Fast Company Article Focusing on 2024 Design Focuses
This past year saw the contentious expansion of robotaxis and the eye-wateringly rapid development of AI. We saw the opening of the world’s largest spherical building, and the rebranding of social media giant Twitter to X. As we enter 2024, amid the backdrop of climate crisis, conflict and technological uncertainties, what role can and should design play in building a better future? From tech and graphics to architecture and interiors, we spoke to high-profile designers around the world about what’s on their wish list for the year ahead.
Depending on your perspective, artificial intelligence is either going to spell the end of humanity, replace jobs, or accelerate innovation on an unprecedented scale. Are designers optimistic?
“I’d like to see more AI that enables creative discovery and inspiration, empowering human-made creativity,” says Phil Garnham, London-based executive creative director at branding agency Monotype. The sentiment is echoed by Xavier De Kestelier, head of design and innovation at global architecture firm Hassell, who hopes AI will “enable designers to concentrate more on the conceptual and creative aspects of design, rather than on production tasks.”
Others are confident it will. “We need to understand that because of AI, more design can be done, not less,” says Federico Negro, New York-based founder and CEO of digital interior design platform Canoa. Negro believes the powers of human judgement and machine content generation can “enhance one another.”
Meanwhile, Xenia Adjoubei, New York-based urban designer and associate director at research agency Studio intO, hopes AI will be harnessed to create tools that “empower governments and corporations in making cities livable for all.”
“Much more help is needed for people living in disaster areas worldwide,” explains Tokyo-based architect Shigeru Ban, “and I’d like to encourage architects to step up.” Pritzker Prize-winning Ban has become celebrated for his humanitarian work in disaster-stricken zones, from housing in post-earthquake Japan to vaccination centers during COVID-19. This year, he continued a project of shelters for refugees displaced by the war in Ukraine.
“There are so many things we can do to improve the situation for many people in need,” Ban says. “For 2024 (and beyond), it would be great to see more people in our profession using their knowledge and energy for disaster relief.”
In an era of globalized culture, where design can be endlessly replicated, homogenous styles run the risk of ignoring local context. “In 2023, we saw brands wake up to the fact that a one-size-fits-all approach won’t meaningfully engage different cultures and geographies,” says London-based Pentagram partner Samar Maakaroun. Instead, locally rooted, culturally aware design can lead to “enriching results, broader engagement and truer narratives,” she adds. “I look forward in 2024 to seeing more depth and cultural variety in representation and brand identity.”
Lagos-based architect Tosin Oshinowo, founder of Oshinowo Studio, echoes the desire for more “localisation”: “As architects, it’s important we produce contextual solutions relevant to the place and in better balance with the environment. By localizing our building materials, we can be climate-conscious while producing a diverse aesthetic language.”
As countries rush to meet greenhouse gas emission-reduction targets, designers are working harder to lead the way in sustainability. “It’s high time we stopped focusing on single solutions to the climate emergency, whether that’s volumetric design or timber, and look holistically at the problems facing us,” says architect Anna-Lisa McSweeney, head of sustainability at Swedish practice White Arkitekter. Our cities require “huge and interconnected interventions” to reach net zero, she says, and hopes 2024 sees true collaboration to “shift the dial.”
Designing for growth and inclusion is a complicated balance to strike in any sector. But when it comes to cities and communities, meaningfully addressing both is vital, says Andre Brumfield, Chicago-based global leader of cities and urban design at Gensler. “To have a healthy city, we need to balance issues of equity with urban revitalization and economic growth,” he says. “I am hopeful that there will be more collaboration in 2024 to support repositioning the most distressed parts of our cities, which range from communities of color to our most challenged central business districts. We cannot continue to have a mindset of investing in one over the other.”
Design can’t improve, argues New York-based branding designer Ritesh Gupta, unless the industry itself does—and that demands equitable opportunities and inclusive cultures. “Addressing the experiences of designers you currently work with is essential,” says Gupta, who is the founder of creative learning platform Useful School, as well as a freelance design director.
This includes “more effective, sustainable ways to identify and support high-potential talent,” as well as addressing bias to “rethink our processes and language so there are safer and less extractive research and design standards.”
Organizations should also support external and internal forms of education and community, he adds, as well as POC-led design studios and agencies. “If we don’t do this, we will continue to try to fill the design pipeline with POC, queer, and neurodivergent talent, only to continue having them leave out of frustration, discrimination, or worse.”
“One of the greatest challenges facing our planet is the lack of opportunity that young people feel, particularly in the Global South,” says Robert Fabricant, New York-based cofounder of social impact studio Dalberg Design. Through working alongside youth on international projects, Fabricant has seen that “so few [of them] have been given the opportunity to tap into their true creative potential” and help tackle the issues facing their communities. “What an unbelievable waste! I would love to see the design community spend more time movement-building to help unleash this massive creative potential in 2024.”
Finally, a call to follow your heart in design, rather than trends. “Let’s all do our own thing this year and celebrate different points of view,” says San Francisco-based interior designer Michael Hilal. “Honestly there are so many styles and tastes—we can have maximalists and minimalists at the same time, right? I believe there’s enough room for everybody to be themselves.”
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