Things move quickly in the digital realm, and frankly, it can be difficult to keep up with the pace. To succeed in the problem-solving role, product designers should be prepared for new challenges around the corner.
To help equip designers of all levels, I asked my colleague Ryan Wynia, a Chicago-based design leader and the Chief Practice Officer of my company MSTQ--a design consultancy that works with Fortune 500 companies and startups--to identify the biggest, most impactful trends for 2018.
Here are his top five:
1. Ethics: Just Because You Can Doesn't Mean You Should
The role of ethics will continue to gain prominence among designers. Designers are and will continue to be a big part of growing corporate awareness around the ethical use of technology.
"One of the reasons for this groundswell stems from popular culture. The growing amount of television programming continues to explore the evolution of technology in futuristic sci-fi plots has put the implications for the way societies leverage technology at the forefront of our minds."
More designers--and in turn, more companies--will contemplate the notion that "just because we can doesn't mean we should."
2. Positive Design: You Can Design for More Than Usefulness and Usability
For Wynia, this is an area that is particularly interesting in 2018 and beyond. He's worked in design leadership positions for a handful in-house teams and agencies, but jumped ship to complete his thesis on the intersection of positive psychology, design, and technology.
In order to design technology to improve lives, we need to move beyond measuring technology's success as adoption, usability, and efficiency.
"While the harmful effects of technology will hold the spotlight, I think we'll see more calls for responsible and ethical use of technology like we did from the Facebook investors and more research on the topic coming out of from academia. I think this will garner renewed calls for technology design that cultivates well-being and human flourishing."
Wynia adds that, most of our approach today to make "good products" is really aimed at making it suck less--or what he calls a deficit-based model. The tools and ability for designers to produce that's more than "not bad," away from the deficit-based, will begin to emerge in 2018.
3. Psychology: A Better Understanding of How People Behave and Relate to Technology and Each Other Means Better Design
There's been a lot of buzz in the field of product design around behavior change, behavioral economics, cognitive content, action design, and design for slow-change.
Wynia agrees. "I think designers in 2018 will consider how their work affects habits beyond the experience they're designing for."
Wynia believes that design methods and frameworks we use need to be more robust and more sensitive to the contexts in which people use the products we design for. According to Wynia, more awareness around "slow-change interactions," those supporting behavioral and attitudinal changes that are initiated and sustained over time, will continue to grow.
4. The Screen Gets Company
I've been on my design soap box about designers creating experiences that break from screens pretty extensively. According to Wynia, that has been a growing trend and will become more of a reality in 2018.
"The diversification of interfaces and experiences will grow in 2018. Augmented reality, virtual reality, and voice user interfaces (VUIs) will edge farther into the purview of designers. As a result of virtual and augmented reality's dimensionality, constructs like motion, light, and depth will become more frequently used interface affordances."
So are we done with screens? Wynia was quick to respond.
"The screen's reign as the top interface will wane just a little bit. I don't think it will be a lot. There's still a lot of experience augmentation that's happening with things like VUI. But in the long run, my sense is that we'll be able to look back and see 2018 was the start of the screen's decline."
5. Unclear Titles and Labels: You're a What? What Do You Do, Exactly?
The confusion and ambiguity around labels that exists today will only get worse, according to Wynia.
"I think design titles, vernacular, and nomenclature will get even muddier in 2018. With the onslaught of new interfaces, omni-channel-everything, and even more demand for design, I think it'll be even harder to understand who does what, how designer's represent what they do, and what exactly someone's title ought to be. As someone who's run the hiring process in a number of different organizations, it's frustrating and it hasn't gotten any easier. Sure, you learn what to listen for, watch for, and recognize, but with the dynamics constantly evolving the finer design disciplines as they are, there's always a new challenge in the mix."