Future Proofing our Design Careers

Chances are your job will be done by robots in the next 15 years. According to research by some very smart folks at Oxford, 47% of total US employment is at high risk of being lost to computerization (🤖). Whether this means your industry will be un-manned (Uber's self driving fleet is bad news bears for taxi and uber drivers alike), or a significant chunk of your responsibilities will be mechanized, change is the only constant. 

So what about designers? We're safe, right?

"And the creatives shall inherit the earth"
-Alt-Bible

Well, yes and no.

Let's start with no

As good design becomes more accessible to non-designers, our roles (and associated costs) become less necessary. As platforms like Squarespace make it easy for non-designers to create nice looking, well functioning websites, our value (whether actual or perceived) comes into question. When any Joe Schmo with an app idea can prototype, build, and test a product in the market without any code or design chops, will we still be relevant?

Designers may scoff at these trends, but their impact on our field is unavoidable. Designers may just be so good that we will design products and tools that lead to our demise. Unless of course we wait for the counterculture movement of artisanal, hand designed, cold-brewed pour-over sites and apps to save us.

Yes, We Are Safe

I thoroughly believe that we are fairly future proof. Not only in the next 15-20 years, but far beyond. And not because we are nestled in a creative industry; if creativity simply follows aesthetic trends, we are easily replaceable. What protects us in our field is the extent to which our work is, at its essence, human.

With the global shift to human-centered design, UX designers are well positioned to lead humanistic design of the future. And I'm not saying we need to be human centered to future proof our careers (that's a given in the world we inhabit). Rather that the elements of our work that are sufficiently human will be our saving grace. What we bring to the table as UX designers from our humanity will keep us relevant and needed for the foreseeable future. 

To put it plainly,

  • It's not our understanding of UI paradigms, it's our ability to empathize with people and make solutions to serve their needs
  • It's not our aptitude for color theory or typography, it's our ability to design inclusively to build products that are accessible to everyone
  • It's not whether we're Sketch or Illustrator power users, it's how we pull inspiration from the world around us to craft a unique story
  • It's not about growth in new user acquisition, it's about scaling human impact
  • It's not about you and me, it's about them

I can't pretend to know the tools we'll be using in digital product design in the next 15+ years, but I am quite sure that the humanity of our field will be just as relevant as it is today, if not more.