The future of design: Adapt or die

Published:  September 5, 2014
Bonnie Abbott

Earlier this year, AGDA hosted 2020: Adapt Or Die — a day where 20 designers, educators, employers, journalists, recruiters, strategists and thinkers presented their thoughts and predictions to working, living and consuming in 2020 — a futuristic date that is now less than 6 years away. Despite the year’s nearness, the predictions portrayed a force of technology and deconstruction of traditional working parameters that painted a realistic, exciting, but very different landscape to the one we currently exist in.

Hulsbosch creative director Linda Jukic and desktop editor Bonnie Abbott both presented on the day, and later discussed the event’s standout themes and thoughts to emerge via email, transcribed below.

Trying to understand the future

Bonnie: Immediately what struck me about the day was the common emphasis on digital technology, and warnings to designers who were not already fluent (or lacked a habitual connection to these technologies) to skill up. There was a certain urgency to some of those talks, whereas a handful of some other speakers brought technology back something potentially more spiritual, I suppose, through encouraging better workplaces for employees or facilitating youth to think for a better future. Within this, as well, was a common emphasis on the idea, rather than tech-flashy execution. I found these common threads of interest, as one could surmise the true future of 2020 might lie somewhere in the middle of all of them. The middle being savvy with technologies (but not necessarily being ‘fluent’ in them), concentrating on how design can be used to reach people’s hearts — people who, perhaps, have a certain fatigue when it comes to new technology! What did you feel about the day?

Technology and the human spirit

Linda: I absolutely saw the themes that you mention bubbling up as key take-outs for the day. However, I did walk out feeling a slightly different to you. You felt that the true future lay somewhere in the middle of technology and a spiritual greater purpose. I myself, felt that there was an intense intersection between the two, which made the future both thrilling and terrifying. I walked out feeling that we have a responsibility and opportunity, greater than ever, to create an enriching and holistic human future. However, technology will be our greatest enabler and aid to realise that future. So a fluency in digital will be a given if you want to play a part in that picture. And with 2020 only 6 years away (and technology going who knows where), if you’re not already getting on board the techie train it’ll be very difficult to catch-up.

‘Brand You’

The other idea which really resonated with me, and is closely connected to some of the attributes I believe essential to delivering on this greater human perspective, was the idea of ‘Brand You’. Recruiters such as Chantal Manning-Knight and Simon Lusty really put the spotlight on this. Chantal talked about the importance of your relationships, experiences and conversations. Simon talked about the preference for talent always growing and seeking personal and professional development. It really brought home for me the mighty value of an individual — something so powerful that in the future, as Simon put it, ‘jobs will look for you’. Certainly exciting, but puts the pressure in making sure you’re one of the desired ones.

Bonnie: Yes that resonated with me too — that job seeking, and how you make yourself attractive to employers, is also changing. I have noticed it in my role at desktop, and have tried to communicate it with the kinds of people who want to be involved in the magazine: we are all very short of time, and when we need something or someone to publish, I am usually already very aware of them — whether it is through Twitter or Instagram or a handshake or whatever — they have been sitting at the back of my mind waiting.  There is usually not much time to go looking. Being ‘present’ already puts you in the spotlight for many opportunities you might not even imagine, and by the sounds of it, from Adapt Or Die, will play a part in how you are recruited and employed, too. Like Chantal’s talk – this is about cultivating relationships. And a few of the speakers put emphasis on branding yourself, so the employer already has an idea of what they are getting (with Gerhard Bachfischer reiterating the sage advice to be a nice person!) so they don’t have to spend time digging to find out.

Jason Little had the great idea of producing a hypothetical job ad for the future — a creative, full of ideas, fluent in many different technologies and modes of production. This was a very real proposition — the idea that graphic designers have to get back in touch with the foundation of the practice — the thinking — and find ways that they can use new technologies as carriers for new ideas. Over the next few years, as we have already discussed, there was an emphasis on catching up and becoming comfortable (and productive!) with these technologies. For this happen in a meaningful way, we need to break away from our own formulas and design cliques, and start collaborating with others, outside of your usual modes of production. And in a similar way, collaboration was another common thread through many of the talks, although not necessarily to do with technology, but by creating meaningful experiences.

Relaxing disciplinary boundries

Linda: Oh, yes, collaboration! Touched on by Charbel, Jason, Emma and even myself. It was certainly one of the sweet spots of the day and on my own mantlepiece as a mantra. To realise what is possible (and isn’t that what the future is about?) and create truly meaningful experiences we absolutely need each other. I can see a future where competitiveness is being nudged over for collaboration, co-operativeness and collective curation. You can see it already with brands working with other brands in an effort to realise something big and potent – only made possible by working together. I love the idea of creative folk truly mixing it up for the greater good of an idea or to create true meaning, or even better – creatives mixing it up with the likes of technologists, lawyers, scientists, educators, financier to make greatness happen. This could really be a frontier we embrace.

And at the core of the frontier would have to be ‘ideas’ wouldn’t it? I loved how Jason called out that ‘aesthetics are free’, but it would be your ability to conceive ideas that would make you. I also loved how Lauren from Wilson Fletcher declared ‘bye buy time’. That the value of an idea would no longer be judged by the hours spent generating or developing it, but the value of the idea itself. (Finally, I say!)

First creative, then client

Lauren also brought up an alternative future which I thought was quite interesting. Today we wait for clients to come to us with problems which we then resolve. Lauren suggests we identify challenges and opportunities and develop ideas and solutions proactively, and then approach the relevant brands/companies with the relevant concept/s (for them to buy). I got the sense that where she’s at they may already be doing this. It is like what is being done at the agency IdeasGallery. It really is flipping the way we work on its head! Do you think this way of working is truly achievable? What would be the advantages of working like this? And most importantly, do you think it would be sustainable? (I know a few people I spoke to post event were a little scared by this way of working).

Bonnie: It might be applicable for a while. Such a way of working would mean a total commitment to ideas — a dedication in the purest form — the ability to crafting and developing an idea without client parameters, then sell it. It is an exciting prospect and one that might grow with time, but it couldn’t be the absolute. What is does propose is the potential of convergence between design and business.

Whatever the future holds for the designer — whether they are renamed and reformed as creatives, makers or thinkers, they are always going to be separate from capitalist entrepreneurs at some point. It appears that here, through convergence, that real change can be made. It’s already happening, as we have seen, but how long it would take to drip through into mainstream design/business thinking is perhaps beyond a 2020 deadline.


Here is Jason Little’s presentation from the day. More videos are being uploaded on the AGDA Vimeo channel.

The sell-out event ’2020: Adapt Or Die’ took place on the 31st May at Vivid Ideas. Presentations were made by Andy Wright – RGA, Simon Lusty – Aquent, Bonnie Abbott – Desktop, Richard Curtis – FutureBrand, Andrew Branwhite – Optus, Jason Little – AGDA, Jo Pretyman – iManifest, Sha-mayne Chan – Alive Mobile, Linda Jukic – Hulsbosch, Chantal Manning-Knight – Cloak & Dagger, Gerhard Bachfischer – UTS, Michelle Traylor – MamaTray, Julian Kenny – PRIA, Charbel Zeaiter – General Assembly, Emma Markezic – Sunday Style, Mark Simpson – Sixty 40, Doug Nash – Interbrand, Simon Pemberton – Tractor, Lauren Argenta – Wilson Fletcher and James Theophane – Holler Sydney.

Main image: Double Days

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