Making design work

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This summarises the content of the first of my lectures on making design work on 6 February 2015 and provides all necessary links to other research cited in the lecture.

The first lecture new challenges considered the fast pace of change in work and employment and sketched out some of the broad trends taking place. We looked at technological, economic and demographic changes which are set to transform work practices and structures. I referred to the January 2016 Future of Jobs report by the World Economic Forum. Also The Most Important Design Jobs Of The Future report in co-design.

I stressed that none of this predetermines the future. I quoted Karl Marx, who said that people “make their own history” and that there is the opportunity to shape the future ourselves. But as Marx quickly went on to explain “they do not make it just as they please, but under circumstances transmitted from the past”. Yes, we can make our own futures, but we have to understand the preconditions, constraints (but equally, opportunities) that the past gives us.

Generational developments, and the tectonic demographic shifts currently taking place – linked to an ageing population – is perhaps the most significant constraint for the future. We considered how the pre-boomers, babyboomers, generation x and generation y looked at work and identity. The characteristics of Gen Y were explored by Don Tapscott in his book Grown Up Digital. In the UK, the think tank Reform described them as the IPOD generation in their report. Notably, Gen Y is less politically engaged than other generations, which means that they are less regarded by political parties. However, the rise of student activism and protest could suggest a shift, as Laurie Penny argues.

A recent issue of Time magazine has looked at the future of work. In this issue it was argued that “Most of the best jobs will be for people who manage customers, who organize fans, who do digital community management. We’ll continue to need brilliant designers, energetic brainstormers and rigorous lab technicians.” A key argument of the Time feature, supported by other research, is that women are likely to play a far greater role in management and business. A further trend which developments this month support, is bi-generational leadership. The most successful high tech start ups in the US have leadership teams that include both Babyboomers and Gen Y. The lecture dwelt for a short time on the virtues of bi-generational leadership in Universities.

The future belongs to the T-shaped practitioner, by which specialist knowledge skills are balanced by cross-disciplinary inter-personal skills. This all comes together in our context through the Design Council’s work on multidisciplinary design education. As it explains: “Tim Brown, CEO of design firm IDEO, which has been a vocal proponent of the need for ‘T-shaped people’, describes these ideal employees as ‘specialists with a passion and empathy for people and for other subject areas’”. I finished the lecture by suggesting that increasingly we are inventing the nature of work as we do it – a bit like building planes in the sky.

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