Rediscovering humanity in design

“ … One of the roles of design is to bring humanity, intelligence and beauty to the world of business, and indeed to everyday life.” – Michael Beirut

Is design losing its humanity? No one would suggest that computers are as adept as talented humans at creating innovative designs — yet — but technology has been making a significant impact on design-related professions in the last few years.

In some cases, technology has lessened the amount of contact designers have with clients, colleagues and professional development organizations, causing a shift in the way the public relates to the profession.

But when used judiciously and with some forethought, technology can reintroduce a strain of much-needed humanity into these essentially creative disciplines.


Technology’s impact on the design process

I never design a building before I’ve seen the site and met the people who will be using it.
– Frank Lloyd Wright


When undertaking to design something, one has in mind the intended function of the product one is creating. One of the biggest challenges a graphic designer will face is to work with the client to triangulate the visual elements, ergonomic concerns and brand qualities that will result in the most efficient realization of the product’s intended function.

In product design, this could mean creating the most elegant and ergonomic computer mouse. In graphic design, it often means creating a logo. Web designers need to understand the quickest and most effective ways to translate their clients’ business ideas into functional and marketable websites.

In the past, the process of turning a client’s brief into a product was conducted by face-to-face meetings. Now, many clients prefer to submit briefs electronically and get work back the same way.

Without these face-to-face meetings, which were the cornerstone of the client-designer relationship, designers who lack writing or technical skill might find themselves unable to accurately convey their technical and creative prowess. And without the face-to-face experience of discussing a project, can a designer ever be sure they know what the client wants?


Increase speed, decreased efficiency

Design is a plan for arranging elements in such a way as best to accomplish a particular purpose.
– Charles Eames


While working long distance may seem like an efficient change to the industry’s business model, on closer inspection and experience, one realizes that without human contact, communicating ideas effectively is harder and less precise. Without clear communication between client and designer, the process is prolonged, thus reducing the designer’s efficiency.

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  • Bud Kraus

    One reason why design has lost its humanity is that we have lost a collective understanding of what good design is. We used to have things like World Fairs where we shared experiences about what was good design. Today we sit singularly by our screens individually developing ideas of what is good and bad experience. What we end up with is boring design and that’s not good for humanity.

  • Jason Gross

    I am a little confused by the primary point of this article. I feel that if we are going to discuss any loss of humanity in design it would be between site users and site stakeholders. 

    If a design project has lost its human touch between a designer and his/her client then something has gone wrong beyond technology. As a professional who is getting paid to do the work the designer needs to step up and find a way to re-engage with clients who seem to be out of touch. The methods you mentioned, such as video conferences and persistent communication of ideas and concepts will help but ultimately having a personality needs to be a part of the entire project from proposal to hand off. 

    If a designer is lacking in personality they may just need to loosen up a bit and realize that design projects are always about people and people can be a blast to work with. 

  • Ben Stokes

    Great article – thanks for the read. Totally agree with the statement “Designers clearly must bring humanity into their practice.”