What does it mean to be a designer today?

Recently, attention has been drawn to three key shifts in the field of design – fundamental changes in what designers do in their daily practice, in the definitions of who a designer is, and what their role in society should be, and in our collective expectations of what counts as a design solution.

This research study investigates the connections between these three key shifts in the field of design, and the professional identity and practices of branding, graphic, service and digital designers. It seeks to understand how professionals think in action – in the face of changes to the profession of design, what emerging forms of practice are coming to define the work of designers? Are designers aesthetic masters, or agents of change? Is their social role different than it used to be? If so, how are they adapting and adopting new practices in their work to continue to evolve alongside the changing social definition of designing?

The fieldwork phases of this study focus on the ways that designers learn to make creative decisions, and the relationship between changes in the design industry and the studio practice of design. As a designer and a communications researcher, I am especially interested in how designers think about their professional role and their work differently in respect to concepts like “design thinking” and “creativity” and in the ways that practices of what we are calling “design thinking” are instantiated, developed, changed, and transferred outside of the design studio. Through participant observation in design studios, interviews with individual designers and survey responses, I am attempting to find the connections between key shifts in the field of design, and the resulting changes to the professional identity of designers, the institutional logic of the design studio, and the social practices that make up designing.

This research is being conducted in partial fulfillment of a doctoral degree for AnneMarie Dorland in the Department of Communication, Media and Film at the University of Calgary. The University of Calgary Conjoint Faculties Research Ethics Board has approved this research study. This work is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Doctoral Fellowship Program under Grant 767-2014-1133.