Instead of looking forward 7 years, let’s briefly look back. If you’d been doing your GCSEs in 2016, your classwork and assignments wouldn’t look any different to the ones kids are doing now. The truth is, Art and D&T lessons today don’t look that different to what I did in school and that was over 30 years ago.
The current crop of Gen-X educators and policy-makers have been brought up to take resource abundance and (relative) stability for granted, allowing them to feel comfortable with a somewhat static view of the world. But our world is changing and that change is speeding up - becoming exponential, juiced by population growth, Moore’s Law and consumerism.
The world of work is going to look very different in the near future because we’re at an inflection point. It’s being brought about by the acceleration of powerful forces, including a decrease in the availability of natural resources driven by climate change and a disruptive, largely unanticipated revolution in knowledge work driven by artificial intelligence.
In moments of transition, society has a disproportionate need for creativity and innovation. Whenever there is rapid change and uncertainty, designers, engineers and artists always come to the forefront.
So what does that 2030 job description actually look like? What are the skills that employers will increasingly need? Broadly, I think these are going to be the most important meta-skills for designers and engineers:
T-shaped with deep roots
As problems become more complex and wicked, it’s less and less likely that solutions are going to be found in a single domain. I predict that the most valuable people are going to be multidisciplinary by nature and highly skilled at collaboration but also driven by a deep interest that allows them to bring a unique flavour or perspective to a team.
This is what we already hire for at my company Create/Change. For instance, a Designer may be inherently T-shaped with an ability to work with ethnography, quant analysis and prototyping tools but have a deep specialism (or ‘roots’) in Service Design. It’s the combination of domain expertise and multidisciplinarity that will lift you above the pack.
Skilled at working with machines
In the near future, you won’t be competing with an AI for jobs - you’ll be competing with someone who's learnt to use AI better than you. Using machine intelligence to augment your own creativity is going to be as fundamental to graduates as IT skills are today.
The delta in productivity between someone effectively using these tools and someone working without them is going to be extraordinary. It’s likely that the current crop of LLMs and generative AI tools are going to look like toys by 2030, so the difference isn’t going to be 3X - it’s going to be 1000X.
If that sounds far-fetched, consider this. When we do a design sprint our researchers will often collect 30-50 hours of video evidence from participants. There then follows a synthesis phase which can take a team of people days to manually log evidence and then painstakingly extract themes and insights, finding the common threads between participants' experiences. Aside from the sheer effort of doing this, it’s subject to human bias which can make the research worse than useless because it might send you in totally the wrong design direction. With a large enough ‘context window’ an AI could ingest all of this information and extract themes and insights almost instantly. Do you want to be on the wrong side of that productivity gap?
Understanding the link between diversity and innovation
Aside from the moral imperative for inclusive design, empathy and openness to other people's lives and experiences will be a creative super-power.
As more research and ideation is done in collaboration with machines, there will likely be an increase in the homogeneity of ideas produced. In the same way that search rankings now perpetuate a particular view of the world (specifically, the one seen by advertisers and white males from Silicon Valley) it’s likely that generative AI will simply amplify existing perspectives and drive creative solutions to converge and get narrower in their applicability. This is the opposite of what’s needed for innovation.
Unique insights don’t come from constantly re-running the same data. Diverse and unexpected juxtapositions of ideas are the grit in the oyster required to produce new pearls.
Designing for a resource-constrained world
The current generation of designers has grown up in the greatest age of abundance in human history, where natural resources and access to cheap capital are basic assumptions. The party is now over: the price of materials and energy along with government regulation is going to necessitate designers to assume resource constraints from the outset. The ability to think in minimal and circular ways will be a critical skill.
Kings College are teaching design students to tackle problems using limited resources by giving them physical tokens to ‘spend’ on their solutions. Whether it’s designing physical products, hybrid services or government policy, I think these sorts of ideas are going to become central to design practice.