumers will want to determine certain functionalities that fit more exactly with their need, and they’ll want more control over a product’s aesthetics. But the professional designer’s expertise will still be best tool for making decisions according to safety, durability, standards, integration with other products and systems, cost etc. So it’s my hypothesis that in future it will be part of the industrial designer’s role to define and limit the parameters of any possible design, ie to decide what consumers can change and what they cannot. And it’s probably true that the more complex (and/or expensive) the product, the more likely it is that consumers will be grateful for designers’ intervention in this way.

I think the subject of branding is also interesting, and something I’ve not seen written about much in this context. Part of the allure of a top brand is the belief that a team of talented designers is behind that brand. I’m not sure the demand for those kind of products will ever disappear.


I agree, wider access to tools and materials means more design not less. Unfortunately it’ll be a bit like the media. We have more media than ever, not necessarily better movies, books, newspapers or TV. I think we’ll have more design than ever as well, some of it great, some of it bad. The noise ratio will be very high though so I think there will still be a lot of people who want to trust the brand name designers rather than having to invest a lot of their own time to know whether they are getting the best design they want.

As a non designer I feel I can not design something from scratch. But if an industrial designer presents their product / plan to me online so i can simply click to customize it, then i feel safe. And I also feel as if i have just designed something cool – particularly if the designer sets up their product / plan so that no one else can make the version I just individualized for myself.

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