Designers’ Role in Industry 4.0.

Author: Debbie McKeegan,

Paintbrush to Pixel and Beyond—The Strategic Creative

As Industry 4.0 takes a greater hold on the textiles and apparel industry, it is estimated that more than 25% of all work activities will be displaced by automation by 2030. But what does this mean for textile designers? Surely a robot can’t replace a designer! Designers have already moved from paintbrush to pixel, and while they won’t be replaced by robots, their roles will surely change.

High fashion runway on outback highway
Image Credit: Amber Jae Slooten—The Fabricant

As the tools of textile’s Industry 4.0 transformation—AI, AR, VR, and IoT—gain traction, it is estimated that more than 25% of all work activities will be displaced by automation by 2030. In this new Industrial Revolution, where algorithm-driven processes and task-taught robotics will replace today’s machine operators, it is envisaged that the role of the creative designer will grow to assume new strategic importance.

In Industry 3.0, the designer has already made the transition from paintbrush to pixel, but in industry 4.0, with sales-driven algorithms, VR simulation, AI-driven workflows, and the onset of intelligent robotics, the traditional role of the designer will make another great leap forward.

In fashion, in simplistic terms, the basic role of the designer is to create and set new styles and trends, but that is set to change, and soon, driven by optimization and automation. As the time-to-market is accelerated, the designer will have to adjust to new technologies and new responsibilities at warp speed. The designer will be able to not only create the patterns and the garments, but also to dress the virtual mannequins that will be used to present the products to the public. As the designer becomes an integral part of the process, moving beyond pure creation onto the manufacturing of the garment and specifications, their vision will be embedded into the DNA of the product electronically.

High fashion model walking in a dessert
Image Credit: Amber Jae Slooten—The Fabricant

Products will be conceived in 2D and 3D simulations, generated by machines, as files ready for production, where the designer’s concepts move swiftly from artwork to garments. Through a process governed by an automated workflow and powered by digital printing, laser cutting, and computerized sewbots, this will achieve a seamless manufacturing process from design to product at a breathtaking speed.

In this new environment, the designer’s role will morph considerably as they embrace Industry 4.0 and as the creative’s mindset evolves and promotes the designer from operator to strategic thinker. Here the designer will form an essential part of an elite group that will plan, develop, and administer the newly automated production process, while the machines and algorithms take the weight of manufacture. This group will have a different mindset than previous generations, for their production paradigm will have to be moderated by sustainability and the conservation of Earth’s resources.

With a sustainable agenda, this new generation will create sustainable products with a view to reduce the use of polyester microfibers, etc., seeking viable alternatives utilizing circular economies, water conservation, and power consumption—not to mention eliminating the landfill destiny of many garments from the “fast fashion” stable.

Sewing machine
Suksao - Freepik.com

So, although the physical advances in software, machinery, and robotics will show the way forward to “hands off” production, designers will see everything through the prism of Planet Earth as this new culture evolves. This will result in a major influence on technological development, as the moral dimension of conservation of the Earth’s resources forces a new direction on the development of automation in Industry 4.0. This influence can be readily viewed at any fashion trade event, where the virtues of sustainability have become a basic aim for everyone from designer, through manufacturer, to retailer.

Industry 4.0 embodies all of these principles, for technological progress without a conscience is seen as vapid and self-serving in a world that must work together. As a result, all over the design landscape, there is an urgency to combine the visual with the technical in a moral dimension. As Stephen Russell, Professor of Textile Materials and Technology at the University of Leeds School of Design, said: “The vision is to transform the industry’s capacity for new product innovation, and to reduce lead times and waste. This will be done through the convergence of new digital and textile technologies within the fashion design process.”

Fashion clothing on hangers at the show
Teksomolika - Freepik.com

Universities are collaborating with commercial and technical concerns to radically alter the teaching emphasis in design. As an example, The £5.4 million Future Fashion Factory, recently announced by the UKFT, is an industry-led collaborative research project linking the textile design and manufacturing centers within the Leeds city region (here in the UK) with the creative design and retail center of London. It brings together expertise from 10 core industry partners, with many more forming a wider network spanning design, manufacturing, and retail in the UK. The project involves collaboration with the universities of Leeds, Huddersfield, and the Royal College of Art as well as the Centre for Textile Excellence in Yorkshire.

The result of schemes like this will be a fundamental change in the teaching emphasis for undergraduate design students, who will now have to master not only the art of form and color, but also the new skills of Industry 4.0, where knowledge and understanding of the technical processes, workflow, and digitization are vital. In this academic year alone, there has been a proliferation of technical modules within Textile Design Degree courses. At the University of the Arts in London, this year’s degree module titles tell-all:

Product Technology, Creative Product Development & Fashion Production Future Technologies speak for themselves embodying, as they do, in-depth studies into Automated Laser Pattern Cutting, 2D & 3D visualizations, and Workflow Integration.

In the coming years, graduates exiting the academic design process will have enhanced skills, directing them toward the heart of the manufacturing system, where their ability to visualize product and influence consumer choice will be seen as vital. In their new roles, their influence will grow, as the business of fashion becomes less and less about the nuts and bolts of a complicated and esoteric workflow, and more and more about an elegant, efficient, and responsible system, delivering beautiful product on time to an appreciative and grateful customer.

Today’s designer will be an integral part of the responsible digital product lifecycle, as computerized tools for development, merchandising, and apparel design have shown the profession a new horizon. In this new digital world, the designer, using these tools, will be the visionary with the skills to take the marketplace to a new level, embodying the style, creativity, and ingenuity that have made their skillset so acclaimed.

The next decade offers the creative a vibrant, exciting future.

This article originally appeared on WhatTheyThink.com. WhatTheyThink is the global printing industry’s leading source for unbiased market intelligence. Copyright © 2020 WhatTheyThink. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. For more like this, please consider becoming a member by visiting: whattheythink.com/join/

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