“The best design is invisible,” says Nandan Nilekani, philanthropist and co-founder of Indian IT services giant Infosys. Nilekani echoes a view similar to what legendary designer Dieter Rams offered decades ago. Although, this was in the context of products that Rams designed at German consumer products company Braun, where “form follows function” was taken to the next level. 

Nilekani’s views underscore the reality that in the information age, a lot of digital design—the user experience (UX) that is visible—is orchestrated not just below the hood, but often across disparate systems that handshake together to deliver a seamless user experience on the client screen.

Invisible as they may seem to users, design, and by extension designers, are today among the most visible and sought-after the world over. 

Thanks to the ubiquity of the smartphone and its ability to bundle together high resolution displays, touch-based screens, professional-grade cameras, improved connectivity, and cheaper bandwidth, entire industries are being remade on the basis of a digital experience. This is what allowed pioneering Indian startups such as Myntra, Flipkart, MakeMyTrip, Cleartrip, Zomato, and Swiggy to use design as an edge to differentiate themselves and deliver great user experiences for demanding consumers. 

Companies on the S&P index that truly integrated design into their operations (validated against six rigorous sets of design parameters) outperformed their peers by 228%, according to the DMI Design Value Index, a study by the Boston-based Design Management Institute.

More recently, consulting firm McKinsey announced its own McKinsey Design Index McKinsey Design Index McKinsey McKinsey Design Index Read more , a more nuanced measure of design action impact, directly mapped to total returns to shareholders. And last week, the Design Council UK announced announced Design Economy The Design Value Framework Read more  its version of Design Value Index, devised to identify and assess the “wider social, environmental and democratic impacts of their work.”

In this design gold rush, everyone wants a shovel and pickaxe—to become a “designer”.

And that’s a title being held by a rapidly diversifying group. Designers can be the result of passionate self-enquiry and self-learning. Or certified on the job doing a bunch of microlearning courses online, augmented with hands-on practice and picking up tips at a neighbourhood meetup. Or formally trained in prestigious colleges with much sought-after degrees.

In spite of a virtual landslide in those seeking to become, and calling themselves, designers, there is a dire shortage of employable designers in India. We’ve written earlier written earlier The Ken 1 to 1000: The high-stakes hunt for India’s next top product designers Read more  about how, for every 1,000 engineering graduates, India produces one designer.

AUTHOR

Sridhar Dhulipala

Sridhar Dhulipala advices startups and large enterprises on product and design strategy. He has served in design leadership roles across manufacturing, marketing, engineering industries, and the non-profit sector. His interests are in the role and value of design in industry and society, besides design and technology collaboration.

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