“There are 1.5M being trained in design in China right now”. Dean at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Cees de Bont holds a Ph.D. in industrial design. “We are teaching these students design, but its not clear what they’ll do later. Design has become a pervasive skill.
Indeed, the pervasiveness of design processes is making its way in all fields and may have a durable influence in how companies are managed, products are conceived, and what workplaces look like.
The inclusion of design in traditional work practices makes a strong statement. It is pervasive in the commercialisation of art, as well as architecture, engineering, social science and finance. Consulting firms like my own include it as part of their service offerings, deploying design thinking methodologies that can generate business results.
Design is changing
Through interaction with other disciplines, a process of mutual enrichment has started occurring: design practices themselves have changed. In design schools all over the world, the rigour of design training has taken to new heights, encompassing elements that relate to context (knowledge intensive), purpose (social innovation) and nature (designers as facilitators).
In this last instance, I wrote in Metamorphosis and People of the valley, how biomimicry is increasing in popularity and applicability, thanks to advances in the fields of scientific research and computing science. The invention of the Japanese Shinkansen bullet trains sets the bar high in these terms.
The ROI of design
In October 2014, De Bont spoke in Creative Bangkok of the new Hong Kong Poly Design School building. Designed and built by Iranian architect Zaha Hadid, the building cost five times more than a regular building would have in similar conditions. But it was, says its Dean, worth every penny.
We are starting to see clear results of how investments in design can yield real dollar results down the road; through talent attraction certainly, but also via increased productivity through ergonomy, physical efficiency of circulation as well as inspiration through beauty.
Integrating design in new fields promises to yield results that are zeroing in on the idea of interaction, a notion central to every contemporary product, service and experience. It will make our private and public endeavours both more useful, but also more pleasant and humane. And like many other surprising combinations, it will yield things that we do not expect, nor can even imagine.