Event Review: The Future of Design and How We Can Prepare

I attended a talk called ‘The Future of Design and How We Can Prepare’ at Pratt Institute School of Information. It was conducted by Lee-Sean Huang, a Design Education Manager at AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts). AIGA is a professional membership organization of around 2,500 committed designers who promote a better understanding of design in the government, business and media. They host multiple events that inspire designers across all industries and enhance professional development by providing learning  opportunities. The events are usually aimed at community engagement related to the future of design. Huang took us through the concept of AIGA and their strategies with the help of a sideshow. He used engaging videos and structural diagrams to give us a clear understanding of what they stand for. He began by introducing himself, the company’s efforts, their predicted trends and lastly concluded with a question and answer session.

He commenced with topics related to research and community engagement with an emphasis on their ethical guidelines. When it comes to publishing research or creating social content, designers aim to work with the users and not for the users. This brings to life a whole new concept of ‘Co-Design’. Thus, treating users as a part of the design team and using their research with consent, initiating a bond of trust. This directly relates to point numbers twenty-one and twenty-eight of PERCS “The Ethics of Fieldwork” that discusses the idea of informed consent agreements. However, Huang didn’t continue to discuss a valid point raised in the reading, which is how a designer must handle the situation when their critical subject of research changes their mind, leaving their endeavor futile.

Huang also discussed and compared the changing employment structure in the realm of design. He identified the current phase as a design boom and validated it with labor statistics. While fields like graphic design witness a significant drop in employment, software design had a 24% increase. Software design is entirely based on programming and algorithms suggesting immense dependability on machines and databases for design in the future. This raises concerns and links to Nobel’s “Challenging the Algorithms of Oppression” where she talks about critical/privately owned information in the threat of being leaked to the general public. Huang goes back to the olden times and talks about how career growth in the design field was hierarchal – people had to study the basics of design i.ie work their way form the bottom to the top. Whereas, today, people from different backgrounds directly enter the field from anywhere in between. 

After discussing the future of design employment, Huang moved on to 7 trends that will possibly shape the future practice of design. These trends aim at enlightening designers about the course design is talking/will take shortly. Most of them have a few aspects that relate to our class discussions. The first one is ‘complex problems’ which urges designers to think in terms of systems- understanding problems in their physical, psychological, social, cultural, technological, and economic spheres. Thus, focusing more on the potential impact of design. This partially relates to Kincheloe and Peter McLaren’s critical theory that is grounded in the awareness of contextual and social belief systems, so insights are based on a full and truthful understanding.

The second trend is ‘curation/aggregation of content’, this works around the idea of information overload. How the emphasis shouldn’t be about making the content but on the flow of content. This links to Rozenwig’s information overload theory where the infrastructure and medium to manage all present and future digital information is questioned. The third trend is ‘Bridging Digital and Physical Experiences’ which is about creating seamless and unified experiences. Experiences should be designed keeping in mind what users do before and after using an app. This will bridge gaps between the online and offline environments. 

The fourth trend is ‘core values matter’, this focuses more on a company’s ethos and whether it’s products/services represent the same. It urges businesses to create and understand the value of their social equity. This is relevant when we talk about large technology companies and their responsibility towards users regarding their data. Whether or not they should try and increase their social equity by being transparent and seeking informed user agreements. Zuboff’s theory of the public is reduced to mere ‘bystanders’ is a result of companies lacking a moral based ethos. The fifth trend is ‘Resilient Organizations’ which focuses on how to achieve and  maintain a company’s position with an emphasis on innovation. Innovation related to strategic decisions, research data, and business models among the rest. 

The sixth trend ‘Making Sense In The Data Economy’ explores five technologies that are instrumental in data collection – sensors, IoT, big data, the cloud, and AI. Although, unlike most of our class discussions this doesn’t take about the ethical/ lack of privacy aspect. He focused more on individual and organization interaction –  where organizations aim at improving daily customer operations. And lastly, the seventh trend  is ‘anticipating design outcomes’ which is based on research. Huang emphasized on how designers need to justify design decisions through research. Reiterating McGrath’s thought of research always serving as “empirical evidence”. And similar to McGrath’s “generalizability” research strategy, Huang talks about the fundamental generalizable nature of research across a variety of applications and contexts. He concluded this trend stating “designers are problem seekers and not problem solvers”. This in many ways cemented the whole generic aspect of research. 

Besides this, Huang also spoke about the ‘six-word story’ technique to communicate  thoughts aimed to have a greater impact on users. He emphasized on how designers strive to be concise to leave a more dramatic impression. An interesting example he used of six-word stories is “Time machine reaches future. Nobody there”. This indeed made an impact. The examples were extremely inspiring and makes me think of ways I could use this technique to present unique research facts/insights.

The talk ended with AIGA’s future plans. Huang spoke about their upcoming podcast, elaborating why they decided on this medium to voice their vision. Podcasts usually have an effortless conversational and verbal touch along with being cost-effective and accessible. Post  this, there was an open question and answer session. Some students raised questions about the leadership in design while others brought up the generalist v.s specialized future of design. Huang believes that a design generalist would probably be more versatile and fit more design roles in the future. Most of us agreed with this, as to work with technology it’s essential to familiarize ourselves with other design aspects that are points of confluence. Huang seemed extremely approachable and helpful. He was friendly and encouraged discussion. The talk was more participatory rather than him doing all the talking. Overall, this experience was an eye-opener for design as a future discipline and that we should prepare to efficiently  acclimatize ourselves to this change.  


Elon University. Program for Ethnographic Research & Community Studies. The ethics of fieldwork module. Retrieved from www.elon.edu/e-web/org/percs/EthicsHumans.xhtml

Noble, Safiya. “Challenging the Algorithms of Oppression.” YouTube, uploaded by PdF (2016).

Kincheloe, Joe L., and Peter McLaren. “Rethinking critical theory and qualitative research.” In Key works in critical pedagogy, pp. 285-326. Brill Sense, 2011.

Rosenzweig, Roy. “Scarcity or abundance? Preserving the past in a digital era.” The American Historical Review 108, no. 3 (2003): 735-762.

Zuboff, Shoshana. “Big other: surveillance capitalism and the prospects of an information civilization.” Journal of Information Technology 30, no. 1 (2015): 75-89.

McGrath, Joseph E. “Methodology matters: Doing research in the behavioral and social sciences.” In Readings in Human–Computer Interaction, pp. 152-169. Morgan Kaufmann, 1995.

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