A Challenge to Designers: Create Better Jobs

Designers can (and should) reinvent the role of work in our lives.


Nice work! Good job! I can make this work. Got that mojo workin’! Work it out.

What’s so scary about the current employment trend is that the job market is changing in a big way. Jobs not only fuel the economy, employment frames our society, marks our days and defines our personal essence. In the ’60s they said: “You are what you eat!” Now you are what you do. Big business ‘R us and career ‘R you. Most of our time is taken up with work: Traveling there, working, and then trying to relax afterward. Jobs are much more important than just a way to pay the bills, they stabilize our society and rank our worth. It’s hard to unwind jobs from our culture.

Peasants in medieval France worked only in the morning. Today, when you take a job, you join a company and become part of the brand. Your boss sets goals and rewards you. Your worldview is transformed. Jobs introduce us to our friends and help us bond. The company culture of office picnics and coffee breaks give our lives meaning. Jobs play the role of neighbors and church. Our jobs give meaning to our lives. So getting laid-off is a catastrophe. Your personal network is broken and more than half of your day is empty. It’s like your reason for living is gone.


Today, when you take a job, you join a company and become part of the brand.

The huge number of workers facing this personal crisis is not their fault. This massive change is not a normal business cycle. The world has changed–Americans’ garages are jam-packed–we don’t need to make more and technology is doing more with less. Automation and saturation should signal the entrance to the kind of Utopia we dreamed of where supply surpasses demand, we can relax and reap the rewards. Technology can do all the work while we enjoy a leisure lifestyle.

The trick is the transition. We are stumbling into a post-economic era. The economy shift from production to knowledge is shearing the fabric of our lives. We’re unable put people back in their old jobs, because robots will either be doing them or the workers don’t have the skills run them. Real estate and intellectual property are worth way more than their hours.

For the last 300 industrialized years, jobs have been the organizing principle of most people’s lives–now we have to figure out something else to give meaning and a mechanism to share the bounty. People need to feel like contributing members of the community and we need a new way of distributing the wealth. This “wicked problem” of figuring out how to make the transition is not a job for economists or Wall Street: The innovations necessary will come from multi-disciplinary teams. Designers’ skills and talents designing brands, places, products, experiences and services–sometimes contracted to “proserves” or “serducts”–have given designers practice with these kinds of opportunities. Considering how to reinvent jobs is well within the designer’s expertise sphere.

More good news for designers is that with or without business as usual, there will always be jobs for us. Someone always needs help. Nothing is ever good enough! There is always a problem that needs a better design. Thinking ahead is our job.

Maybe that’s it: In Utopia, everyone will be a designer! Let’s design a better future!


About the author

Tucker Viemeister is Lab Chief of Rockwell Group’s interactive technology design Lab combining digital interaction design, modeling and prototyping for hospitality, retail, packaging and products. The Lab experiments with interactive digital technology in objects, environments and stories - blurring the line between the physical and virtual.