Designers have a huge role in creating the future of how people relate to their surrounding environments. With the trends of today, I suspect designers will lead us to my predicted future of a population dependent on navigation technology. One of the reasons is the increased focus on personalization. More and more tech companies are moving towards experiences personalized to the user based on the user’s data. With navigation, this means that people will continue to see maps where their destination is portrayed as north and the directions to get there are all centered around their current location. Extra information like surrounding streets and landmarks will be considered distracting and irrelevant, even if they are integral to the identity of the neighborhood. By putting the user’s goals first and heavily focusing their experience, designers risk taking away opportunities for diversion and spontaneous discovery.
Instant gratification from technology also plays into why I think my future will develop the way I’ve predicted. Because more and more products and services are personalized, information is increasingly accessible, and our desires are only a click away, we get used to the idea that we can have whatever we want whenever we want. We like living in this world of entitlement and even pay for certain aspects of it. So, I have a hard time imagining that this trend will go away, even if it were for the betterment of humanity. We’re training people to be more impatient, and I believe this will lead to fewer people taking time to explore their surroundings if it’s not related to a concrete goal or task. Without the patience to truly notice the details of where we are, we will lose our sense of place.
I’m making this future all sound very negative, so I should mention some of the benefits as well. I predict that the future of navigation will make our world more efficient, more convenient, and less frustrating. These are certainly qualities that I appreciate and I’m sure many others do as well. My biggest fear, however, is that in focusing on efficiency and personal convenience, we’ll lose our ability to reflect and empathize. Therefore, I feel mixed about contributing to this future as a designer. I do want to simplify people’s lives but not to the extent to which they become entitled and unable to deal with challenges. I also don’t want to create a world where people are so focused on their own tasks that they lose site of the world around them, which is large and complex—and fascinating because of it.
In order to prevent a future where people are disconnected from the world at large, designers need to rethink the place of technology in our daily lives and how to avoid creating navigation tools that encourage passive behavior. Instead, designers should create experiences that help people navigate their worlds by empowering them to make their own choices and discoveries, rather than doing all of the work for them. This is the kind of active engagement that I hope to design for in my own practice.