Presentation at College Art Association’s Annual Conference, February 24, 2018, Los Angeles, CA
The Evolving Role of the Designer in the New Paradigm
Neeta Verma, Associate Professor, University of Notre Dame
Within the context of a world where many socio-economic challenges are becoming a shared predicament, the paper examines the evolving role of design/designers to understand how user-centric approaches have introduced research, testing, and validation to the design process. The emergence of web created a seismic shift in the 1990’s–it redefined the crucial role that users began to play in the redefinition of both industrial and visual communication design. Added to this shift, the rapid change of scale at which problems came to be defined, especially within societal contexts, made it imperative for designers to extend their approach beyond disciplinary skills to gaining a deeper understanding of the context within which they operate in an effort to create sustainable impact through design innovation. In this new ecology, in addition to serving as creatives by connecting ‘need’ to ‘gratification’, the role of the designer transformed to incorporate additional roles: that of being a collaborator, facilitator, catalyst, and co-creator.
If design and designers are to move away from their traditional roles and expand their footprint in addressing larger issues [wicked problems] like poverty, urban renewal, school curriculum design, or education, they will need to acknowledge that their role is only a part of a shared responsibility between stakeholders and experts from other disciplines. In examining these societal issues that pose tremendous challenges from a local to global scale, the methodologies for collaboration will fundamentally need to be democratic in nature. Tempering the precarity of these collaborations will define the success of design solutions.