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I had a passing thought this morning: design has made it. We see an upsurge of visibly passionate digital designers, and an abundance designs that are, ostensibly, very good. Everyone’s stuff looks better, from furniture to webpages. Look at that crap they did in the 80s and 90s (and even early 2000s) with their software and their industrial lighting: how did they live with themselves?

It didn’t take me long to realize that I was, once again, fooled by my own perception.

We tend to pat ourselves on the back and think that we’ve had a ‘renaissance’ in design, that design is no longer considered an extra but vital to success.

“We, the powerful and vocal design community, brought this about!” we exclaim with glee. We believe we have vindicated the value of design.

If only it were true.

Design is Cheap

My hypothesis ended up with realizing that design is now cheap. We’ve enabled a myriad of development, design and fabrication frameworks that allow us to create, develop, and implement fantastic designs at a fraction of the cost.

It’s a great disservice to any of the older designers to say that the ‘new’ generation is somehow better. I suspect industrial designers didn’t design those soulless corporate cafeterias because they wanted to destroy people’s lives. I suspect it was because other options were prohibitively expensive. Back then, 33 extra megahertz could soothe away any aesthetic issues with your PC; $5,000 office lights could make Philippe Starck the richest man on earth.

Corporate profit is higher than it ever has been before. Design is cheaper than it ever has been before. Occam’s razor, the simplest explanation is often correct.

As a result, everyone can now afford to look good, sit in good furniture, and have well designed apps.

Because of this economic affordability, design affordances can change for the better.

So what now?

We can understand now why digital design is more important than ever. Apple nailed that into the collective consciousness. Due to them and due to the tireless effort from designers everywhere, we now live in a fantastic golden age of design. It’s our privilege to enjoy it, exploit it, and hopefully not screw it up.

However, let’s at least agree that it’s (mostly) not our fault.