The profession of ‘designer’ is relatively new. Born from the industrial revolution, the designer was a direct result of the invention of the printing press, industrial manufacture and serial reproduction. These technologies split the functions of designing a prototype from the manufacturing process and the final user.
When humankind transformed from a system in which craftspeople and artisans produced one-off, handcrafted objects, to a system in which production was mechanised (on a printing press or by machines in a factory), specialists were required to utilise the new technologies, ideate new products, and then attend to the marketing and distribution of those artefacts to an increasingly urban consumer class.
Those who took on this mantle soon realised that they needed to develop a new set of skills. Designing for a market of theoretical ‘users’ takes some research and capacity to build solutions that can work for large numbers of people. The manufacturing technologies themselves offered some new advantages but had precise technical constraints. The products needed to cost less in materials, construction and distribution than they could be sold for. They needed to be more desirable than the competition in the marketplace. This new profession started to develop methodologies to address the challenges in a systematic fashion.
By the end of the nineteenth century, these experts, beginning to be referred to as ‘designers’, started to recognise the broader impact of their activities on society and the environment and began to see themselves through a more professional lens, with clear obligations to the discipline and to the wider public. In the twentieth century, designer communities established national professional associations, and later international associations, including Icograda in 1963, the forerunner of the International Council of Design.