10 years for the iPhone — What’s Next for Designers?

The short answer: great things are about to happen! Read about the current state of design and its future.

Illustration by Tony Babel

When the first iPhone came out in 2007, not so many designers understood the purpose of it. That said, the Skeuomorphic UI of iOS and the increasing popularity of the iPhone over the years started an incredible revolution where UX designers became the Kings and Queens of the tech industry.

Design is about realizing an idea by delivering an experience. That experience is becoming more and more interactive due to technology and market changes. Now, with the high demand for better interactions, the field has become highly competitive. Let’s take a look a the numbers.

The Design Market by the Numbers

The future of work and automation is highly discussed topic these days (we will address that later). In the meantime, there’s fast growth and a great need for designers:

Employment

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2016, that there were 201,710 employees in the Graphic Design industry in the U.S. — this number is probably higher, considering this data is focused on traditional graphic design (web & print) and doesn’t reflect mechanical engineers, video game designers, industrial designers, animators, freelancers and more. It also projects a growth of additional 60,000 designers by 2024.

We can also take Adobe and Autodesk as benchmarks for the strength of the design industry. Adobe stock ($ADBE) is soaring for more than 5 years in a row. We can say the same about Autodesk ($ADSK).

Both of them switched to a subscription model. Based on estimations, Adobe currently has about 11 million subscribers while Autodesk has approximately more than 3 million subscribers (Autodesk changed to the subscription a few months ago).

Market Trends

First, let’s take a look at the education industry, which reflects the growth of graphic design majors offerings in schools. Not surprisingly there’s more demand for Graphic Design degrees within the last 6 years.

Number of Schools Offering Graphic Design Majors in the U.S.

If we’re looking at Google Trends and examine popular search terms like “Print Design” and “UX Design” over the past years, we can see that since 2008 (a few months after the first iPhone release in 2007) there’s an increase in the popularity of the search term “UX Design” which became familiar with mobile & web UI design. In the meantime, the popularity of “Print Design” which dominated the advertising and graphic design world in the past decades has been decreasing year over year.

In CNN Money/PayScale’s top 100 careers with big growth, great pay and satisfying work, “Best Jobs in America” for 2017, it looks like the projection for job growth for a UI Designer is 27%.

While demand is high, it also means great competition due to more Design major graduates, more mobile apps enabling people to design and be creative, design automation and so much more. Let’s take a look at what is waiting around the corner.

How Apple transformed the market in the last 10 years

The “older” ones among us probably remember those pixelated screens of Nokia or Blackberry — we used to love these aesthetics in the past (Long live “Snake”). It was straightforward and basic. Maybe too simple, though. This is where the iPhone innovated and brought three fundamental concepts that changed the way we designed experiences and prepared us, both designers and consumers, for the next phase of designing in the future:

#1 — Touch

iOS Camera App (Christian Alcantara)

The iPhone didn’t invent the touch experience, but it was the first one to bring it to the masses.

Remember those discolored, broken and hard keypads — not anymore. Now everything is simply flat, touchable — it took few years for people to adopt the concept of touch, starting from simple gestures like swipe, pinch in or out, tap and double tap. Eventually, people embraced the touch experience in a way that didn’t happen since the invention of the Desktop Mouse and QWERTY keyboard.

This concept changed the way we design forever — we now think about the orientation of the device, the size of our thumbs, using one hand or two hands and more.

#2 — Clarity and Simplicity

Airbnb iPad App (App Store)

In the first years of iOS, we needed the Skeuomorphism to resemble UI elements real-world counterparts, to quickly understand how things simply work in this whole new touch world. Over the years the Skeuomorphism became outdated, and a bit clunky and more clean and clear experiences took over. Today, you can barely see any difference from one app to another. On the other hand, the experience is more fluent since users know what to look for and expect from that kind of experience, enabling them to feel ‘more at home’ with multiple apps.

#3 — Ecosystem

Google Maps App (PC Mag)

Apple did not just change the world with the concept of Apps, but also brought us the “App Store.” It created a huge ecosystem around its products and for the first time, invited developers to bring their products to the masses with an available distribution channel like the App Store (we’re lucky and grateful for that concept, too).

Today, we’re seeing an ecosystem of different apps that are working together to improve user experience, making it easier to be engaged with users in various channels.

What do all of these three concepts have to do with the future of design? Let me explain in the next section.

