My thoughts on the future of design and the designers role in it

With automation and touch sensitive experiences, how will designers transition? This was a question sent in by Prakash N. It's a great question. This is probably what keeps a lot of designers up at night. With so much changing how can one ensure that we will stay relevant, in this ever changing landscape. That the bubble we exist in today won’t suddenly burst. Where we’ll be made redundant and find ourselves suddenly clutching at jobs that don’t exist anymore and relegated to a life on the streets where we’ll give foot massages for $1.50, a bar of soap and a bag of cheetos (Our minds always thinks of the worst case scenarios). And start to wonder where it all went wrong. Chatbots, AI, iOT and automation replacing the needs for heavy screen design. UI kits, web template services, that can cover many basic business needs watering down the value and sometimes the need for good visual design. Even if you are a UX researcher will big data and AI make you redundant as well?

But fear not my friend, it’s not all doom and gloom. Whilst I have no doubt that the landscape will drastically change. I think that if you are one of the best at what you do, you will automatically change with the tide. Here’s some of my thoughts


1. There will always be a need for craft. I’m a believer in craft. Jiro is a craftsman and a testament that if you do something at the highest level there will always be an audience willing to pay a premium. At present there are 3.2 billion people connected to the internet. Even if you service a very specific niche say 0.0001% of those individuals that’s still 320,000 people. You don’t need 320,000 to make a great living. You only need 1000 true fans. A concept popularised by Kevin Kelly. Which is 0.003% of that. The point though is whatever you are passionate about, enjoy doing, making day in day out, if you commit to doing it at the highest level you will always be relevant. Vinyls are an antiquated technology – yet they are still around and still service an extremely passionate audience. A nuance, a sound that can’t be replicated with digital music formats, the same can be applied to craft in design. You can automate it as much as you want – but there are certain nuances that can only be done by a craftsman or craftswomen.


2. As long as you continually learn and evolve it doesn’t matter where the technological and design landscape is going. Beyond touch sensitive experiences and automations, and other concepts that we are yet to understand/experience. Let’s go back and take a look where the world was when I was designing for the web 10 years ago. When I started


Then flash was king  – Now no one uses it anymore. 

Then agencies designed for awards –  Now the most impactful companies design for users and outcomes ala Google, Facebook, Airbnb, Uber etc...

Then social media was in it's infancy, touted as web 2.0 – Now social media is a part of everyday life

Then no mobile landscape, no touch devices(not mainstream), phones are for calling, texting  – Now when it comes to content consumption mobiles rule our lives. It’s our communication tool, television, browser and just about everything except for creating work on.  

Then marketing was all about campaigns and microsites – Now marketing is about providing value and utility, creating brand awareness through platforms and usefulness.

 

The type of work that I do has completely changed. But the principles and lessons I learnt along the way still stay relevant, they are just applied to different contexts. 

If you can design one thing, you can design everything

MASSIMO VIGNELLI

If you can do something at it’s highest level – your “taste” or expectations on the kind of output you want will always remain high and world class. You can understand the nuances and the amount of dedication it will take to excel at something, even if it’s completely new. So when you work on improving other disciplines or areas of your work, you are going to suck tremendously just like everyone. But you'll also be so dissatisfied that you will keep trying to mimic the people who do it best. You have a higher ceiling of where you are and where you want to be. So you keep working to try and close that gap. You are putting in the reps and learning constantly to make it happen. In a way I still dislike most of my work. It's still a long way from where I want it to be. This constant dissatisfaction helps push myself further. I love the journey and the hustle, so whilst I look at my own work and think wow this sucks, I can still acknowledge and appreciate the subtle improvements. 


The key is to experiment and invest time into learning and practicing. Your day job is great, but if you are not doing anything innovative or work that pushes your boundaries your thinking you will stagnate. If you are not being challenged enough in your day job and are just clocking it in day in day out. You will stagnate. Invest in yourself and your growth. Don’t just be a passive consumer of media. Be a producer, a maker, read books that inspire and help you become a better person and designer, put in the time to read case studies from the best companies in the world, learn from people you admire, take online classes and continue growing. 

Being resourceful and a sponge is actually one of the best skills you can have. Because it is a gateway to everything else. If you are resourceful you will have the ability to learn anything. That drive and hunger to absorb everything will lead to great things. 


Here are skills in my opinion that will always be relevant. 

