Tim Hall

The death of the hero designer

Three reasons why designers are nowadays anonymous, and why this might change.

You probably know Arne Jacobsen, Philippe Starck or Charles & Ray Eames by name, but try naming a contemporary and widely famous designer who works in digital. You may be able to do it if you are a designer yourself – but can your friends or family name one?

With digital, the era of individual hero designers has passed. The development is somewhat controversial: digital design can affect the lives of billions, yet the designer is unknown to the masses. There are at least three reasons behind the anonymity of the contemporary digital designer.

  1. Interfaces aging like fish

While a piece of furniture may be used for decades, digital services tend to expire before becoming iconic.  You might remember them, but you will not miss them. Take the Internet, for example – you probably remember the first time you went online, but do you miss the actual experience? Likely not.

Digital is advancing so fast it’s going ahead of what we can imagine to do with it: what was sci-fi in Star Wars a few decades ago is now reality, from drones delivering our pizzas to robots collaborating with humans in the workplace. When things are moving overwhelmingly fast, brilliant design can seldom be created by one person alone.

  1. Diversity at the heart of design

At Fjord, we have always believed in the benefits of diversity. As the landscape we design for becomes more diverse, so do our design teams. In this world, it is often impossible to give credit to a single person for a work that includes a large group of people we are designing for and with.

Putting yourself in your customer’s shoes has never been more important. To succeed in this complex, digital world, we need to make services that people love. And to accomplish this, we need to flip our thinking from what we can do, and what we have done, to what we need to do.

Interdisciplinary collaboration is needed also because customer expectations are rapidly transcending traditional boundaries. They have become liquid. From banks to mobile operators and retail businesses, companies are facing disruptors that do not offer the same services as they do, but who change customers’ experience expectations.

  1. Design of many secrets

The most iconic, strategic and amazing work is often the work we do not get to talk about. And by the time a service launches, more and more people have taken ownership in the final outcome. It is tragic. In order to advance their careers and stand out as individuals, designers need public acknowledgement and work references for their portfolios.

I was speaking at a Design Forum Finland (DFF) event recently, where the Death of the Hero Designer was a panel discussion topic. I was delighted to see that DFF has included broader design thinking in their approach. The adoption of culture in the wider community will not only take our societies and businesses forward, it will also help give a face to the people who design and make the services used by millions.

Hero designers of the future

Many companies have started weaving their digital and physical worlds together ever more tightly. This means that in the future, we may no longer talk about digital services separated from the physical world.

At Fjord, we believe that design will be the bridge that allows services to amaze and delight, and dissolve into the world around us. Could the digital-physical fusion together with the expanding and deepening understanding of design lead to the resurrection of individual hero designers? I hope so. Because exceptional designers do exist: I have the pleasure of working with quite a few of them at Fjord Helsinki and across our studios. They deserve all the fame they can get.

Tim Hall is the Group Director of Fjord Helsinki

Tim Hall

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