I find it almost inconceivable to think that it was less than 200 years ago, that Ada Lovelace wrote the first instructions that would lead the way to the first computer program. It’s mind boggling to think how far humanity has come and my mind wonders in hungry awe at where we are heading. Part of me wishes for eternal life so that I can stay and watch, but unless I take part in some Transhumanistic experiment, I fear that I’m just going to have to miss out!
As I enter the twenty first year of my career as a designer, I’m beginning to ponder and hypothesise about what’s next for design? What new skills will I need to learn? And what kind of challenges will I have to work on?
When I designed my first website back in 1996, I never imagined that my role would be as complex as it is today. Designers nowadays have a lot more responsibility and influence. It’s no longer about focusing on aesthetics to visually communicate a message. It now involves combining social sciences, psychology, business and technology to unravel complex problems. It also involves systemic thinking, foresight, research, pragmatism, networking, ingenuity and creativity.
My brain is filled with excitement at what the future holds, so I’ve put together a list of predictions of where I think user experience design is heading. The list that I’ve collated is by no means scientifically researched, I have not analysed trends, facts or figures. Unfortunately, I was never endowed with even the slightest sprinkling of mathematical genius.
What I have jotted in this article is simply a personal forecast which I’ve conjured up over the years. By reading books, articles and blogs that twitter, pocket and medium feed me on a daily basis. By also watching way too many sci-fi movies and tv shows, and by the things that I’ve been exposed to throughout my career and especially at DiUS a great place where I currently work.
1. Design for Social Impact
Investment in designing for social impact has become a greater priority over the last few years. Companies are finally starting to become aware that these problems need dedicated teams and realistic budgets if they have a chance to get solved properly. Governments worldwide are now working with the private sector to solve problems collaboratively with community groups.
The increased value and investment in human centered design has had a great impact in making this possible, because we finally have the tools and mental mindset to help move/take the big decisions out of the boardroom and into communities, where we can identify the origin of the problems and work collaboratively and iteratively to alleviate the issues at a grass roots level.
2. Sensory design experiences
Alastair Somerville awakened me into the world of sensory design at a workshop that he ran in Sydney last year. Since then I’ve become increasingly aware at just how one dimensional my experience with most digital products and services is. There are over 9+ senses that designers can tap into through their designs, yet sight and hearing get most of the attention.
New areas of design such as robotics, artificial intelligence, virtual reality and smart devices are encouraging designers to consider the other ‘neglected’ senses such as kinesthesia, thermoception and chronoception.
Designs that are more focused into tapping into emotional aspects of experiences will also be explored further as brands try to connect with consumers at a deeper level. As well, I predict a greater focus on designing experiences that are more inclusive for people with physical and cognitive impairments; an area which I still see slipping through the cracks and which deserves so much more attention.
3. Machine learning that gets to know you at a deeper level
Over the last 12 months I’ve been trying to formulate an educated perspective into the world of artificial intelligence. Like many, my initial response was fraught with doomsday thoughts based on watching way too many transhumanist themed films like terminator. However since discovering Nick Bostrom’s work and John Brockman’s book ‘What to think about machines that think’ I’ve been formulating a more optimistic outlook.
Machine learning in my opinion is now in the toddler stage. But already it’s starting to make its parents very proud by how far it’s come. I remember way back when I was at uni reading Negroponte’s ‘Being Digital’, a particular paragraph in his book has stayed with me all this time, in which he describes a future where the information and news will be tailored for your tastes so you don’t have to be exposed to things that you have no interest in. For example, if like me, you have no interest whatsoever in sports, you’ll never have to swipe past a sports related story ever again.
Whilst there are some negatives to living within this isolated media bubble, there are also benefits in simplifying our information-overloaded existence. I’m hoping that one of the simple ways in which we could use machine learning, is to allow computers to really understand us as unique individuals, so that our digital experiences are truly personalised and tailored not for user segments but for me and me alone.
Imagine turning on Netflix and seeing recommendations that you actually want to watch based on your mood and being able to have your own personalised AI Bot who you can chat to about all sort of topics that your brain hungers for. A private tutor of sorts that can support your learning needs and customises its lessons or conversational topics as it learns more about you. The possibilities are endless as well as mind-boggling.
4. Automating the mundane
It’s a known fact that humans by nature are inherently lazy, so it’s not surprising that technology is having a massive impact on the automation of a vast array of processes and products across just about every industry imaginable. Computer-aided manufacturing, numerical controlled machinesand industrial automation have already aided humans to improve productivity, by performing tasks that are dangerous or repetitive.
Design plays a multifaceted role in the area of automation; it covers aspects of industrial design but also in systems thinking design and usage flows. There is also a larger part which I’m not sure has been tapped into yet. Designing a way in which to help people find their true calling in life, which is based on their interests and skills. Developing a new curriculum in the education space which focuses on providing people with richer lives based on personal attributes instead of test scores so that instead of complaining about robots stealing jobs, we are relieved that they are taking away the boring and meaningless tasks that don’t make people happy in the first place.
