The Future of Design

HOW’s special “Future of Design” issue features projections from industry notables about how design, designers and designing will evolve by 2025. From Debbie Millman to David Baker to Bruce Sterling, these contributors envision a world where brands rule, companies are more connected with customers and designers create meaningful experiences.

The HOW editors received more great commentary than we had room to publish in the magazine, so we’ll share the additional insights here.

What will a brand have to do to stay relevant in 2025?

Cheryl Swanson, principal of Toniq, New York City.
To remain relevant in the future, brands must be the following:

Empathetic Brands must understand our time-pressed needs and help us plug into “fast” and help us go faster, or help us to go slower and reunite with our biological rhythms—or, ideally, help us do both (like Starbucks).

Simple Embrace one core message that evokes the emotional/experiential brand benefits, told simply and consistently across all media. Symbolically is best?with a minimum of words. Why? Humans are sight-driven and filter 80% of the world through the eyes. We remember colors and shapes first and foremost, words last. Additionally the media in 20 years will be different: newspapers will not be papers, but electronic tablets (remember “Minority Report”?), displays will not be static, but will have interactive information. Consequently, brand identities will need to be stable but not static. They must adapt to be relevant in this flexible media environment. They also must be flexible enough to adapt to us, so that we can personalize the brands we love through colors, textures, sound, scent. Which brings us to the next attribute of successful “future brands”…

SensoryIn 2025, humans will have had 1 1/2 generations that have lived “at the speed of technology.” This life rhythm, in tandem with the fact that 80% of the human race makes its living indoors (a change from 20% 100 years ago), means that our senses are becoming flattened and dull. We will need to reconnect with our humanity by igniting our senses on a regular basis and brands can create powerful experiences by bringing our senses to life. In addition to a strong visual presence, brands will need a full sensory signature—sound, aroma, tactility, taste—that transcends mere functional product usage and becomes an immersive, memorable, compelling experience.

Sustainable Brands have to love the planet in order for us to stay here with any significant quality of life. It will no longer be OK for brands to be disposable; they must transition into something else, once their primary role is exhausted. They must be “zero-carb” in terms of carbon dioxide output, reusable, recyclable. It is no longer optional.

Optimistic Brands are as much entertainment, personal identity and badge status, as they are functional products. They are our cultural artifacts, totems that tell us who we are. Now and into the projectable future, we want brands that target our aspirations, the things that make us feel good.

What does sustainable design mean to the average graphic designer today and what will it mean by 2025?

Susan Szenasy, editor-in-chief, Metropolis, New York City
Many designers talk about soy based inks and recycled paper, and that?s good. But I think it’s a short-term solution. The long haul will require some serious rethinking of what kinds of information needs to be printed in what form; what types of information can be Web-based, what can appear on your cell-phone or iPod or other PDAs, what can be told by film and TV or computer screen.

I don’t recall any serious public discussions about the role of graphic visual communication for the 21st century, a time when there are many varied and personal outlets for information, and apparently more to come. How, for instance, do you adapt the same message to the different scales inherent in so many different delivery systems; how do you find the right medium for the right audience; and if there are so many different audiences receiving unique messages, how do you maintain the essence of the culture which disintegrates if there is no common ground?

What will it be like to be a designer in 2025?

Steve Wilson, web designer, Austin Peay State University, Adams, TN
I see the web eventually becoming more and more fluid, integrating with all aspects of technology and our lives. For example, you’re sitting there watching the final season of “Heroes” and you want to learn more about Claire. So, you touch her on the TV screen, and a Google search of her brings up various sites in a floating channel on the screen.

Also, say you are getting low on milk. You can set your fridge to connect to the grocery website and buy a new gallon, as well as other groceries you need. Then, you drive through the grocery and your bags are ready.

As far as design, I think the more technically savvy we become, the more we want to revert back to old techniques. Paintings and hand-drawn/carved items will become more valuable. I also see 3-D design technology becoming more usable, with many designers adding it to their repertoire.

Young designers should prepare for the future by learning the basics of design, focusing less on technology. The technology becomes easier to use, but the design skills will be more important. Your real skills will have to be known to ensure that you are a real designer. With easy to use programs, anybody will be able to claim that they’re a designer—like they already do now.