Designing for the Future: What path should designers take?

A few members of the TrackMaven Design Team were lucky enough to attend the Smashing Design Conference in New York this year. Wade, Blake, and I had a blast exploring the streets of Hell’s Kitchen, making new friends and learning a bunch of skills to bring back to our team. I think I can speak for all of us that we left feeling refreshed and inspired!

“Stoop kids don’t leave the stoop” — Taken by strangers we met on the streets of NYC

While there were a lot of awesome talks given by great speakers, Josh Clark’s Magical UX and the Internet of Things stood out to me the most. Clark not only spoke to my nerdy side and desire to receive my letter from Hogwarts with his magic wand demonstration but he also spoke to my product designer side as well. He made a very fascinating point that we as designers might have been wrong in trying to make technology all about engagement. The majority of people are now stuck with their heads down staring at a device instead of experiencing the world around them. Is that what we intended to do? Make everyone miss amazing moments in their life? I don’t think so. I don’t think we knew what would happen when cell phones, tablets, and laptops became popular.

Picture courtesy of Clark showed this during his presentation and it definitely drove the point home. HE MISSED AN EFFING WHALE!

Now that we know what effect technology is having on the world, it’s up to us to decide if this is the type of world that we want to live in. I’m completely guilty of this as well. I don’t think I can take one awkward ride up an elevator without reaching into my purse to grab my phone so I can avoid any interaction what-so-ever. I also bring it out when I’m at dinner with family and I don’t even realize I’m doing it and then get super annoyed when I’m sitting with someone constantly on their phone. Ironic.

I personally don’t think this is the type of world we should live in but I don’t think that technology has to fall back or be less innovative. In fact, we should be even more innovative. As Clark said, we need to figure out how to blend technology into the background and we have the “magic wands” — cell phones, tablets, laptops — to do it. Thanks to products like Phillips Hue and Nest, we can now control everything in our house — from the lights to the temperature — with our cell phone, that’s pretty magical! Imagine if someone from the 1700’s traveled in time to the present and we handed them a box that could turn darkness into light, they would think it was sorcery!

However, this is not easy. I started to think about how I could apply this newfound revelation to TrackMaven. How can we make the lives of marketers easier by blending into their workday? I can’t wait to explore this with our product team.

A great example Clark mentioned was Amazon Dash. Dash’s innovative technology blends right into the background of your home. We’ve all had those moments when we’re like, “Crap, that was the last of the laundry detergent and I still have 5 loads to do.” Now, you can just press a button when you notice it’s getting low and it’ll show up at your door! Of course, we don’t want buttons all over our house but this is a great start into something revolutionary. Amazon will take this button and learn from it, innovate on it, and turn it into something even better that fits in with our everyday lives.

Amazon Dash Tide Button

I think designers now have more power than ever to steer where technology will go. Will we continue to bury people’s faces into devices? Or will we create products that use technology in a way that interacts with our everyday lives? Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could find a way to make technology and our surroundings seamlessly coexist?

We should all stop and think about the type of products we are building and if we are contributing to the lack of human interaction with the world. Is it like CandyCrush and people lose track of what time of day it is? Or is it like Amazon Dash, where it goes unnoticed but provides a huge convenience to its user?

As designers, we have an influence and a “seat at the table” more than ever. We’re respected in the community when we were once an after thought. Maybe instead of thinking of ways to make our apps more addicting, we should be thinking about how to make them an essential part of our everyday lives, so much that it blends in and feels natural. We have a chance to shape the future into something different than what it’s becoming and we have the magic tools to do it!

Let’s design for the future we want!

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