When working in the design and innovation industries, it’s vital that you stop every now and then to take stock of the world around you, to understand the changes that are coming and to consciously project how they may impact your work. When we think about the future in the studio, it’s the following transformative trends and technologies that inspire us…
Today, more and more people are looking for moments of complete immersion to take them away from the familiar. “Otherness” is key; a transient mini-vacation from their everyday lives to another, more dreamlike reality.
Individuals who are cash rich, but time poor, want to dip in and out of experiences that used to be available only after years of preparation and practice. Take wilderness survival, for example: with minimal preparation, you can now go on a two-day camp and face the challenges of living in the wild, but safely, with experts to help and guide you. The same escapism, along with the associated social one-upmanship, is also feeding a desire to reimagine our homes as exhibition spaces for parties and family events.
The art is in the detail when designing the exclusive experiences people crave. Technology is enabling and augmenting these experiences, but physicality and authenticity remain major drivers. Whether comforting, thrilling, primitive, entertaining, ecological, exciting, terrifying, challenging or exhausting, creating these worlds-to-escape-to demands curiosity, imagination, and both emotional and sensory intelligence. But above all, it requires knowledge-based accuracy and meticulous attention to detail. Multidisciplinary collaborations are essential and designers will increasingly find themselves reinventing or redefining the scope of their jobs.
Terms: pop-up, bolthole, hyperreality, storytelling, personalised home events, experience economy, creative class
Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens and Homo Deus, predicts it will be possible for a baby conceived now to live forever; that advances in science, if you have the means to access them, will allow humans to alter and cure almost all of the causes of the cell decline and diseases leading to death, pre and post-birth. Even if immortality is not yet within our grasp, many of us will already live longer than any previous generation and can prolong our own life-expectancy further by being actively involved in our health and wellbeing.
When people engage with their health more, it leads to a proliferation of related products and services. The age-old formula of reducing stress, exercising, eating well and getting enough sleep now has science behind it (The Telomere Effect by Elissa Epel) and so it can be justifiably prioritised in our consumption. In the future, designers will face the task of domesticating and humanising devices, products and environments from the clinical, medical and therapeutic fields. In addition to equipment; food, supplements and medicines will also be designed to inspire and motivate, monitor and record.
And if and when it all fails, at least we will be able to leave behind a digital, curated self, an online afterlife…
Terms: smart medication, biomonitoring, biometrics, body integration, orthorexia, biohacking, chip implants, mindfulness
Cyberspace and digitalisation continue to transform the concepts of community and collaboration.
If there’s a viewpoint, there’s a movement, a gathering of crowds, a community of like-minded individuals. Gender inequality, climate change, race discrimination, ageism, air pollution, Brexit, post-truths and fake news all feed into countless grassroots and crowdsourced campaigns, events and ideas. Local activism is being revived by the apps that make it easier to connect and share community issues, like Nextdoor in the UK.
In this climate, new ideas and businesses can be formed, tested and expanded globally at a dizzying speed. As we question the meaningfulness of our jobs, and consider the threat to human employment from automation and AI, it is becoming increasingly attractive to move outside the (so-called) safety of permanent roles; to launch our own projects and utilize the extensive social networks and digital tools available to reach our audiences, collaborators, clients, suppliers and peers. A rising number of Linkedin profiles show individuals occupying multiple positions concurrently, as they share their skills between several companies and collectives for myriad reasons – to earn money, pursue their passion, have a better or more meaningful work-life balance and career flexibility, regain their freedom and so on. And the success of sharing economies that bypass establishments, corporations and nations supports this trend, inspiring more and more people to make a living authentically in accordance with their values and beliefs.
For designers, the concept of self-sustenance has always been a credible scenario and it’s now even easier to achieve. However it’s often the act of creating communities around an idea that provides true personal and professional fulfillment.
Terms: peer-to-peer, uberisation, gig economy, cryptocurrencies, hashtags, collective
Examples: Nextdoor, Mobike, Bitcoin, AirBnB, #MeToo, #MagicResistance, Anonymous, Zipcar, DogVacay, Drivy, Pearl Bro, Lotus Garden Mumbai, Creative Commons, Lending Club, Fat Lama, eBay, Etsy, ClassPass
Design has a symbiotic relationship with technology, and whether designers are expressing their enthusiasm or reservations for it (e.g. through return of traditional handcrafts), both will continue to affect and facilitate each other. As the rate of innovation and advancement in technology accelerates, designers are the driving force that explores, humanises and domesticates the new concepts.
The following technological developments are enabling and progressing the productisation of today’s transformative trends…
Homemade will be a vastly broader concept in the future. Once technologies become affordable, they get domesticated; think telephones, microwaves and 2D printers. Whilst there are still legal issues to consider (such as intellectual property) and health and safety concerns around materials, 3D scanning and printing will soon give people the tools to self-produce; enabling them to create their own food and art, to download and print their own shopping, to fix things by printing spare parts.
For our sector, this brings a host of new opportunities: designing personal and home devices; developing new processes for delivering consumer products; selling intellectual property directly to users in a digital format; and having the ability to create and manufacture highly personalized objects economically and fast.
Biological lifeforms continue to inspire and inform material and functional developments in science and engineering. Sensory materials that mould, adapt, stretch, conduct and self-heal contribute to the evolution of exciting products and experiences in every sector, from fashion to medicine. Perhaps more importantly, with these advances designers can make technology and many other products more comfortable, user-friendly and human.
For our industry, these developments contribute to a concept creation process that starts from new material parameters and experimentation. And when these innovations become a widespread reality, issues of scale, usability, unfamiliar aesthetics and tactility will present designers with fresh challenges and inspiration.
The rollout of AI in all areas of society is increasing rapidly. Improving and replacing human involvement in processes as wide-ranging as the criminal justice system, recruitment and education is already happening, without much public awareness. Commercial AI in the form of personal assistants is available in homes and on smartphones. The smart systems that are now integrated into everything from washing machines to smoke alarms are paving the way for driverless cars, home robotics and drone deliveries. AI is making the human/machine interaction more and more gestural and intuitive, a reappropriation of the human/human exchange. And the perpetual collecting and recording of the human experience, made possible by our digital lives and societies, provides a limitless resource from which AI can learn, predict and make decisions. Yet the excitement and opportunities presented by AI compete with serious concerns about the loss of jobs to automation, the danger of built-in gender and racial bias, the absence of regulation and standards, and the lack of transparency around the AI development processes.
Creating artificial beings and intelligent systems comes with great responsibility; and just like brands and manufacturers, designers will also be accountable for their impact on society and the humans living amongst them. The fact is, the more diverse the human design force involved is, the better the chances are that we will create balanced and decent artificial beings. We should all get involved now.
Where the future of our world is concerned, as creators, makers and innovators we make a substantial difference. Even if we can’t predict the precise impact of what we do today or tomorrow, the more conscious, informed and prepared we are, the more likely we are to get or make it right. As designers, we have the privilege of possessing the minds and tools to visualise and shape the future. We have a responsibility to kickstart and stimulate critical conversations that everyone can participate in.
And if thinking about the future stirs a sense of anxiety as much as inspiration, find comfort in these words from Hagrid:
“What’s comin’ will come and we meet it when it does.”
Rubeus Hagrid, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling