My name is Dominic Sturm, I’ve been an industrial designer and design strategist for 20 years. I’m the co-founder of FOND Design, a user experience, product and service design agency in Zürich and serve as the president of the Swiss Design Association (SDA). I’m part of various committees, such as the main jury of the Swiss Technology Award, the James Dyson Design Award and was invited to the design jury of the Cannes Lions Awards. I’m currently pursuing an Executive Master of Business Administration in Marketing at the University of Bern.
“We stand for a new field in which designers develop strategies to deal with wicked problems that are hard to quantify, that are neither digital nor numerical, but essentially human.”
With my co-founder, Alex Robert, we are mostly interested in products and services that are kind of border-lining the physical and the digital realm. Alex has a background in a software engineering and interaction design while I worked as an Industrial mechanic before becoming a designer. So we both look at our respective fields not only from the design side, but also from the perspective of industrial manufacturing and code writing. Ten years ago, we decided as designers to confront this VUCA world characterized by deindustrialization and digitalization and to contribute with our work to more user-centric solutions in the face of all the technological changes. We stand for a new field in which designers develop strategies to deal with wicked problems that are hard to quantify, that are neither digital nor numerical, but essentially human. As designers, we do not approach these problems incrementally, but rather try to anticipate and empathetically create possible near futures.
“The line between design and engineering is always fluid. Especially when engineers do research or designers have a very technical approach.”
Engineering is based on hard or substantial knowledge proven and peer reviewed in the past for solution, that need to work in the present without fail. On the other hand, design is a problem solving process aimed exclusively at the near future. Designers can approach the near future with soft concepts and drafts, while an engineer usually has to rely on established certainties for his solutions. Designers can risk more because they usually don’t have to take any real responsibility. Based on the context, the brief and the target audience, designers create “possibility spaces” that describe or visualize different approximations of the near future. The ability to visualize, prototype and model ideas is the essence of a good designer. However, the line between design and engineering is always fluid. Especially when engineers do research or designers have a very technical approach.
The main difference is in the approach to innovation: designers are need- and problem-oriented, while engineers are more technology- and solution-oriented. We generally start with users in order to find a solution to their most pressing problems. Engineers, on the other hand, often develop a solution based on a new technology for which they then have to find a relevant problem and user field. Combining these two opposing approaches always leads to better and more user-centric results.
“In todays multilateral relationship between users and producers UX design is the mediator, promoting the acceptance of products and services.”
Design is a young discipline that emerged with industrialization. It is responsible for the relationship between the industrial process and the users. In the beginning, the profession focused mainly on the product surface and product functionality. However, digitalization required a new design dimension in addition to surface and body: time. Product design was complemented by interaction design, which must conceptualize the sequence of interactions from the start to the end of a desirable interaction. This task is not new, however; in gastronomy or the hotel industry, which are based on good customer experiences, interaction design was already practiced before the digital age, it just wasn’t called that. With digitalization, however, it became clear how important UX design is for promoting the acceptance of products and services. In the past, users had to settle for the products or services that manufacturers thought were profitable. Now, consumers share information and needs with each other as well as with companies, which has changed the decision-making and design process. Design serves as a key to understanding in this multilateral communication system between producers and consumers.
“Design builds trust by matching technological solutions to people’s needs and opportunities
by translating and clarifying.”
Whether new technology can become usable in a humanistic sense is, in my opinion, more dependent on social and ethical agreements than on AI or design. Humane technology is based on the intended use of it. Artificial intelligence is just another technology for now.
AI has the potential to make sense of large quantitative data sets. This is certainly useful and therefore valuable for tackling complicated, granular problems. But for it to be humane, a clear ethical and moral framework must be set that anticipates human needs. This is where design comes in to mediate between humans and technology.
The more opaque the technology, the more important the role of the designer becomes. People want to understand what impact this new technology will have on their lifestyle, privacy, etc. Design helps match technological solutions to people’s needs and opportunities by translating and clarifying. This communication aspect builds trust.
“The technological capture and processing of emotional aspects alone is of little value if it is not embedded in an emotionally empowering experience for the users concerned.”
One of the key skills of design is to empathize with a group of users in a particular environment or context in order to design a product that meets specific needs. These soft factors should be understood in order to develop a technology product. Trust must be earned. This means taking into account users’ fears, even if they are irrational, looking at what people value in order to empathically connect with them.
All the health and “quantify yourself apps” today are based on measurable values like heart rate or body temperature; they are not about how you feel emotionally. These solutions appeal to the rational mind. Design can help bridge the gap between the rational and emotional experience. By considering what is relevant to users, a product experience can become more empathetic. The technological capture and processing of emotional aspects alone is of little value if it is not embedded in an emotionally empowering experience for the users concerned.
“Certain areas of design are likely to become commodified to the point where they are no
longer commercially interesting.”
Artificial intelligence will certainly change the way designers work. AI is going to help generate complex data-intensive problems with many possible formal or structural design variations and test their effect. Logo creation, for example, or other easy-to-formalize problems will be simplified by this technology. It’s bound to be more than a generative randomizer of geometric shapes. At a certain point, AI will certainly be able to take people’s cultural and social context into account in these creations.
Certain areas of design are likely to become commodified to the point where they are no longer commercially interesting. But as long as you design for people, you need other people to empathize and understand what their needs are.
In any case, until there is “Artificial Creativity” that does not exhaust itself in the infinite calculation of variants, designers will continue to be busy designing prospective services and products for other people.
“Design as a profession will expand in so many domains that we have to redefine its meaning. It won’t be about objects anymore but about processes.”
Certain skills of designers will become obsolete due to new technologies. On the other hand, our rapidly changing world requires new prospective skills in design, which brings about an evolution of the field. Design is changing from an industry and manufacturing oriented skill set to new prospective fields of endeavor: Law, public administration, healthcare,
economics, social services.
Worldwide, cities are the drivers of technology, of culture, of societal changes. Towns take the lead over national states and are characterized by their highly complex systems. This is the cradle of decision-making regarding infrastructures, social issues, economics by anticipating the near future. It is the creative approach to problem-solving that will make the difference in those extremely complex environments. Design as a profession will expand in so many domains that we have to redefine its meaning. It won’t be about objects anymore but about processes.
We are located in the outskirts of Zurich, near the airport. We always welcome drop-in visits!