Digital design is becoming more and more centered on the human, the customer, the person. It’s focusing less and less on the craft as an end in itself (the code, graphics, information architecture, navigation).
If you track terms such as “information architecture,” “user interface” and “usability” in Google Trends between 2004 and 2015 you will notice a significant decline. During the same period you will notice a significant rise in searches for terms like “user experience” and “customer experience.”
This should all be kept in context. There are far more searches for “web design” than for any of the above terms. (Web design has typically been more focused on graphics and coding.) However, web design searches are in severe decline. Back in 2004, there were 99 times more searches for web design than for customer experience. By 2015, this had dropped dramatically to 8 times more.
“Web design is (finally!) dying of irrelevance,” Sergio Nouvel wrote for UX Magazine in June 2015. “As a discipline, web design has already exhausted its possibilities, an emerging combination of tech and cultural trends highlight the need for a broader approach.”
The shift in digital design thinking is away from the creation of the design itself and towards its use. The web is the perfect environment to measure use. Big Data is in essence data about how people use things. This is where today’s real competitive advantage lies. Great digital designers use the web to immerse themselves in the world of their customers. They behave as necessary outsiders within the organization, constantly arguing from the customer’s point of view.
In a modern company that has customer experience at its heart, roughly one in ten employees will be designers, according to Andreas Hauser, Global Head of Design for SAP. In a typical software vendor roughly one in every 100 employees will be a designer. In a typical IT organization, roughly one in every 1,000 employees will be a designer.
In the world of traditional IT there is an incredible lack of human-centered design thinking. “The only business unit not interacting with customers is IT,” Ventena Research stated in 2012. Unless IT radically changes its culture it will become more and more irrelevant to the future. Things are rapidly beginning to change. SAP, IBM, General Electric and 3M are just a few examples of companies who are substantially building out their design teams.
Design walks a tightrope between ego and empathy. In the last 30 years or so we have had a design trend that was much more focused on aesthetics than how things work and how they’re used. “Styling for its own sake is a lazy 20th-Century conceit,” James Dyson stated. “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works,” Steve Jobs stated.
The future of digital design must be founded in empathy for the customer. It must be focused on use because with today’s impatient and empowered customer, if it’s not immediately easy-to-use, their attention will be lost.
Great design most definitely does pay. The Design Management Institute estimated that design-led companies have outperformed the S&P 500 by 219 percent between 2004 and 2014.