This is a good time to think about what design is today
It is March 2021, the world has been fighting the COVID-19 virus pandemic for a year. Both in our private lives (as parents, citizens and community members) and professionally (as entrepreneurs, employees, experts, engineers and designers), we have had to learn a lot and face new challenges during this year. Paradoxically, this is a good time to do some reflection and think about what design is today. What does it mean to ‘design’, what role does the designer play?
You have probably noticed that the word ‘design’ or ‘project’ is nowadays used in many contexts by your friends working in various industries. So far associated only with design, graphic and industrial design, it has lost its original meaning and has undergone a kind of extrapolation – spilling over into hitherto inaccessible fields and meeting new challenges.
Importance of the human factor
It is no longer necessary to prove to anyone that designing user experience, and in a broader perspective – customer experience, is an important component of the processes of creating and optimising digital products. Consulting and digital transformation companies are hiring UX and CX designers and consultants and recruitment ads for similar positions in more and more sectors of the economy are popping up like mushrooms. This shows that more and more organisations are realising the importance of the human factor, both in the understanding and ease of use of the application interface and in shaping their experience of interacting with their products and services.
So how should the idea of design be approached today?
What is the role of the designer in times when the idea of co-design, collective decision-making in design, joint search for optimal solutions for all participants in the process has become widespread?
Design is no longer solely the domain of expertise based on the authority and experience of the designer. Thanks to contemporary agile working methodologies – defining the scope of a project, ideation and rapid prototyping, design has become a method for shaping both the product itself and the business model into which this product is to be embedded. Using design thinking, design sprint or value proposition techniques, we are able to quickly develop an effective product or service based on a predefined customer value proposition.
In this way we go beyond the narrow field of design as design, the top layer of a product, and touch the core, the essence of design, which is problem solving. After all, what else is trying to reconcile the expectations of the end user and the goals of the product manufacturer or service provider if not a problem to be solved?
In fact, the concept of the design problem has always accompanied design. This ranges from choosing the right font size in relation to the size of a sheet of paper, or the skilful positioning of a building in relation to the world, to new questions of usability and how to remove obstacles that stand in the way of the user reaching his goal. Problems have therefore always existed, or been posed to designers, and it is for solving them that we have always been rewarded. However, it is necessary to look at them from a slightly different perspective and see in them not only barriers to overcome but also incentives to create even better products that meet current user needs.
Inspiration in the work of a designer
We often ask ourselves – where do we get our inspiration in the work of a designer? Where to look for interesting examples of solutions, innovative ideas for the application of currently available technologies or bold attempts to combine those that are not yet combined. How to look in the future to get ahead of others. In my opinion, the answer is very simple, and the glass ball is carried in our own heads by each of us.
The best sources of inspiration are the problems that surround us and which the world provides us with in abundance. Over the past year, we have experienced first-hand how different organisations and companies are coping, for better or worse, with the pandemic problem that has affected the whole world and each of us individually. There is no need to explain how the various sectors of the economy have reacted differently to the piling up of restrictions, bans, freezes and unfreezes. Some will pass through the pandemic untouched, others will change to fit the new normal, and there are others that have been completely devastated by it. What will appear in the place of the companies that have lost the battle against the virus? What will the catering, culture or education segment look like? How will the forms of work change? Under what conditions and terms will we work? When will the situation return to normal? And what does it mean to „return to normal”?
Creative approach to increase competitive advantage
During a recent webinar on the e-commerce market in Poland and Europe, Rafał Brzoska spoke about the development of the Paczkomaty InPost service during the pandemic crisis. Over the past year, parcel machines have not only continued to multiply and appear closer and closer to where we live. Their creators have made it possible to ‘contactlessly’ collect a parcel, send it from any parcel machine and recently also send it without a label. There could hardly be a better example of how to creatively approach a problem and use changing circumstances to increase competitive advantage. InPost has long since contained the traditional post office in the smartphone we have in our pocket. It is now working to make it run more efficiently and be even more user-friendly.
We all look to the future with hope. We look forward to the day when we can walk out of the house and say to our neighbours „we won” with our face uncovered. However, the end of the pandemic will not mean the end of problems. Those that have been pushed aside out of necessity are still waiting to be resolved, and the new normal will shower us with more questions and new horizons. There is nothing left for us to do but roll up our sleeves and get to work.