The Future of Design in Technology

10 predictions for the next 10 years

By Julie Zhuo


Design in the chameleon-colored world of technology is still young. The word interaction design only started getting thrown around in the 90s. When I started my first job, before the advent of the iPhone, I remember our team compiling a list of all the folks we could find who had ever designed an interactive application before. At the time, the list had less than 100 names.

Today, at nearly every tech company, demand for design is through the roof. But we’re still operating a little like the Wild West — fast, loose, and with a lot of young guns. Best practices in our field are cutting edge rather than wrought through decades of experience. Processes for creating great work are as pliable as cookie dough.

It’s an exciting time to be a designer in technology (See also John Maeda’s recent report on this topic.) We are in the middle of a sweeping sea change, and I can’t wait to see where things are 10 years from now. Looking ahead and taking some lessons from more established cousin fields like industrial design, graphic design, and fashion, here my my predictions where design in Silicon Valley will be in the next 10 years:

  1. Designers will be expected to craft end-to-end experiences rather than just interfaces; product and services that can be contained entirely within the screen will be outliers rather than the norm.
  2. The average university design program will be multi-disciplinary; new grad designers will be expected to understand basics of graphic design, software, and hardware.
  3. At least half the tech products people use will be because of style and how it makes them feel rather than pure utility.
  4. “Design thinking” will just be product thinking.
  5. A majority of new startups will have a founder that self-identifies as a designer. Similarly, it will be unusual for any tech company with 100+ people to not have a design executive at the highest level.
  6. The average ratio of designers to engineers within a company will be something more like 1:4 rather than 1:8 or 1:10 as forward-looking design becomes more critical and teams require greater multidisciplinary and specialized skills.
  7. Designers will be using a completely different tool set in 10 years; we will see a renaissance of applications that make the designing and building process more powerful and efficient.
  8. We will see greater diversity in designers in tech. In Silicon Valley, half of designers will be women and a third will come from international backgrounds.
  9. The typical maker — whether designer or not — will be armed with a basic fluency of design due to better standards, education, and tools; obviously hard-to-use or poorly crafted experiences will become a rarity.
  10. The most popular products and services will be seamless with everyday life and practically invisible.

Special thanks to Julius Tarng, Jon Lax, Geoff Teehan, Anisha Jain, Courtney Kaplan, Christophe Tauziet, and Eric Eriksson for reading earlier drafts of this and providing their feedback.