The Shape
of Design



Design plays an increasingly significant role in, well, everything. Think about your fancy morning coffee, wizardly dating app and favorite logo tee. Or what about transportation, banking, news, entertainment and even political campaigns. Designers wield great power, but also significant responsibility.

I recently schlepped from NYC to Las Vegas to attend the AIGA 2016 Design Conference. Love it or hate it, discussing the role of design in business, culture and society in a city like Vegas proves to be a vibrant platform. After all, nearly everything about the city is a designed, curated and branded experience on top of what would otherwise be sand.


The conference was robust, broad, provocative and inspiring. There were discussions and presentations on subjects including calm technology, the rise of the creative class, the rebranding of Kodak, subway maps using the wrong colors, slow time, unpleasant design, transition design, Russian prison art and more. An overtone to the entire event was diversity, inclusion and access; historically the design industry has not been very diverse. As Mike Monteiro of Mule Design stated, “To change the world we have to change who’s designing it.”


Three key themes were directly relevant to the mission of ThoughtMatter.

The role of design is becoming more understood and valued
Whether viewed from a technology, product development, business, or communication standpoint, the practice of design is becoming universally recognized, understood and valued. Diógenes Brito’s talk titled “Earning a seat at the table” spoke to designers proving the value of design thinking in product development, customer experience and business as a whole. Terry Irwin talked about the interconnectedness of social, economic and natural systems and that designers need to start to work toward changes that may not happen in their lifetime.


Designers are taking a stand
It was clear there is a shifting tide in the design profession and designers, studios and agencies are giving second thought to soul-crushing work. Instead they are standing up for what they believe in. Be it a social or environmental issue or working with clients who share mutual values and respect, the industry seems to be seriously considering their impact in the world and seeking work that is rewarding creatively, culturally and ethically. Amos Kennedy, Jr. gave us a bold talk about race, power and responsibility. Paula Scher provided her “lessons from the field” on how to grow, change, sustain, fail, reinvent, and still love making things in an ever-evolving society.


Craftsmanship is back
I was thrilled that an entire track of the conference was dedicated to craft. One theme was clearly type and lettering; we heard from Gemma O’Brien and Jessica Hische about their work and the resurgence of the hand in typography. We also heard from multiple creative studios such as Tractorbeam and Triboro about the importance of engaging artisans and tradespeople. The subject of craft is not only about a desire to step away from the screen and actually make things; it’s about the responsibility of designers to engage craftspeople or risk loosing them altogether.


So what is the shape of design today? It’s about a world that’s increasingly more aware of the value of design. And designers increasingly more aware of the important role they play and the responsibility their role carries. ThoughtMatter set out to work with brands with purpose and to do work worth doing because the true shape of design is what we make it.

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