Market Changes: The 3 principals of the Future

Design is changing at an exponential rate thanks to technology advancements. As UX designer, we’re in a great position where design and technology blend with each other to create the best experience for everyone.

Here are few fields that are on the verge of changing the way we design things, and moreover, the way people consume design.

#1 — From Touch to Mixed Reality

There is a reason why this field is one of the most hyped and exciting things that happened since the invention of the iPhone. Augmented Reality (AR) holds the possibility of mixing digital content with real life environment in a scale that hasn’t been seen in modern history. By doing that, this technology can disrupt many industries — Advertising, Education, Fitness, Medical, Retail, anything you can just imagine and of course — Design too!

In its first phase, AR will probably be a part of a thing that you carry with you most of the day… your smartphone. We already saw the Pokemon Go phenomenon and how it changed the way people interact with 3D experience in a real life environment right on their smartphones.

In later stages, AR will probably be operated from glasses, eye contacts or external aids that will project digital 3D content directly to our eyes. This will allow us more freedom using our two hands and body while interacting with AR interfaces and 3D content.

Nike, Dell and Meta vision for AR interaction (Dell)
How can I start working in the Mixed Reality space?

Think about the first two or three years of the iPhone — nobody knew what to do with it, but everyone was sure that this is the next best thing and you need to be onboard. Same thing will happen for Mixed Reality soon.

Our recommendation for 2D designers or traditional UX designers is to move and adopt 3D design skills quickly. You can start with easy to use 3D apps (like the one we’re working on, uMake) to familiarize yourself with this world and move from there to more complex ones, in case you want to specialize in 3D design.

#2 — From Clarity and Simplicity to Automation and Intelligence

Adobe Sensei (Adobe)

There are many talks right now about how machines will surpass humans at some point, but let’s take a breath and see how automation can help us be more creative, productive and reinvent us as designers.

You’re probably already feeling the change — many tasks in our workflows are slowly being automated: from scripts to Open File Formats like the one that Sketch offers. On top of that, we’re also seeing AI as an integral part of design software trying to understand our needs by learning our preferences and the materials we’re working with. We already have AI integrated into Wix; Adobe is working on a platform named Sensei; Autodesk is also exploring ways of integrating AI for CAD purposes and startups are rethinking the role of AI in Design workflows.

Why should I care?

Over time, many technical tasks will become a thing of the past, by being automated by Intelligent design software. This trend will force designers to rethink their role in companies, adopt new skills and collaborate with new stockholders like physiologists, psychologists, anthropologists, researchers and data scientists being part of the design cycle.

Our recommendation is to adopt one or two new skills that are related to storytelling, psychology or data science. Those would help you to design better for your future audience that would probably interact with smart products. More about that below.

#3 — From Ecosystem to Connectivity

Amazon Echo (Amazon)

The concepts of “App” and the App Store changed the way we interact with software, develop and design apps, and the business behind software, games, and content. If in the past few years we limited ourselves to one or two types of devices (mainly smartphone and a tablet), we will see a change in that approach from developers moving to new and exciting forms of interaction like wearables, TV and more.

This year, Google announced it had reached a huge milestone in the form of 2 billion active devices running Android. Apple has more than 1 billion iOS devices, and this trend is just going to expand shortly thanks to additional devices in our home, cars, on ourselves and all around us. By 2020, Amazon is predicted to sell more than 500 million Amazon Echo devices (Hi Alexa!).

Designers and developers wouldn’t be able to ignore these new categories and will have to provide a unique experience that will improve the engagement of the user with their product, as demand and usage of these devices will increase over time.

Do I need to do anything with this right now?

Maybe not right now, but if you care about the future interaction of your product with your audience, you should start exploring ways where you bring new offerings to new devices such as wearables, home or car accessories and more.

Don’t invest your efforts only in adjusting your product to different screen sizes, think bigger and different — the physics of other channels and the environment these devices are in. You’ll also need to take into consideration the way people interact with these new devices (voice, body movements or other physical parameters). Voice Command Interface might be an interesting path, together with a textual based interface.

Summary

As mentioned at the beginning of this post — the future holds great things for designers, and we all should be excited about what’s coming!

While smartphones are going to be with us for many more good years, the extensions of it will change the way we design and consume experiences.

We’re on the verge of some incredible technology advancements that will change everything in a similar way the iPhone changed our lives. Designers should rethink their role, adapt new skills and explore new ways to engage with their audience.