The Snake That Ate Itself – The Evolving Role of The Designer

4 10 2011

Design Thinkers - London Service Design Party

I recently helped to organise the London Service Design Unconference and Party as an event within London Design Festival 2011. The event was a great success, with over 100 people involved in the world of Service Design participating in either the unconference, the party, or both. The event drew people from across Europe and as far afield as Brazil, and it stimulated ideas, discussions, and collaborations about what service design is, and what it might be in future.

During the unconference session I joined a really interesting group that spent a few hours developing a future vision of what Service Design might look like in 2021. With participants from UK, Sweden, Spain, Germany, and USA, and with a variety of service design experience, this eclectic group mapped out how the role of the designer had begun, where we are now, and where we need to be positioned in 10 years time.

It quickly became apparent during our conversation that while the role of the designer has changed during the ages, it has always focused on providing inspiration and creative linkages between the needs of society (the market), individuals (the user), and technology (of the time). We identified how the earliest designers were the skilled craftsmen using hand-tools to produce things for their community; how this developed into the industrial age when the designers role moved to machinery, automation  and mass production processes; through post-war consumerism when an excess of production capacity meant that advertising and graphic design developed to help sell products and fill production capacity; and more latterly with the outsourcing of manufacturing from west to the east and the consequential rise of the service economy within the internet age.

My group visualised our thoughts within a flip-chart drawing shown on the right (click on this to get a larger version).

The diagram shows how we realised that the number of designers has multiplied from the 1,000’s in zero B.C. to many billions in 2021, driven by dissatisfaction with the status quo, and a desire for greater efficiency and effectiveness e.g. via time-saving. In future we expect everyone to become a designer, asking questions and integrating needs, co-creating and collaborating in large-scale personalisation of products and services. We envisage that this opens up a global market, and will all be facilitated and empowered via emerging technologies based on the internet i.e. personal mobile devices, networks, cloud computing, etc. It will be much more complex than today.

In summary we were inspired by the image of “The Snake That Ate Itself”. This symbolises the ever-changing role of the designer. A role that has evolved as the needs of society and the individual has developed, and embracing the latest technology of the period as an enabler. We need to continue to evolve as Business and Service Designers, operating globally, within growing networks, in collaboration across the public, private and third sectors, and always involving the end-user in co-creating the increasingly efficient, effective, and personal products and services of the future.

Contact me if you would like to know more about our Business and Service Design capabilities, our tools and methodologies, our insight, our networks, and how we can help you design for the future…

James Rock – MD and Chief Business & Service Designer, CULTIVAR Consulting