Designers have a lot of tools at their disposal, and the things that designers make can take a lot of forms: posters, websites, books, illustrations, experiences, strategies, technologies, objects, and more.
What if we embraced something as unwieldy and confusing as “the future” as an additional medium for designers? We are entering a future in which everything around us, from the sidewalks we walk on, to the cities we live in, to the hats on our heads, can be mediums for communication and engagement. Because of this reality, the processes for uncovering design problems and creative solutions are completely changing.
One of the best actions designers can take to stay relevant in a time of great uncertainty is realize that design ultimately impacts everything, and everything impacts design. When framed as a medium of design, the future can become something that is relatable, tangible, and bespoke. Here are 6 emerging technologies that designers should keep an eye on today:
1. Autonomous Vehicles
(Interior of the Concept-i) / Toyota
What is it? Also referred to as “driverless cars”, autonomous vehicles have the ability to navigate and sense an environment without relying on human input.
What’s an example? At CES in 2017, Toyota unveiled their Concept-i vehicle which is designed to make drivers feel like they are playing a video game. When drivers want to just sit back and relax, though, they have the ability to enter “Chauffer Mode.”Learn more.
What are the implications for design? The typical means of engagement with an audience that is trapped behind a wheel has previously been limited to billboards, and exterior signage. In a future in which every driver is behind the wheel of a self-driving car, new means of engagement and interaction will reveal themselves, and distraction will be less of a concern for safety. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the average driver spends 46 minutes in their vehicle every day. In the age of the driverless car, designers and marketers will learn to exploit the attention of these users. As a result, new means of engagement and opportunity for designers to find creative ways to fill that time may include a suite of reading interfaces, advertising experiences, entertainment platforms, augmented reality games, and more.
2. Chat Bots
DoNotPay app – Photograph by Joshua Browder / The Guardian
What is it? Occasionally powered by Artificial Intelligence, a Chat Bot is an automated service that allows customers to engage with a chat interface in order to obtain necessary information or clarification.
What’s an example? DoNotPay, also known as “Robot Lawyer”, was created by a student at Stanford University in order to help people overturn parking fines. Now the app is being used for some serious social impact, by using Facebook Messenger in order to help refugees fill in an immigration application in the US and Canada.Learn more.
What are the implications for design? As designers, we are in the service industry, and interfacing with clients is an almost daily occurrence. The rise of a more sophisticated Chat Bot will significantly change the ways designers engage with clients. Once fully embraced as a leading method for rapid communication, designers will train Chat Bots to present work on their behalf in order to collect feedback from dozens of clients at once. This will present a new set of challenges, and will elevate the need for designers to learn how to efficiently and effectively communicate their ideas.
3. Domed Cities
(AFP Photo/Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid) / AFP
What is it? The concept of a Domed City is still largely hypothetical, but it generally refers to a fully enclosed and pressurized urban area that is capable of creating a climate-controlled environment
What’s an example? Referred to as “Mall of the World,” Dubai has steadily progressed on plans for a megastructure that would cover millions of square feet, and house hundreds of buildings, 20,000 hotel rooms, a transit system, and even the largest indoor theme park in the world. Learn more.
What are the implications for design? After WWII, the role of designers in the creation of corporate identity programs skyrocketed thanks to the growth of an even more globalized business landscape. The global nature of the markets designers were being employed by called for a more systematic application of corporate graphic design in the interest of consistency. In a foreseeable future in which our countries and communities are divided by millions of domes, branding will transform yet again to become a practice that is hyper-localized and community-inspired. In doing so, branding will transition from the “macro” discipline that is currently being deployed across the global business landscape, to a more “micro” discipline that is hyper-relevant to each individual dome-based community.
(Bitmark Home Page) / Bitmark
What is it? Aside from being one of the most challenging Emerging Technologies to explain, the Blockchain is a record of transactions that take place digitally. These transactions are tracked and organized by time-stamping each transaction, and categorizing them in a linear, chronological order.
What’s an example? Based in Taipei, Bitmark is a blockchain startup that makes it easier for creators to claim ownership of their digital property by making it easy for people to mark their one-of-a-kind digital files with their own unique identity. Learn more.
What are the implications for design? As the development of digital media continues to expand, designers will find themselves confronting issues of privacy and ownership at scales that have yet to be considered or resolved in the design industry. The blockchain is an emerging technology that can help designers “mark” what’s rightfully theirs. By harnessing the power of blockchain technology such as Bitmark, designers can avoid a possible future in which the ownership of all digital portfolios, assets, and files is completely untraceable.
5. 3D Printing
NBC News – Maxim Grigoryev/TASS
What is it? In fancy terms, 3D Printing is known as “Additive Manufacturing”. This emerging technology allows for the printing of three-dimensional objects by way of layering materials that take the shape of a computer-generated rendering of an object.
What’s an example? For a while there, everyone was probably worried that 3D printing would never be able to go above and beyond the novelty of rapidly generating small keychains and dog-shaped tchotchkes. Recently, however, a company by the name of Contour Crafting has proven that the emerging technology can do a lot of good for the environment, and can even build a 2,500 square foot house in just 20 hours. Learn more.
What are the implications for design? As this emerging technology continues to flourish within the mainstream, and the barrier to entry decreases, 3D printing will provide an entirely new medium and potential mode of communication. The output of the traditional graphic designer will no longer be assumed as two-dimensional, or screen-based, and we will see a growth in appreciation and nostalgia for the creation of tactile artifacts within the design community. Or, perhaps we’ll just keep seeing a bunch of cute keychains.
6. Brain-Computer Interfaces
OpenBCI – Kickstarter
What is it? Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCI) allow for a direct communication between your brain and an external device by way of a headpiece that is capable of reading the electric signals in your brain. Yes, this is a real thing.
What’s an example? OpenBCI, a company based in Brooklyn, has developed an easy-to-use product that allows users to hook up electrodes to a small, batter-powered, circuit board that makes it possible for people to harness the electrical signals in your body in order to interact with a computer. Learn more.
What are the implications for design? In the field of User Experience Design, practitioners design interfaces that attempt to influence the natural intuition and/or realize the preferred experience of the end user. As emerging technologies like Brain-Computer Interfaces enter the mainstream, the core deliverable of a UX Designer will reach a new level of influence that is intimate and riddled with data. This is made possible because the feedback loop for determining whether or not a user’s experience is intuitive will be reduced to fractions of a second.
Pretty cool stuff, right? Now let’s have some fun by leveraging this quick thought-exercise that will help you connect the dots between what you do on a daily basis, and the uncertainty of the future:
Step 01: Write down a list of 5 skills you have
Step 02: Write down a list of 5 professional activities you take on on a weekly basis.
Step 03: Select 2 of the emerging technologies listed above.
Step 04: Reflect on how these 2 things might positively and negatively impact what you do.