5. Disrupting the food industry with cruelty free foods
Eating with compassion, whether it be towards animals or our earth is becoming increasingly prevalent. There are more vegetarians and vegans now on earth than there ever have been. According to Roy Morgan Research, the number of vegetarians from 2012 and 2016 has increased from 9.7% of the population to 11.2% and the conversion is growing. Not all transitions to a meat free diet are based on compassion eating, however there is a significant shift towards being more ethical in what we choose to put in our bodies.
Many thought leaders in this space have inspired a great many to change their eating habits, one of those being Peter Singer; the founder of the animal liberation movement, and also Michael Pollan who has explored the natural cycles of farming in order to influence modern agribusiness and factory farming.
However, whilst people are still swayed by their natural instinct to crave meat, at least now consumers have more transparency around where their foods actually came from and how it was farmed. Choices around organic and free range have given consumers power to choose with their wallets and influence the marketplace to provide a greater number of options for ethical buyers.
Branding design and packaging has a lot of power in this space to both educate consumers and influence them. There are now heavier regulations against greenwashing so that consumers aren’t misled by ‘trendy’ terms like organic, eco and natural. Every touchpoint of a product’s identity has to be intentionally designed in order to provide consistency across all channels, especially the ones in which consumers can affect other people’s opinions such as social media channels.
The question that I’ve been mulling over is… will synthetic foods or Lab foods disrupt food consumption and creation as we know it? Indoor farms in Japan are already proving to be 100% more productive per square foot than a traditional farm and also uses 40% less power and 99% less water. Impossible foods in the US has created synthetic burger meat which apparently sizzles, chars and oozes blood just like a real burger. Watch this space!
6. Enhancing lives with virtual reality
Virtual reality technology seems to be taking a very long time to make its mark, but perhaps now with the advent of affordable VR devices we’ll begin to see what it’s truly capable of.
What really excites me about VR is not the potential of it within the gaming and entertainment sector, but for its potential within the healthcare space. In particular its potential to enhance people’s lives; for people who are physically incapacitated due to a disability or old age, as well those using Virtual Reality Therapy (VRT) to treat psychological disorders within the mental health space.
Imagine giving a disabled person the ability to virtually walk around an art gallery across the other side of the world or hike up the Inca trail to Machu Picchu or reach the heights of Mount Everest. VR has the potential to enhance the ageing population. Imagine enabling a 90 year old who is no longer fit enough to travel, the opportunity to take a virtual holiday from the comfort of their recliner. This is where I hope VR will also take humanity.
7. Simplification of the design
Too much to do, never enough time, too busy, not enough sleep, hectic schedules, endless to-do lists, want more things, buy more, spend more which all leads to too much stress and too much stuff! It’s no wonder we’re all looking for the magic bullet to simplify our lives.
Since information-overload reared its stressful, ugly head back in the 90’s people in the western world have been craving a simpler life. It’s been a marketing success that has transformed brands and which has tamed some of the complexity in our lives.
Lifestyles have been transformed by Marie Kondo’s decluttering methods. Mindfulness has calmed our busy brains. Apple has influenced a multitude of brands and consumers to appreciate simple and clean design. And Gov.uk has awakened archaic gov departments worldwide to focus on designing for the people by simplifying the myriad of services that they provide to people from all walks of life.
Consumers will drive the simplification of products and services with their wallets and voices via social media, because they are becoming increasingly aware of what bad design is and their tolerance levels are diminishing. This will mean that service design itself will become more intentionally designed by the majority of brands instead of the minority of brands. Designing great experiences and simplifying processes will be demanded by consumers in search of simpler lives.
8. Holistic design at every touchpoint
There is no doubt that the digital revolution has had an enormous impact on the whole world, it’s enabled a level of connectivity that no one could have predicted. Businesses now have the potential to reach larger audiences however this means that they have to be more mindful across every facet of their business.
The touch points that connect with their consumers now have connectors via digital and non-digital channels. The end product itself is not the only offering that consumers are after. Consumers expect an experience. They also want details and information about things like whether the product was made ethically. Above all, they want to connect with brands on an emotive level that enhances their identity and enriches their existence.
As a result, this puts a lot of pressure on brands to deliver excellence through the entire customer journey. A journey that commences at pre sales in which brands are compared, researched and talked about with peers. The journey then continues through the actual purchasing journey, weaving its way through experiencing and using the actual product or service. It travels through to the post journey and for some brands also offers an off-boarding experience. Every single touchpoint that connects with people should be consistent across digital and non-digital platform in order to provide customers with a holistic branded experience.
This increased pressure to deliver holistic experiences has created a higher demand across the various disciplines that design encompasses with a particular focus on service design. CX and UX teams will need to break down the silos and work together to consider the full holistic experience together in order to create a seamless journey through every single touchpoint.
9. Virtual You
Ever since I watched the sci-fi series Caprica I’ve been fascinated by the creation of the virtual self. For those who aren’t familiar with the TV show, it’s set 58 years before BattleStar Galactica, and one of the subplots involves a bereaved father who inserts a virtual avatar of his daughter into a meta-cognitive robot.
