If you are interested in what it means to be a designer in the future then you should read an interesting list composed in an article in Fast Company. The article is titled "The Most Important Design Jobs Of The Future". The article is basically a list of what some established (and famous) designers think it is future design jobs (in the next 3 to 5 years). The list consists of everything from organ designer to augmented reality designer to cybernetic director.
Looking at the language and words used, it is clear that designers work with composing systems that can cope with complexity while meeting 'user needs' on every level. Even the more technical areas revolve around who is the user and their needs and experiences. In most cases the future designers are defined as those who bring everything together. Future designers have the ability to anticipate needs and desires while also being able to understand technology and to compose technical systems. Phrases like "The companies that have the smartest, most individually resonant products and experiences are going to do the best job of attracting and retaining their users" are common in the article.
I am convinced that the people who suggested these future design areas know what they are talking about and in most cases I agree with their predictions (which is different from saying that the predicted future is desirable). If these predictions are reliable, then what does it mean for academia and higher education. What kind of research can support the needed expertise and what kind of educational programs should we develop? It is obvious that academia is far behind when it comes to the understanding of what kind of competence is needed. To set up educational Masters level programs (which I think is the appropriate level) around these future design responsibilities is not easy since they require so diverse disciplines and areas of expertise. Anyway, the academic units who can do it will of course be ahead of the curve.