Current and Emerging Trends Reshaping the Design Professions

February 10, 2006 · by James P. Cramer

The architecture and design professions are moving from the old to the new. We are in motion, not all of it ascendant.

The architecture and design professions are moving from the old to the new. We are in motion, not all of it ascendant.

For eleven years now, DesignIntelligence has been writing about the increasing rate of change and those signal and otherwise important implications of trends on the design professions. We have observed that turbulence is disrupting the progress of far too many design organizations. Thus, we see that even while the economy is growing as it did in 2005 some firms are losing their edge and are no longer agile or competitive enough to be successful in the future. The opposite of this can be and is also true. At no other time in history have the design professions played such an important role in pressing global issues.

The opportunities for business and practice success are as abundant as they are complex. Ralph Waldo Emerson rightly declared that, “this time like all other times, is a very good one, if we know what to do with it.”

DesignIntelligence has interviewed over four hundred firm leaders in the design professions in the last year and more than 255 clients in the construction and real estate arenas. The purpose of this special issue of DI is to explore the emerging new design professions being re-shaped, restructured, and redesigned. These professions are not fully evolved of course. Still, our interviews inform us that there is an active restructuring of the design professions and significant innovations changing lives.

The restructuring of the design professions is being driven by new methods, processes, technologies, demographics, values, and behaviors. Each new direction has the opportunity to transform or disrupt. As we move from old paradigms to the new, we observe the potential for evident winners and losers in the design professions. Our purpose here at DI is to provide information and insight to keep firms on the winning side of the ledger consistently, year after year. Yet, it is not just about winning but about increasing your relevancy and significance in the future.

We believe that the most reliable way to anticipate the future is to better understand the present and to focus on those firms and organizations that are the pacesetters, those performing in the top 20 percent. We call this top 20 percent the design profession’s “best of class.” When we say design professions we mean primarily architects, engineers, interior designers, landscape architects, environmental graphic designers, urban design planners, architectural engineers, and industrial/product designers.

To ascertain “best of class”, the Design Futures Council has defined twelve performance areas for which we have established and maintain the latest benchmarks used for measuring levels of achievement in each.

Best of Class Evaluation Areas

To help us understand the forces at work in each of the twelve categories comprising best of class we surveyed firms and analyzed the results and trends for each of the twelve areas.

The purpose of this report then is to asses what is happening in 2006 that will likely drive the transformation of future years. Our interviews and research are intended to see more clearly and deeply into the culture of change in the local and international firms who are outperforming their peers.

There are two macro drivers of change today:

Beneath this umbrella of change are 15 trends of directional significance. We believe that much of what will happen in the years ahead is actually knowable today. We can approximate the key trends that have driven past changes and will likely drive the future. Demographics and generational values provide a foundation by which we can analyze the categories of change. We are in an industry of predictable cycles, cycles which can be placed into strategic scenarios.

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