Swapping manufacturing jobs for design ones?

U.S. manufacturing is rapidly going away, exemplified by this story about Apple which shows the power of scale and cultural advantages in China and other Asian countries. Thus ends a century of American innovation in manufacturing, starting in the days of Henry Ford and the assembly line and reaching its zenith in and after WWII.

I’ve always felt like design is a more sustainable industry for nations, as no one can better design for a culture than its own citizens–and I say that as someone whose current job is to design for other cultures. As Apple itself shows, design “alone” can create huge amounts of wealth for companies and individuals. But it’s still unclear whether a culture can sustain itself by only designing, and outsourcing the manufacturing of, the products and services it uses.

Of course there’s no guarantee at all that the number of jobs in the world will exactly equal the number of people in it. I just hope that the work we’re doing to evolve design practice provides enough fulfilling work for enough people to get us to a sustainable place–worldwide.