Powered by Competence: Design Skills
Global connectivity, smart machines, new media and emerging technologies are reshaping the workplace, the nature of work, and the key skills that will be required in the future at an unprecedented pace. Governments and businesses around the world face the problem of closing the gap between youth unemployment and the shortage of job seekers with relevant skills.
User Experience (UX) design is emerging as a leading discipline in the design profession, with a booming number of UX related training and education programmes around the world.1 At present, a lack of available hard data prevents predictions of what exactly future job categories and labour requirements will be. There are, however, indications that, in the next few years, design as a profession will fulfill strategic a strategic role with companies working toward “improving and standardising hiring and management processes within their design functions.” Certain work skills, proficiencies and capabilities will become essential, in particular, observation, communication and empathy with users' needs.2
With companies becoming increasingly innovative, creative design professionals with cross sectoral competencies, equipped with emotional intelligence and cognitive flexibility, and capable of working as part of teams will be, inevitably, in great demand.3 According to Klaus Schwab, Chairman of the World Economic Forum, talent, more than capital, will represent the critical factor of production in a fast paced and highly competitive environment.4 In fact, a BCG survey shows that three-quarters of 1,500 global senior innovation executives considered innovation to be among their top three strategic priorities though 405 indicated that their company's innovation capabilities are average at best.5
Furthermore, with clear evidence showing a direct link between the emphasis placed by a company on design thinking and its speed of growth, large organisations have been eager to adopt approaches with user's experience design at the core of their business strategy.6
For example, GE's new business strategy is based on design thinking, adopting agile methodologies throughout product development and the training of managers to support its emerging design practice. Similarly, having recently opened a brand new design studio in Austin, Texas, IBM is investing heavily in creating a giant design organisation which will eventually employ 1,000 designers.7
Presently, GE's and IBM's approach is far from being the norm, as Tobias Haug, Head of Design at software company SAP, points out. With a large number of companies employing a ratio of 1 designer per 1,000 employees, he continues, it is apparent that most organisations are still unaware of or simply unclear about the role played by design thinking to facilitate creative collaboration and bring forward innovation.
According to Haug, there is the need for a cultural change, “a shift from analytical skills aimed at efficiency to creative ones able to deal with complexity, volatility and constant innovation.” A business environment rooted in a culture where “everyone cares about design” would allow for a new kind of designer, whose professional profile would require an ability to work as part of a multi-disciplinary team to reframe strategic challenges, to empathise and to facilitate communication throughout design processes from strategy to execution and delivery.
Haug's view is shared by Kaja Kruus, Lead UX Designer at Proekspert, who remarks “in an age of constant communication, we still fail at meaningful communication.”
In Kruus' view, the increased level of specialism required from the design profession can no longer meet the industry's traditional demand for a single, solitary, so called “unicorn” designer capable of creating successful services and products in isolation. Consequently, organisations will need to invest in multi-disciplinary teams, skilled in devising and developing clear briefs and frameworks, working in collaborative and trusting cultures to create relevant services and products.
Several companies have already embraced working cultures, programmes and methodologies promoting democratisation of design across the organisation and supporting multi-disciplinarity. For example, Google's Design Sprint is a structured programme which strongly encourages design thinking and agile development, drawing on the UK Design Council's double diamond methodology. As Mustafa Kurdulu, Google Design Advocate, explains, this working design approach ensures, that, “the thing you are creating is needed and of value.” It allows multi-disciplinary teams - designers, clients, sales and marketing people – to share their knowledge in testing a product's viability at an early stage, significantly accelerating the design development process.8
Acknowledging a widespread need across all sizes of business to adopt and embed similar design-led approaches, the European Commission has launched the Design for Enterprises project, a dedicated mentoring and training programme for SMEs and business intermediaries aimed at fostering this design culture. It provides a complete range of free training courses to demonstrate how design-driven innovation can become the key driver to improve European SMEs short and long-term competitiveness, efficiency and sustainability.9
As the Nobel laureate in Economics, Herbert Simon remarked in 1969, “everybody designs,” as designing is an innate human capability and we make design decisions everyday. Yet, as Antti Peltomäki, EU Deputy Director-General points out, the role of a professional designer is to make sense of the future, to give shape to it, to guess what your future needs and even to create some unknown needs for you.” Equipping current and future generations of business leaders with a clear understanding of strategic design approaches and designers with the relevant skills and expertise to apply strategic problem solving across sectors will require a comprehensive response from academia, the public and private sectors to meet the needs of civil society. In this context Design for Europe, with its its collection of case studies, expert thought leadership, guides and tools, provides an invaluable resource to support the dissemination of design-driven innovation across Europe.
- 1. Jeneanne Rae, Good Design Drives Shareholder Value, DM org
- 2. http://www.iftf.org/futureworkskills
- 3. World Economic Forum, Top Skills by 2020
- 4. Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/the-fourth-industrial-revolution-what-it-means-and-how-to-respond
- 5. BCG Perspectives, https://www.bcgperspectives.com/most-innovative-companies-2016/
- 6. Josh Bersin, Marc Solow, Nicky Wakefield“Designing Thinking: crafting the employee experience,” Deloitte University Press, February 2016
- 7. Jon Kolko, “Design Thinking Comes of Age,” Harvard Business Review, September 2015; “Designing Thinking: crafting the employee experience,” Deloitte University Press, February 2016
- 8. https://developers.google.com/design-sprint/
- 9. http://www.designforenterprises.eu