Maria Shanina
Future of design: the rural Adept

Let me tell you a story about my vision of the future of the design industry. Based on the signals we see today, I imagined how the day of a designer will look ten years from now, and how the design industry might change.

Sitting on the sand of Sugar Beach and looking at peachy-pink sunsetting clouds above the lake, Aurora decided to help Renaissance, a healthcare startup in Toronto, build internal design culture and coach its design team. After facing the challenges of updating and maintaining their mobile and web apps, where the main focus of these updates was often the user experience, the company of 200 employees decided to hire an internal design team to help them manage this work. From what Aurora learned, even though the advantage of having an in-house team was obvious - the updates were more rapid, the quality of design increased, and the company saved resources on contractors’ services, new challenges began taking place. The design team was still in the phase of forming. They were learning how to work with each other, debating about the design methodologies and frameworks applicable to a healthcare product. But more importantly, they were facing challenges of explaining the significance of their chosen processes and decisions to other disciplines and stakeholders within the company. In other words, they were in the early stage of gaining trust from each other and others.

That's why the CEO of Renaissance contacted Futura, an agency where Aurora works as a design advisor. Well, she doesn't exactly work there as a full-time employee, no one in the agency does. They are all contractors. A community of highly skilled design experts that Futura hires on demand. As a trustworthy and well-known agency, Futura made its name by building a decentralized design network that operated virtually. This allowed Futura to offer design services and provide design expert assistance to small and medium-sized companies widely across the globe. Aurora likes her job here: she chooses how to work, when, and where. It's like being part of the agency but completely autonomous. She also likes other designers here. These talented people don't only do their job well but they also enjoy generating creative solutions, fostering innovation, and maintaining high standards in design culture. Often they do workshops together or hung out in meta-Slack, chatting about their projects and sharing experience.

There are times when Aurora feels a bit lonely working completely remotely and seeing people only distantly, but it is the way they all live now. Ten years of fighting the global pandemic will certainly remain in history books as one of the most pivotal moments for humanity. Many things have changed: the way people work now, the way they live, and the way they connect. Not long after the global pandemic started, there was a wave of movements that people gave names to, like the phenomena of great resignation, rural migration, automation, and many others. People started seeing the world differently, began reevaluating their values, and embarked on new journeys of fresh ways to live and work in the era of the speedy rise of virtual tech.

Aurora’s personal life has changed too. Facing loneliness, a good deal of stress at work and the loss of her father drove her to take a break. She resigned, took a year of sabbatical, and moved out of the city to a small town in the county. Finding a new place to live wasn’t easy for her. it looked like real estate bidding wars relocated to rural areas as people started to abandon big cities. However, her work in tech as a Product Designer for the past few years allowed her to put a considerable sum of money aside, so eventually, she was able to find a nice house in a friendly neighbourhood, situated among beautiful trails and lakes. And the house had a stable and fast internet connection, exactly what she needed.

After everything, finding a new job wasn’t too difficult. Being a highly-skilled, well-educated, and experienced design professional with deep theoretical knowledge and years of practical competence gave her the luxury of taking time and choosing the best option. When she was contacted by Futura and learned about the ways the company operated, she saw a well-fit opportunity for herself there. Needless to say that Aurora’s experience was generalistic, accompanied by a broader set of skills, one of her strong sides was her ability to explain and teach, to listen and understand problems, and to offer creative advice. She is a good coach and mentor to designers and a beacon of support and inspiration to many. After she learned that Futura is focused on helping small and medium businesses - primarily run by underrepresented groups - establish design processes, she decided to give it a chance. Anyway, the design was so widely popularized now and available to anyone through all these easy-to-use apps and tools, that the market barely needed another design crafter. What was really in demand is a strong design advisor and educator, a mentor and influencer, as one might say a “guardian” of logical and aesthetically pleasing design. And Aurora has all the features to lightly step into this new role.

After a long break, the first few weeks at Futura seemed a bit weird but she was happy to get back to what she truly enjoyed doing. And now she is matched with her first project - to help Renaissance establish design culture and integrate design processes. She has already set up a few meetings with them, where she learned about their story and challenges from the various parties involved. Part of their problem was the wide distribution of their teams. Even though almost no work was happening in real life now, and everyone seemed to be fine with that, there were places where people still struggled with remote and asynchronous communication. So now it was time for her to design a holistic approach to set the Renaissance design team out on a journey of effective collaboration, and through that - influence the whole startup to operate sustainably and foster innovation and high design standards.

Note: all names, dates and characters are fictional.

Copyright © Maria Shanina, 2024, Canada