Balance of power after this current shakeup

Currently, large swaths of design talent are being eliminated at the corporate level. After a fairly long run of large corporations building their innovation capacity, we are now seeing budget cuts far and wide in both the corporate and consulting sphere.

I’ve been around a few years and have seen quite a few business cycles come and go. I’ve also seen several transitions of power and influence trade places between the corporate world and the consulting world. I’m seeing a few consulting groups here and there advertise open positions, but many corporate pros even outside of design are now changing their profiles to consultant, freelance, independent etc.

As this current layoff series unfolds further this year, what are the implications for the relationship between corporate and consulting with in the discipline of design in UK, USA, EU and Asia? With AI being all the rage now, is it time again for the consulting world to take the lead in developing this new technology that will change much of how we do business?

Let’s discuss…

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Maybe don’t think about it so much.

In my limited experience, I see CPG companies looking to external agencies for their design work. There are some mutual advantages in work being done outside corporate bureaucracy, balancing the stability of a big company with the nimbleness of agency work. Spending money is often easier in a agency vs corporate (the one person that approves POs is on vacation, only buy things through these approved channels, etc). Agencies tend to have less meetings, team building, vacation time, qualms about overtime, and so on. And agencies can gain stability from relationships with bigger corporations, even if they have to deal with their fun quirks like Net 90, the glacial pace of bureaucracy, or whatever else.

I don’t know how well this correlates to freelancing- or if google layoffs will change my niche at all- but I’m looking forward to other perspectives.

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My guess is that years from now they’ll hire/pay only a handful of star designers, and let AI create many derivative designs and variations off of a few “Master Designs”.

This of course implies that far fewer designers will be able to have a steady income and gainful employment.

You’ll see. They will milk the shit out of their newfound infinite-variations-generating AI toys.

I’m a designer and feel the future is in small short run manufacturing. This will provide the customer with a better suited appliances. The customer will receive a more custom appliance that can’t be offered at scale.
I believe the right to repair laws will create a higher degree of integration so that designers will be able to more closely couple the final form to the actual use.
I know it is a delusional notion but I see it as design going full circle back to William Morris, only with a more digital circuit influence and more handwork than current appliances but less than the Arts and Crafts movement.

If AI is adopted for design work. I think it will only grow the need for more actual human designers. More designs per day more design reviews…


I feel like I’ve gotten some version of the “sky is falling” for our profession for my entire career. Here is a brief recap of some of the versions that have been earnestly told to me over the past 28 years:

1995: my first day in the industrial design department at RISD, head of the department “there are no more jobs in ID”, been well employed since graduation.

2002: while at a consulting agency someone on these boards said “all of ID is moving to Asia”… yet we never were short of clients like Nike, Burton and Bose. Moved in-house to Nike in 2003 and saw them staff up from 300 creatives now to about 900…

2008: while at Nike: “you’ll never be able to leave footwear design”, got a job as Creative Director at frog design and worked with Google, Motorola, Intel…

2010: at frog one of the other creative directors said: “industrial design is dead, it’s all about SAAS”, grew total ID projects, sold some of the largest pure ID programs in years, ended up leaving to be Chief Design Officer on the client side…

2017: “ID consultancies are dead, it’s all about in house teams or big strategy firms that offer IxD”: built a successful independent practice working with Chinese car companies, start ups, global brands, across multiple industries, was featured in Fast Co twice last year…

2023: “AI is going to take our jobs”….

You get the idea. Narratives can be powerful things we tell ourselves. What if we define our own story?

And not to say that any of that was easy, or perfect, or what anyone else should do… just that it ran counter to the narratives being said to me.


My boss at a design firm I worked for 17 years ago was freaking out in 2005 because he thought ID was moving to India :roll_eyes:


Here is a layoff post mortem from a design leader at J&J. Quite the bloodbath.

Post link

Corporate earnings have taken a hit. This is not news. Top line sales are OK but supply chain problems have killed profit. Again, not news.

A siloed design group is an easy target. Not news.

While ID and design in general has desperately tried to get a seat at the grown-up table and be off in it’s own world, it will never be seen as an essential stand-alone to corporate structure. I’ve never seen it in my career. I don’t know why the OP is shocking to anyone.

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A siloed design group’s removal is also probably a big cut that will take years to reveal itself as a setback.

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I just reinvented my own creative practice, since the old one died a natural death hastened by the pandemic years of no travel (allowing the UX/designer/strategy ecosystem to flourish in emerging markets like Africa indigenously thereby precluding the need for imported capacity) and its situated in the concept of ‘Narratives of Change’.

Yes, we’re in turbulent times and things feel they’ve accelerated but now I see the designer as accelerator rather than partner or vendor (cf. Portigal and Bhan, 2005 Core77 - Shopping for Innovation: What you need to know before hiring a design firm) using the skills and capacities of design to facilitate our societal transformation in a sustainable, resilient, inclusive and respectful manner.

I don’t think it is in the capacity of the technology lane of rapid progress and transformation (for eg. AI or whatever is going these days) to replace the core human values. Application areas may change - see _YO’s evolution of his career - but there has always been a market for his aesthetic sensibilities and creativity as he demonstrates with his timeline.

I might be too obsolete to design a cutting edge app or a high tech product, but no technology can replace crafting a social experience which leaves people feeling they matter. and its design and needs a designer to conceptualize it, even if its implemented by someone else.

I also agree with


as there seems to be a pulling back from the hyper digitalized global zeitgeist over stimulated by the big data vacuum hoses sucking up gazillions of user bytes for profit and gain at the expense of social cohesion and wellbeing.

Like others up above, I might be out of touch (not to mention a luddite using a dumb old Nokia) or delusional, but I don’t think so. I’ve been in school getting an edumacation in my old age and it feels like the youngs are rebelling or maybe not. Design school application letters have always been about wanting to change the world and make it a better place. Its only the direction of change that changes trajectory rather than the motivation. And what constitutes a ‘better place’. imo only as obligatory disclaimer.

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China ;p wasn’t it moving to China because of manufacturing?