In my last 30 years as a designer, I’ve been struck by how our overall design process has remained largely unchanged. Certainly, we’ve continued to innovate on the process: more diverse approaches to research, ideation, and synthesis strategies as well as variations like inclusive design or design for equity. Yet, the larger foundations remain consistent: understanding the user, envisioning solutions, and validating those solutions through prototyping.
I started my design career in 1986, working as a Human Factors Engineer for the Digital Equipment Corporation. At a time when software systems were relatively nascent, hardware was where design had the largest opportunity to create tangible impact. Still, the overall process was the same.
It is the applications of design have changed radically— from character-based systems and windows applications to web applications, responsive mobile design, and most recently, voice commands and AI. Beyond these applications, however, I’ve also seen shifts in the overarching modes of design practice.
First, design is quickly and steadily moving toward a service-centered design mindset. Very few products exist outside of a larger service arc or ecosystem. For any individual website or application that we design, there is a much more salient and long-term customer journey to consider. Evaluating a product’s role in this larger journey is an essential element of a modern design process.
Understanding this arc has been a central point of our design practice since its inception. However, this trend is starting to take hold in the larger corporate world. Clients are recognizing the value of design tools like journey maps, going so far as to request them in RFPs. This kind of organizational buy-in enables designers to engage with a research-driven process inspired by design thinking—one that celebrates low-fidelity prototypes and rapid iteration to go further faster. And in the end, the likelihood of achieving successful user-centric outcomes is that much greater.
Alongside this trend of holistic service design, we’re beginning to see this fantastic movement toward designing for employees. Willard Marriott, founder of the Marriott corporation, said it best: "Take care of associates, and they'll take care of your customers.” Today, employees have certain expectations about the tools, training, and support they’ll receive from their employer.
According to a recent Salesforce State of IT report says,"71% of employees say that they want their employer to provide the same level of technology they use in their personal lives.” In the race to attract and retain the best talent, the organizations that will thrive are those that put their employees’ needs first. With this in mind, the diversity of employee-centric initiatives companies have developed for their unique context has been remarkable.
These shifts in design practice will undoubtedly shape the future of work. I look forward to the more thoughtful products, services, and business they will yield.
Jon Mysel is the Managing Director of Designit’s New York office. For more than 20 years, Jon has been immersed in the world of understanding people’s needs and creating products and experiences that make their lives easier. As a designer, Jon has focused on making every experience, including the product design process, as simple as possible.