This virtual avatar was created by scraping all the digital data that he had of his daughter’s online presence. If you want to know what happens you’ll have to watch it for yourself, anyhow as you can imagine this has prompted me to think about how digital technology is inadvertently creating our digital personas. Personas who are being tracked with every mouse click, tracked by the GPS facility in our phones, purchases online and via credit cards, loyalty programs, fitness and health trackers, social media and the uploading of thousands of photographs to the cloud every year is formulating quite a rich persona of you. Data is constantly being collected.
Even my dad who has never used a computer and does not have a credit card has a virtual self. An identity which has been created by his interactions with the taxation office, banking, insurance, health and government services.
Putting aside all the big brother notions which can be a little alarming, the creation of a virtual self is fascinating. What could we do with this persona? How long will it still exist after we physically leave this earth? What can we as designers do with all this data? Can these virtual beings be used to help us in creating better experiences?
I think that if we combine big data, machine learning, artificial intelligence and the creation of personalised holistic experiences something really exciting could evolve.
10. Connecting the last billion
I find it startling that only 40% of the world’s population has an internet connection and that in 1995 only 1% of the world’s population was connected. The internet has become such an important part of our lives that living without it seems almost unimaginable.
So what’s holding back the remaining internet-less people in the world? Various reasons including government regulations, access to remote rural areas and of course cost.
Various initiatives have increased digital connectedness in the past including the One laptop per child program that Nicholas Negroponte rolled out in 2005 to children living in remote rural areas and third world nations.
However, if the aim is to connect everyone in the world to the web, mobiles are the answer. Or at least a hybrid mobile/tablet gadget. Mobile phones have actually had a greater impact on connecting more and more people due to the lower cost, portability and high level of learnability compared to a computer. If we look at the stats collected by Cisco’s forecast update, mobile data traffic growth grew by 63% in 2016.
The goal for designers will be to keep involving users in the design process, so that connecting is easy, cost effective, delightful and meaningful.
11. Reforming education
A few years back when my daughter was in year 4, she came home one day and started talking about De Bonos six hats. I was taken aback because I never would have imagined that De Bono methods would be used by nine year old children. A little while later I also discovered that some of the teachers were using design thinking methods in the classroom.
Even though I was happy to hear that children were now being exposed to non-traditional ways of thinking, I’m still disappointed to see that we are still stuck within the confines of assessing children based on test scores.
I understand that there is a need to quantify results as a way to organise people into groupings which allows systems to classify what career direction they might head towards, nonetheless there are many young people who are disadvantaged by this discriminatory system.
I believe that we need a system that helps guide children from an early age into career paths that are based on skills that they are good at and like to do. There is potential for the private sector to work closely with education departments to develop programs that could form part of the curriculum, in order to formulate a variety of options for children to experience. Programs that can decipher the things that the child is good at and which appeal to them. Rather than studying subjects that for most are irrelevant, like physics and italian, students would be exposed to a variety of relevant subjects that receive just as much academic recognition.
At DiUS we’ve been involved in various initiatives to increase interest in STEM. We’re involved in teaching children to code through the Code Clubprogram in Melbourne and recently we facilitated a Design Thinking Hackday for primary school children in our Sydney office.
The hackday provided the children with the opportunity, to visit a ‘real’ workplace for the day and to take part in a design sprint which exposed them to new problem solving techniques and which also allowed them to meet people who work in careers that most had never heard of.
I see opportunities for the private sector to work with educational bodies, in order to help influence the reformation of the educational system which still measures childrens intellect with test scores. There is potential to expose young minds to the diverse and interesting careers in STEM, and expose them to creative methods of thinking and problem solving that will help us unravel the challenges of the future.
12. Wearable tech on the inside
The techno-junky in me likes wearables a lot. I was an early adopter of the fitness trackers, and I often dream up ideas like creating a fun wearable that my children can wear in order to give me peace of mind every afternoon as they walk home from school, and a smart dog collar that can give me an insight into what my dog is thinking.
So now that wearables have become pretty mainstream and continue to evolve further, the next phase is the exploration of wearing tech on the inside. The possibilities are endless, but if we focus on health alone you can imagine that many would be keen on monitoring illnesses, predicting cancer earlier as well as brain enhancing technology which can aid mental health patients and also enable the human brain to reach higher levels of potential.
It all sounds very futuristic and perhaps a little speculative, however if we think back on how we’ve progressed over time from peg legs and glass eyes to robotic prosthesis, hip and knee replacements, pacemakers and more, then really future innovations involving embedded technology seem like a natural progression.
As designers, we’ll need to consider the barriers of actually implanting these tech bits into bodies and explore how to design for zero UI. We’ll have to consider how the data is presented to the user or communicated to health care professionals, how the data is stored, what’s done with it and the actual experience of adopting tech on the inside.
This concludes the twelve predictions that I perceive designers will be challenged with in the near future. If you have any thoughts that you’d like to discuss with me feel free to tweet me.