In a recent column Clay Chandler (Time International’s executive editor) touched a very interesting point by implying that the meaning of design is up for debate. Design is changing, and so are designers.

Designers’ move to the business mainstream has sparked a broad debate about who designers are and what they do. Silicon Valley design guru John Maeda distinguishes between three categories: “classical” designers, who create physical objects or products for a specific group of people (think architects as well as industrial, furniture and graphic designers); “commercial” designers who innovate by seeking deep insights into how customers interact with products and services (think teams of researchers huddled around whiteboards and mosaics of brightly colored Post-it notes); and “computational” designers, who use programming skills and data to satisfy millions or even billions of users instantaneously (think tech firms like Amazon and Facebook).

The rise of new technology brings a discontinuity of universal values. Design has always been in expansion, from graphics and objects to information and interaction, then to business and governance with ‘design thinking’. There is a disruption of the process of creation or design on it’s way. By making design more accessible have we rid it of its magic? Do we need to reassess the essential contribution of design? Or reassert it?

The camps don’t always get along. Classically trained designers are apt to look askance at the artistic abilities of designers from the other groups. Commercial designers question how computational designers can empathize with millions of people they’ve never met. Computational designers complain that the methods of the other two groups can’t be scaled. But many believe that, in the future, the most valuable designers will be those who combine skills and perspectives from all three categories.

Maybe, in the end, we will all merge into a fourth kind of consumer-designer that can DIY its own design without the need for highly skilled but squabbling middle-men?

Memory drawing #4

The Automated Designer is a research topic studied for the author’s MBA thesis paper at The Berlin School of Creative Leadership.