After celebrating the opening of the Design Threads exhibition last week, it’s time to turn our attention to the second part of our partnership with Porto Rocha, which is just as fascinating to discuss: the Design Threads report. Created in collaboration with strategy and research hub Float, and designed by our very own Editor X experts team, the report addresses the overarching theme of the project: the current state of design.
You can read all about the research and approach for this project on the website, but in a nutshell, here’s what the team had to say: “The state of design is impossible to define, and this report doesn’t come close. Instead, this project brings together a series of threads—interwoven questions, themes, provocations, and shared feelings—that emerged from conversations and research with and for the design community. Some are expected, others unpredictable, all evocative of what it means to be a designer today.”
We highly recommend taking the time to dig into the report yourself: just as you might attend the exhibition and get your own unique impression of it, the experience of reading through the website and coming to your own personal reflections is equally impressive.
The more insights, the better
Shani is about to begin her 4th and final year in Shenker College of Design in Israel, focusing on branding and application design. She’s also a Playground Academy graduate fresh out of the TLV Summer cohort.
Mertcan, originally from Turkey and part of the European cohort, is currently based in Berlin. After completing his Visual Communication degree in Istanbul in 2019, he moved to Germany for his Masters in art, where he’s freelancing at the moment.
Listening to their insights and observations, we get an even better understanding of the threads that make up the report, unraveling them further.
Thread 1: Tyranny of Taste
“Taste isn’t innocent. While taste may seem subjective and individual — one person’s trash is another’s treasure — it also reflects existing hierarchies of power. Operating within an increasingly global and connected world, designers are challenging long-established definitions of how design looks and behaves.” – From the report
How do we define good design and who gets to decide? How do we promote inclusion and diversity in the creative industry? How can we use the power of local perspective? These are just a few of the themes explored in this thread.
As a Turkish designer studying and working in Germany, Mertcan has an interesting take on the rule of Western tradition: “I found this issue to be dominant in my experiences while studying both in Istanbul and in Berlin. It’s very confusing actually - when I was studying in Istanbul, the focus was mainly about European design, preparing us for a global market, teaching us about Bauhaus and using English as the dominant language. However, when I moved to Berlin, teachers were suddenly asking me the opposite: to focus on my heritage, show my Mediterranean and oriental inspirations. It was weird, because I was literally taught the opposite, to think globally rather than locally.”
He also shares his thoughts on inclusion and diversity: “Most companies make it seem as if they’re doing things right and care about diversity, but I feel like I can’t be sure. When I’m asked about my sexual orientation when applying for a job - is it because they want to seem diverse? On what grounds? And how can I trust how they perceive my answer?”
For Shani, this thread evoked a different line of thinking: “It made me think about conventional design education and how it equips us for life as designers later on. If all we’re taught is how to ‘make things pretty’ and how to apply the right spacing between letters - maybe we’re missing out on a lot of the crucial stuff that will make us the designers we eventually are? Like telling a story, and developing our own unique way of thinking.”
Thread 2: Excess of Everything
“Oversaturated, understimulated, total meltdown. Navigating today’s abundance of information is the core of designers’ Catch 22: to find success almost guarantees you’ll be overworked, but take a beat and you risk becoming obsolete.“ – From the report
This thread explores our fast-paced world and the way it affects designers: the demand to always be online and in tune with trends, not getting sufficient rest and time to digest, the rise of the jack-of-all-trades as a common practice, and the ‘moodboard effect’ - as we all gather inspiration from the same sources, resulting in the same designs.
Shani thinks originality is overrated: "I personally don’t consider originality as a value in my work, I’ve come to understand there’s really no such thing. So I don’t aspire to be original in particular. I agree we’re all exposed to the same inspirations, but that’s fine. We all live in the same world - that’s not a bad thing. It’s just the way things are, so trying to fight it is useless.
I think so many designers will be better off—at least mentally—if they embrace this.