EQ – empathy & understanding people, problem solving skills, awareness of technological landscape, business marketing skills, design fundamentals. And above all a resourcefulness and willingness to learn and to be constantly 'comfortably uncomfortable'.  


3. What do I think about the future of design? With a focus on digital/web/tech space.
Like always let’s take a barebones look at how the commercial internet has evolved over time. 

Information exchange - early internet/web 1.0

Basic commerce - web 1.0

Community – web 2.0

Mobile ubiquity 

Shared economy – Integration with bricks and mortar and everyday life

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Where I think we're heading. Immersive, seamless, borderless and integrated. 

VR/iOT/Chatbots/Autonomous living/Autonomous driving/ Seamless integration (we never think about electricity, we’ll start to not think about being online or offline it just is) Technology wise these are the platforms innovators are paying attention to. 

 

Here’s some of more thoughts on where I think the future of design is heading. 


A focus on designing for emotion not just utility. It’s already happening but I think it’s going to hit an engagement level that we haven’t seen before. Something that maps the whole experience out seamlessly. Airbnb is trying to understand and map out the WHOLE travel experience. Pokemon Go tapped into the nostalgia of millennials. VR can make full immersive experiences communicate so much more on a visceral level. Taking cues from game design, movies and developing day to day experiences that are more compelling and personal. Designs that feel a lot more human. 


Through physiological affluence and abundance there will be a strong push towards the next phase which is mental well being. It plays to Maslows Hierarchy of needs. With so much information, connectivity, media at our disposal – there will be a focus on meditation, mental health and mental well being that is delivered on mass scale. To quite down the noise. There will be a huge opportunity and market here, socially people want to be involved in what everyone else is doing. If socially we prioritise this movement, people will on board for fear of missing out. Think how the Fitspo space has really taken over with ubiquity of social media. Human values haven’t changed in forever – everyone wants a better life. Technology and design is going to be an enabler of that. 


More seamless integration and automation into our lives.  Everything is going to become more personalised and more predictive. Rather than us having a problem > finding a solution > applying solution > receiving an outcome. Design systems will be more proactive rather than reactive based on data, AI and personalisation. Google Now is already trying to do this. When I travel in my car it gives me traffic details and route times before I even ask, based on my past trips. It knows where I plan to go and most of the time it is right. This proactive approach will be applied to all sorts of aspects in our lives. To something mundane like automatically turning off lights when we leave the house, locking the door, automatically get more milk etc etc. Solving the problem before it exists. There will be opportunities to design these systems. 


Designing systems and experiences not necessarily screens. It’s already happening. But it is thinking more holistically about an end to end experience as opposed to just a series of screens happening in a silo. Thinking about how you can design anything to have the disneyland experience. To make things either invisible or magical. 


Being connected always. What are the implications of always being connected? The internet of things has been bubbling over the last 7 years and it’s about now that things are starting to mature. What could you create that can solve pain points that exist in our day to day lives? That could be solved through constant connectivity? There are design opportunities in this space, heaps of cool shit is being made as we speak. 


Other economies and developing nations. Everything I’ve mentioned has been focused on first world countries. But basic design patterns and opportunities will need to be implemented for 3rd world countries that start to come into their own, as they establish their lifecycle of connectivity and infrastructure. Which means opportunities to apply what you know today, to develop sites/apps/experiences for these countries in a few years. 

 

The future is already here. Technology adoption curve.

If you look at this adoption curve you’ll see that innovators and early adopters are already using technologies and designs that will shape our future. What we don’t know is which will reach the early majority, late majority and laggards which is the mainstream who will dictate the staying power of these technologies and potential design systems. So you can play roulette and gamble with design opportunities that will currently present themselves. VR was a miss in the 90’s. But perhaps now is the right time. 


4. How can you and other designers transition? 
Make things – do things outside of your normal workspace. I played around with chatbots a few weeks ago, you should be doing the same. Keep tinkering and experimenting. Read lots of books. Think about the future. Think about needs. Think about people. Think about systems. Think about outcomes. Then learn and apply those concepts. You go to put in the reps. Experiment. Make things, launch things and learn. Invest in yourself and your growth. I can write a clear plan, but you need to be proactive and do what interests you. Find your own truth. 

If you are resourceful you will survive and not have to worry about giving foot massages in the near future. (No disrepect to people who give great foot massages) 

Keep learning, the future is bright.