The future of a digital designer. How grim is it?

Keanu Reeves in The Matrix. Warner Bros/Village Roadshow Pictures
Keanu Reeves in The Matrix. Warner Bros/Village Roadshow Pictures

This article is my personal opinion to popular concerns of the digital product designers in the nearest future (~ 5 years).

#1: Designers could be replaced by algorithms

I doubt it. The current level of progress will not allow replicating even a similarity of a junior UI designer in the next five years. Existing technology can only partially automate a number of designer functions (selection of colours, fonts, constructing screens on a given template, batch operations for similar tasks, help with obvious errors, etc.). But tech can not replace a designer: functions performed by the digital product designer are too complex.

Furthermore, we have too few (if any) programmers who can decompose the essence of the work performed by designers and translate it into working code.

Big Data, Data-Driven Design? Using data to support your design decisions is a routine today, but this is only a part of work for a digital product designer. Leave most of these loud concepts for data analysts/scientists. The hype around this topic is ahead of the real benefit.

The Big Data/DDD itself is not able to give you the answer whether your design is good and how much users will like it.

Otherwise, Google would be creating the best design in the world. Sorry, but this is not true (although Google designers are awesome guys).

What about the algorithmic design? Nothing. At the current time, all the most breakthrough approaches, the design of the most complex systems are made by humans. And so it will be in the nearest future.

What if the algorithms will consistently acquire more simple tasks?

I appreciate this idea. For instance, a robot will manage to create landings and a pair of similar screens. The better for us, designers — we will have more meaningful and interesting work.

#2: The designer should code, make layouts with CSS/HTML, do management tasks…

…And bring the coffee to the rest of the team.

Isn’t that too much, gentlemen, what you want from one specialist? Why should a person apply so many different skills?

Let's try to view that under another angle — suppose, you need a doctor.

If you can, will you select a medic who messes with a bunch of non-medical activities instead of improving his skills? Or you choose a fully dedicated to the core profession person?

The choice is obvious not only in medicine.

The wider the area of expertise, the more problems with the core specialization.

The results of the “orchestra man” almost always are mediocre because he usually is a master everywhere and nowhere.

Actually, that’s a very harmful and dangerous trend.

Why hire a designer for an intelligent visualization (UI) or the good logic for users (UX)?

Make him design, develop, code, and test his product. Instead of a whole team — one super-full-stack-pro, what a cool idea!

No, that would not work.

My professional observation: if a designer starts spending most of his time on layout implementation, code, management, etc., he becomes better in these areas.

But not in design.

It seems obvious, but not everyone wants to understand it for some reason.

I think it’s very useful for a designer to understand the basics of front-end, to be able to read code, to have basic management skills, etc. It will definitely help in collaborative teamwork with developers, understanding the limitations of the technology, etc. Moreover, there are products where it is vital to a designer to know tech stuff (IDE, command lines, repository, etc.).

But it’s not the main focus for most designers. You may not know all this and be a good designer relying on your eyes, guts and empirical experience. But the reverse is hardly true.

To dive too deep and narrow in specialization is not very good either. “I’m an expert in icons, and here’s the interactive part,” “I’m just a web designer, I would not touch native mobile, etc.” — it’s a path to a dead end.

#3: We have breakthrough design tools! The design will be so standard and simple, that designers are not needed (at last).

Most of the UI patterns and components are already known for years, they are standard. Moreover, starting with Macintosh (1984), there are huge opportunities for creating and modifying almost any design in digital format.

So what, no designers are needed and design is simple?

And please, do not start to mention Design systems, ending with DesignOps.

Sorry, but most “Design systems” are UI kits, not complete systems.

Design processes are very important, but the activities of their serial construction … Rather, it is necessary for conferences and articles.

Anyway, even if you give a super-advanced Design system (rare thing) in the hands of inexperienced people, the result will not please you.

All of these are tools. Yes, they are very cool and I am happy that their development allows designers to do less routine work and do more emphasis on creating something new.

But the routine is not going anywhere.

Even when you have a laser perforator in your hand, there are no holes made in the wall by themselves.

My vision of the future for a digital designer

The Matrix. Warner Bros/Village Roadshow Pictures

(Almost) everything is up to you.

  • Machines would not make your work, Neo). They will assist, but you are The One.
  • Priority for collaboration with a team, especially in the context of remote work. Not robots and scripts, but effective interaction with humans.
  • Growing authority of designers. The designer is not a pencil in the hands of a manager, but a highly skilled professional creating the optimal solution for both user and business.
  • Master your major. Further specialization of designers with division into visual (UI) and logical (UX) specialists and their variations.
  • Not the final journey, but a path. The need for constant training and improvement of their skills for designers, with the help of all modern tools.
  • Qualitative and quantitative —wanted. We use statistics in the everyday work of the designer, not idolizing it. Relying on quality user research.
  • May the force be with you. The ethics of creating long-term solutions, rather than squeezing juices out of dark patterns.
  • Friend, not rival. Understanding the implementation process of created solutions, assistance in the realization of your layouts by a team.

So it’s not as grim as it might seem).

Striving to do the best for users and business, will create value loop for both and make you a successful designer now (and in the future). Cheers!

Digital product designer

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