The Big Picture, II – Designers of the Future, Poets for Your Bots, and Anti-disciplinarians: the Emerging World as Seen in New Job Descriptions

April 16, 2016 § Leave a comment

We cannot foresee at this point which scenario is likely to emerge, and history suggests that the outcome is likely to be some combination of the two. However, I am convinced of one thing—that in the future, talent, more than capital, will represent the critical factor of production.”
– Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum

Well, capital still seems pretty darn critical from where I stand, but that’s beside the point for this installment of our Big Picture series.  Continuing from “Part I, The Fourth Industrial Revolution” last week, this issue is a more concrete exploration of the future depicted by Dr. Schwab, through a particular lens – new talents and job skill demands emerging or anticipated at the leading edge of the tech industry.


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The Most Important Design Jobs Of The Future, from Fast Company, CO.DESIGN, by Suzanne Labarre

This article is a list of 18 new design jobs predicted by design leaders from Google, Microsoft, Autodesk, Ideo, Artefact, Teague, Lunar, Huge, New Deal, and fuseproject.

“Design has matured from a largely stylistic endeavor to a field tasked with solving thorny technological and social problems, an evolution that will accelerate as companies enlist designers for increasingly complex opportunities, from self-driving cars to human biology. … ‘Over the next five years, design as a profession will continue to evolve into a hybrid industry that is considered as much technical as it is creative,’ says Dave Miller, a recruiter at the design consultancy Artefact. ‘A new wave of designers formally educated in human-centered design—taught to weave together research, interaction, visual and code to solve incredibly gnarly 21st-century problems—will move into leadership positions.’”

Like it or not, be prepared for such titles as Augmented Reality Designer, Avatar Programmer, Chief Design Officer, Chief Drone Experience Designer, Conductor, Cybernetic Director, Director of Concierge Services, Interventionist, Machine-Learning Designer, in the next three to five years; and Synthetic Biologist / Nanotech Designer, and Human Organ Designer, five to ten years out.

My favorite- “Fusionist”:

“Early technology was, in its most basic form, like a huge block of ice: not very accessible, clunky, and necessitating specialists to handle. Now as technology melts, it will transform from solid to liquid to gas, permeating almost every aspect of our lives and creating a cross-disciplinary opportunities.” Such diffusion will become the foundation for future design jobs. The designer’s role therefore will be to act as the “fusion” between art, engineering, research, and science. Her ability to think critically while working seamlessly across disciplines, blending together their best aspect, is what will make her a “Fusionist.”

“The global challenges that lie ahead can only be solved by a collaboration of minds and vocations, and a diversity of views. The challenge and reward for the Fusionist will be in her ability to communicate, comprehend, and connect all parties through design. This is already beginning to happen in the emerging fields of biofabrication and wearable technology. Stemming from biotech, biofabrication is a new cross disciplinary movement between the design and science that is generating the next wave of sustainable materials and solutions for our survival. It is not uncommon to see artists and biologists sitting together tackling the same problem. Additionally, wearable technology will see an influx of fashion designers and artists partnered with engineers, in order to create technologies that will go into our fibers and onto our skin.”

My point precisely, in my January article about “smart jewelry”. The first generation of “wearables” showed off technology. The second generation conceals it – “subtle” or “discreet” are mentioned in nearly all of those makers’ marketing materials, as one would expect from competent, human-centered designers.  These new “wearables” are no Bulgari yet; and it’s still early to tell whether they will become new classics like the wristwatch (i.e. first worn by women as jewelry but later adopted by men for functional merits as well); or pass as a fad like the mood ring. However, as a trend it is not the coincidence of a few designers, but something consistent with historical patterns – inventions with staying power are those that are strong in both function and form, sometimes with the two alternating in importance, but together challenging each other to something better.  The best technology should be like clean air – allowing you to breathe without being in your face, like the smog.


