Swissnex in Boston and New York, with support from Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia.

The Expanding Scope of Design

With recent shifts in academia, like the launch of the Morningside Academy of Design at MIT, new advances in ML and generative Al, the rise of racial and social justice movements, and the continued climate crisis, the future of design is understandably uncertain.


A Qualitative Survey of Swiss and US Designers on the State of the Design Landscape

Other Tomorrows and Swissnex in Boston and New York partnered on a qualitative research project and subsequent report to examine the shifting state of design between Switzerland and the US from a unique cross-cultural perspective in 2023.

We heard that design is being defined more expansively than ever in the US and the Swiss context. The expanding definition of design signals, not surprisingly, an expansion in the use of design. Our interviews revealed a radical blurring of traditional sub-disciplinary boundaries.

Download the report as a PDF

Other Tomorrows and Swissnex having an internal shareout meeting at Swissnex HQ in Boston

Nine months of collaboration between Other Tomorrows and Swissnex

Our team conducted this project over nine months, split into three phases: (01) background research & hypothesis building, (02) subject-matter expert interviews, and (03) synthesis & report writing. The goal was to identify critical drivers motivating recent changes and understand where design and its practice may go next.

The 17 leading design professionals and academics who participated in the research interviews were well-established figures in their fields and represented important design institutions in their respective countries. Participants included leaders from ZHdK, The Museum of Modern Art, Google, MIT, ECAL, Pentagram, Carnegie Mellon University, Vitra, and Burton Snowboards.

Illustrations of the 17 participants: Maria Yang, Associate Director of the Morningside Academy for Design, and Associate Dean of Engineering at MIT Massachusetts, USA Skylar Tibbits, Associate Professor of Design Research at MIT, and Founder of the Self-Assembly Lab Massachusetts, USA Mitchell Paone, Partner & Creative Director at DIA. Former lecturer at HEAD, Geneva School of Art and Design Chamonix, France Davide Fornari, Professor at ECAL/University of Art and Design Lausanne. Lausanne, Switzerland Terry Irwin, Professor and Director of the Transition Design Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. Pennsylvania, USA Anniina Koivu, Head of Theory Masters at ECAL. Vaud, Switzerland Dominic Sturm, Partner at FOND Design GmbH, President Swiss Design Association. Zurich, Switzerland Eckart Maise, Former Chief Design Officer at Vitra. Basel, Switzerland Claude Zellweger, Director of Design at Google. California, USA Jessica Helfand, Artist, Writer. and Founding Editor of Design Observer. Rhode Island, USA Sarah Owens, Chair of the Visual Communication graduate program at Zurich University of the Arts. Zurich, Switzerland Maya Ellerkmann, Curatorial Assistant, MoMA. Previous: Designer, Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts New York, USA Reto Geiser, Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies at Rice University. Previous: PhD at ETH Zurich. Texas, USA Christophe Guberan, Designer and Visiting researcher at MIT Self-Assembly Lab. Lausanne, Switzerland Marianne Goebl, Managing Director at Artek. Previous: Director at Design Miami. Berlin, Germany Adrian J. Margelist, Global Chief Creative Officer at Burton. Vermont, USA Natasha Jen, Partner at Pentagram. New York, USA
Report Insights

Contemporary Drivers in Design

Across our interviews, the 17 design leaders described a wide range of forces driving their practices and expanding the scope of design. Some of these trends bridged across the US and Swiss design cultures are well established and have impacted the design community for years or even decades. Other emerging trends felt noteworthy for their recent emergence in the field.

Established drivers

1. Collective brilliance: the end of the “genius designer”

2. The power of narrative: crafting the stories behind design

3. The aesthetics of sustainability: questioning the quest for newness

4. Beyond historical standards: undoing global sameness in design

Emerging drivers

5. Responsible design: advocating for design independence

6. Deceleration: rededefining design’s role in a culture of impatience

7. Creative intelligence: adapting to the age of artificial intelligence

What does this mean for tomorrow's designers?

In our research, we delved into the meaning of design in today's world and the key drivers shaping the field. As our many conversations progressed, we focused on a larger question about the future of design: what's the role of tomorrow's designers? More than a tool to create products, problem solve, or anticipate futures, design will be an act of creative responsibility, a shared language for collaboration, and a movement for societal change.

Our team left this series of interviews believing that design is continuing its evolution into a dynamic superpower and that there has never been a more exciting time to identify as a designer.

Download the Report

All of the drivers above, themes from participants, and provocations on where design goes next are included in the report. We hope the findings spark more dialog within the design community and encourage readers to critically examine their assumptions about the meaning of design in today's world and its potential for the future. Download the report here and contact us with reactions or if you want to learn more about our findings.

“A lot of students are feeling this constant level of crisis and the threat of the collapse of environmental systems, social systems, and political systems. That’s something that I’m trying to discuss with them. How do we deal with this? How can we not be paralyzed? And on the other hand, how can we stay active within that?" - DR. SARAH OWENS, ZURICH UNIVERSITY OF THE ARTS

Draft report pages pinned up and annotated during internal reviewBenjamin Bollmann (CEO at Swissnex Boston & NY) speaking at the Broadway Bites eventGrid of final report pages
Project Team

Swissnex in Boston & New York

Benjamin Bollmann, CEO

Frederic Atwood, Content and Public Diplomacy Manager

Other Tomorrows

Lee Moreau

María Risueño Domínguez

Julian Geltman

Nicole Nassif

Tim Radville

Hannah Oh