What I’m passionate about is looking for ways in which my own mind and personality can come into play and shine through my work, sometimes in a conceptual way rather than visual. I think this is where the potential to feel most fulfilled is - when I’m able to see my thoughts and ideas come to life and make a difference.”
Mertcan talks about being online: “To me what’s a bit disturbing about this is the fact that employers now seem to demand this of you. You’re asked about your TikTok account when applying for a job, and this demand to spread yourself thin on every single platform there is, is tiring and feels inauthentic. I wouldn’t necessarily want to have a TikTok account, but now I feel as though I must in order to be considered for jobs”.
Thread 3: Truth or Consequences
“Impending climate collapse. Growing inequalities. Late-stage capitalism. According to both surveys and interview responses, the current state of affairs weighs heavily on the minds of designers. Most want to do their part to help a world in crisis and are questioning the truth of design’s role: Can it be a vehicle for change or is that belief a mere distraction from the consequences we'll one day face?” – From the report
Addressing activism, awareness, and design as a commodity, the 3rd thread examines the role of the designer in a world on fire.
Shani found herself most intrigued by this thread. She says: "This theme really resonated with me. Thinking about the consequence of what we create as designers is something I think about a lot. In this day and age, when technology allows for everything we do to be available worldwide within seconds, it’s almost ridiculous not to take into account the effects of our actions and our designs. What scares me the most is getting to a point in my creative life where I just work without thinking, without taking the time to be deliberate about what I do. To design and do what I’m told without giving a second thought to what it means and what the repercussions might be. We have so much power, we need to be in tune with it.”
Mertcan shares a different perspective on this issue: “I’m not sure the power and responsibility are solely at the hands of the designer. Almost everything we create is done in collaboration with so many different people. Especially in agencies, I feel the power designers have is very limited. You are translating someone else’s views and ideas, or following the demands of a client. So not everyone has a voice to act upon.”
Thread 4: Democratization Dilemma
“...What happens to the role of the designer if anyone (or anything) can be one? As digital tools get simpler, AI gets smarter, and the web evolves, respondents feel anxious about the decline of craft and losing their jobs in an already strained labor market.” – From the report
The 4th thread takes us on a journey to the future of the industry. As the barriers to becoming a designer are lifted, and digital tools make the industry more inclusive and available for anyone to join, what does this mean for designers and their craft?
Both Shani and Mertcan have lots to say about the rise of AI software. Shani is contemplating what makes a designer, and what our most valuable skill is. She says: "I do tend to feel anxious about technology and whether it will replace us, worrying about the day a computer can generate a better typographical layout than me. On the other hand, if that actually ends up happening, what does it mean about us designers and our role in the world? It makes me think again about what we learn as students, that the focus is on the technicalities of being a designer rather than how to develop our creative mind and critical thinking. After all, a robot is more likely to be able to create the design, but it’ll never have the thought or idea to generate and kickstart a project.” She adds: “During the Wix Playground Academy we had a lot of guest lecturers showing us their work and talking about it. When I think back to it, the ones that stuck with me most are ones where the designer was the initiator of the project, who had that very special idea that was unique to them. At the end of the day, this is what makes a project memorable - the person behind it. So that makes me think that all those AI solutions will never really be able to replace us.”
Mertcan is also sceptical about robots taking over the world: “I think of AI as a tool, not something that will replace us. I really enjoy using these new tools like DallE and MidJourney. It gives me more time to sketch and focus on moodboards, inspiration and research. I think it’s groundbreaking because of the speed in which it operates, not necessarily because of the output itself. The visual side of it can be achieved easily using Photoshop for example. What’s incredible is how quickly it delivers an image, so it’s a major time saver. For me it also provides good practice with words and articulating myself and the story I want to tell. In order to get the most out of the software, I need to feed it with the most accurate wording I can find, and that helps me to translate the visual I have in my mind into words, which I think is a really important practice for designers, as we are storytellers.” All images from Design Threads report