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The next hot job in Silicon Valley is for poets, from the Washington Post, by Elizabeth Dwoskin

Parents of adult children who want to become writers and poets: no more fretting about their ability to make a living. Besides waiting tables while waiting for their Hollywood breakthroughs, they now have another option.

“As tech behemoths and a wave of start-ups double down on virtual assistants that can chat with human beings, writing for AI is becoming a hot job in Silicon Valley. Behind Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana are not just software engineers. Increasingly, there are poets, comedians, fiction writers, and other artistic types charged with engineering the personalities for a fast-growing crop of artificial intelligence tools.”

“… a new crop of virtual assistant start-ups, whose products will soon flood the market, have in mind more ambitious bots [than those performing largely prosaic tasks such as reading through email, sending meetings reminders or turning off the lights as you shout across the room] that can interact seamlessly with human beings.”

“Because this wave of technology is distinguished by the ability to chat, writers for AI must focus on making the conversation feel natural.”

“Virtual assistant start-ups garnered at least $35 million in investment over the past year, according to CBInsights and Washington Post research (This figure doesn’t count the many millions spent by tech giants Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft)”.

“Virtual assistants have also received a boost from major advances in subsets of artificial intelligence known as machine learning and natural language processing, or the ability for computers to understand speech.”

“The rise of this technology is evident in a wave of new jobs at the intersection of human and artificial intelligence. By 2025, 12.7 million new U.S. jobs will involve building robots or automation software; by 2019, more than one-third of the workforce will work side by side with such technologies, according to Forrester Data.”


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Please Enter the Antidisciplinary Space, from Swissnex, by Sophie Lamparter

“As a connected society, we need to embrace people who don’t fit in any box, strange animals, people who can move seamlessly between disciplines, people who translate and push the boundaries. We need people who think and live ‘antidisciplinary’ who will change the way we look at things.”

Antidisciplinary is a term developed and celebrated at the MIT Media Lab. Joi Ito, the Media Lab’s Director, articulates it this way:

“As we engage in tackling harder and harder problems that require many fields and perspectives, the separation of disciplines appear to be causing more and more damage. I think that it’s time we focus on a higher mission and the changes needed in academia and research funding to allow more people to work in the wide-open white space between disciplines – the anti-disciplinary space.”

Sophie Lamparter, Associate Director and Head of Public Programs at swissnex San Francisco, curated a session dedicated to this topic at the Lift Conference, one of Europe’s key events on innovation and digital technologies, in February. The way she described the people she brought on stage made me smile:

“In the five years I’ve been at swissnex, I’ve been the most inspired by the people you can’t quite place. The ones you are never quite sure how to introduce because they do many different things at the same time.

Often, these people are the best at explaining their work, though, no matter how complex it is because they understand and speak different languages (art, tech, science, etc.)—because they are antidisciplinarians.”

From Swissnex, here are the profiles and presentations of four of these antidisciplinarians.  Among them: a theoretical physicist focusing on the very early universe—the Big Bang and the beginning of everything we know; a curator of the world’s best equipped maker space and fab lab bringing several hundred artists, designers, makers, and engineers together every year; an interaction designer, inventor, and visual artist who creates ground-breaking experiences; and a former professional tennis player with a PhD in motion capture combining her know-how in medical research and sports with virtual reality, immersive universes, art, and entertainment.

I have neither the artistic nor technical talents of these people. Nonetheless it was comforting to know that I am not alone with a feeling of out of place, and I can now almost take pride in the fact that people do not know how to introduce me.

Over the years I have been dreading forms with a field for “Profession”.  Now I can’t wait for the next form, where I will fill it in with “Fusionist of another kind”.

*          *          *

Thanks to Jerry Wilmink, Ph.D., Founder and CEO of Wisewear, and Tim McCormick, civic tech entrepreneur, for suggesting stories in this issue.

Next issue:
III – Venture Capitalist Steps in on San Francisco’s Art exodus; Big Art Meets Big Tech in Silicon Valley’s First Serious Gallery

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