How to Design Beyond Design

By Andreas Bannwart 

How would a dedicated designer give a speech at the TYPO Berlin 2016 conference on the theme “Beyond Design”? Isn’t that like sawing off one’s own arm? Especially since today’s ABCs of successful branding stand for algorithms, big data, and content. For the D (design), only little room seems to be left. According to Hermann Hesse, though, in every ending there’s a beginning. Here are seven paradigmatic shifts and opportunities for design in the future — or preferably, design today.

1. The end of author-dominated design is the beginning of co-creation.

Marketing gurus and star designers are long gone. Instead, purchasing negotiations are taking over. This includes periodical reviews of the customer-agency relation — and pitches. Luckily, this paves the way for something bigger: co-creation.

Let’s face it: clients have great ideas and they know their field better than an agency would. There is the chance for inspiring joint design thinking and powerful, agile working sessions. Interdisciplinary teams, in which any kind of profession can contribute ideas, are better than a single star designer. This doesn’t make design a democratic process; it just opens the path for greater ideas by going beyond design together, and it certainly leads to better results.

2. The end of aesthetics is the beginning of thinking.

There’s a search-engine marketing company who gets you a top-ten Google ranking for a derisory sum of 119 euro. That company is neither asking for a logo nor a designer. It’s them being our competitors, not design agencies. Because brands like these no longer need to be brought into shape for successful business. Looking at the bright side, this is the beginning of the era of thinking — design thinking. It’s about chaos, trial, and error. Being on the beam is the new beauty. Design is about to become measurable and manageable. Thinking enables design to give good reasons why a particular design is the right one — reasons way beyond taste. Thus, great design demonstrates power, clarity, creativity, consistency, and compatibility across all media.

3. The end of the function is the start of a conscious attitude.

Is it still key to a guidance system in an airport that tourists and travellers make their way to the gate as fast as possible? Instead, shouldn’t they take their time and rather be meandering through the numerous duty-free stores? The quicker they’re getting ahead, the smaller the sales. Which airport would want that? On the other hand, which designer would want to go that way?

This is the beginning of showing attitude and taking a position. Designers need to know why they do what they do — and what for. Certainly tools have changed, but skills, power, and impact haven’t. It’s why anyone not taking up a position isn’t a designer but someone prettying up things. In order to use our power properly, designers need to show attitude and be attentive beyond design. This includes, as well saying “yes” rather than “no,” sticking to it, irrespective of whether a client is waving a big budget at you.

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4. The end of the analog is the beginning of countertrends like tangible experiences.

Looking at Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Apple, only Apple has an inherent interest in design. The others put their focus on algorithms, big data, and/or coding – the ABCs that steal the D from the design show. Digitalization is pure business — and on the part of only a few players. Facebook, on average, keeps the world’s population busy for over an hour a day. Don’t get me wrong: the whole world profits from services like these. As a designer, though, I’m keeping a watchful eye. Once the world becomes more and more digital, we need to look for the countertrends: deceleration and haptics. In this sense, the digital world even pushes the analog. Designers are asked more than ever to create real, tangible experiences. A dress looks better when it reaches its receiver in a precious package. One single story with a particular design and typography on a package has a direct influence on the return quota. The dress is less likely to be sent back.

5. The end of unawareness is the beginning of discoveries.

Back to algorithms, big data, and coding, as well as artificial intelligence, driving assistance, digital advisors, and a digital map that guides you to the next and best bar: Everyone appreciates these new opportunities. Everyone just needs to know that the currency we get charged in is our own personal data. This summits in gadgets like the Amazon Echo, a wireless speaker that, in fact, rather functions as a microphone. For 24 hours a day, the Amazon Echo records keywords about what’s missing for tonight’s menu or in the travel suitcase. Eventually, Amazon Echo asks whether it should order what’s missing — unless it hasn’t ordered these already automatically. Since there are companies that know everything about us, there lies a certain beauty in discovering. And this is where design is highly required as a source of surprises. Not only are designers invited but asked to edit data in order to present it in an unexpectedly inspiring way.

6. The end of common branding is the beginning of interface branding.

Debating about the brand values of Mercedes is one thing. Who is still driving a car in the city jungle, though? There were times when a Shell logo needed to become rounder or flatter. This was before digital disruption knocked at our door. This could be called the end of normal branding, which is the beginning of interaction. January 9, 2007, is the date to remember. That’s when Steve Jobs launched the internet-to-go, and it has fundamentally changed the communication behavior.

More than 80 percent of Germany’s population keeps a smartphone not further away than 150 cm — around the clock. This means hundreds of thousands of potential brand contacts and interactions across all areas of life, from mobility, music, film, health, finance, and literature to communication and beyond. And this is where it comes to design, not necessarily of brands in a conventional way but interfaces. Branding is no longer about a logo but the way we communicate. The Tesla logo will be less relevant than the 3,000 functions on the 15-inch touchscreen. On the other hand, who wants 3,000 functions? Perfection must not be understood as “there’s nothing left to add” but “there’s nothing left to leave out.”

7. The end of the end.

There are no longer deadlines in terms of schedule or budget. Instead, everything designers do is beta. It’s the beginning of the unfinished and a state of mind. It’s no longer about a particular output at a particular time but the quality of the process. Every designer has experienced new ideas coming to mind while presenting work. Now, with a product that is never finished, it’s about failing fast and continuous improvement. Designer have the opportunity to do better compared to what a week ago they believed was best — to go beyond.

“Beyond Design” was the theme of this year’s TYPO conference. It means to go further in the alphabet: to E for ethics, and to F for fun, which should be what really drives us. In brief, Beyond Design means to design!

This post summarizes a number of key aspects from a speech by Jochen Rädeker at TYPO Berlin 2016, Europe’s biggest design conference. Rädeker is a German graphic designer, author, and professor of corporate identity and corporate design.

Andreas Bannwart is a copywriter and conceptioner at MetaDesign Zürich. He attended TYPO Berlin 2016 in May.

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