The role, influence, and impact of design thinking in product development has garnered tremendous respect and attention over the last two decades. During this time, the function of the designer on the product team has transformed from that of being the team’s “artist” to that of being the team’s product strategist and narrator – giving birth to a new archetype that blends the strategic and the creative (the Narrative Designer!), and forever altering the way companies must think about software development.
Narrative design is more than just the future of UX. It is also the future business model. Today, many companies are still oriented around “selling products and/or services to customers.” But this isn’t good enough for modern consumers. To earn their loyalty, companies must embrace a more humble mindset. They must strive to serve people’s needs. Through this lens, the experience consumers have with your company is the product. It’s more than just a simple transaction…it’s whether or not you provide the experience (the solution) they need and desire. These are the narratives that forward-thinking designers are (or should be) shaping.
Let’s look at a few of the other trends and technologies that will significantly impact UI / UX design in the both near and distant future.
Artificial Intelligence (AI): It is inevitable… UI Design will die.
AI is an uncontrollable phenomenon that stands to significantly impact UI / UX, specifically Interaction Design and Visual Design. In the future, interfaces won’t be designed by humans, but rather by software. There are two main reasons for this:
- The Perfection of Interaction Design. Once we have identified the “optimal” way for a user to interact with a particular feature, take for example a “calendar picker,” there is no real need to “re-invent the wheel” with every new design iteration. As our body-of-knowledge around user testing begins to grow and becomes ubiquitous, we begin to narrow in on what’s optimal for different use cases. The need to change an interaction paradigm only occurs if the nature of the interface or the user’s context completely changes. As computers become intelligent and capable of “self-learning,” software interfaces will not be designed, but rather generated on the fly for optimal user interaction. Interactive components will live as a library within a software system, leveraged by AI-enabled systems to serve individuals with optimal experiences. As new “interactive components and paradigms” are added to a software’s UI library, AI-enabled systems will be able to not only test the basic efficacy of the interaction paradigm in real-time, but also its efficacy across contextual environments, devices, personality-types, ages, etc. In this manner, “good design” will give way to “the right design,” every time.
- Personality Responsive Design. Personalization is already at the heart of many digital strategies, but AI will take it to the next level. With AI, the experience a user has with a digital interface is fluid. The UI layer of a digital product / service will be able to automatically re-render content to accommodate a user’s unique tastes, dispositions, age, etc. Thus, the question will shift from “what content does this user need/want?” to “what kind of relationship should we (the company) have with this user?” At the heart of defining these relationships will be a personality and content strategy that defines the character narrative a company wants to play in said individual’s life. The content strategy of an application, including character development and approach to story-telling, will become the experience.
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Manipulation as a Skill (Personality Designers)
“The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words. If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who must use the words.” — Philip K. Dick
We discussed how AI will take over tactical design tasks, but how will AI systems themselves be designed? At present, we tend to think of AI systems as a singular personality type. However, as AI models evolve, these systems will become capable of taking on different personality “types” and methods of communication. Designing appropriate personalities for different tasks and modalities will become a critical skill-set. Defining and designing a personality and/or behavior, though, requires subtlety and manipulation, so that downstream “automated” decisions have the desired impact and psychological frame of mind. This means designers of AI systems will require a keen understanding of psychology and sentential logic, and must also be able to cultivate wisdom.
The Re-Emergence of Craftsmen & Industrial Designers
“We live in a digital world, but we’re fairly analog creatures.” — Omar Ahmad
In a world where AI increasingly drives communication with consumers, the concept of an “interface” will slowly begin to disappear. In recent years, the prominence of the industrial designer has taken somewhat of a “back seat” to digital designers in terms of popularity, but this trend will reverse in the future. An industrial designers’ ability to think and craft in 3D; knowledge of different materials and their applications; and understanding of yet-to-be modern manufacturing processes will re-emerge as critical skill sets. This shift is being driven by three primary things:
- Virtual & Augmented Reality (VR and AR). VR and AR 3-D design skills are becoming increasingly important in the realm of UX design, especially as the application of these systems is creating countless new opportunities within the travel and entertainment industries, and, more importantly, in industrial design and modeling. Everything in this arena – from the way medical equipment, automobiles, and, airplanes are conceived and produced, to architecture and interior design – will undergo a transformational shift. (We are already experiencing the beginnings of this!)
- 3-D Printing. 3-D printing and industrial manufacturing are on the cusp of a major boom. No longer will our manufacturing processes be restricted by the economies of scale that have driven design patterns in the past. 3-D printing will allow for customized design patterns that can serve a particular need to be cost-effectively “printed” and leveraged within a larger manufacturing context. This will ultimately allow for newer, higher-quality products and ideas to come onto the market…ones that never would have seen the light of day in the past.
- Material. Material innovations are by no means new, however, advances on this front will continue to transform our world in radical ways. Specifically, advancements in material technologies will shape how technology is embedded to better serve users, our experiences, and even the environment. As new material capabilities (think Tesla’s solar tiles, and/or conductive fabric that can monitor vitals) come onto the scene, new and better ways of supporting user needs will become apparent. This has the potential to radically challenge current ideas on how we are served by technology, and the role of privacy and security within the context of a ubiquitously connected, “invisible” environment.
The Internet of Things (IoT)
Our physical world is changing just as rapidly as our digital one. To date, we have been largely restricted by the need for a “box and a digital interface” to connect with the virtual world, but this model is changing rapidly, as more and more connected “things” make their way into our lives. These new “things” offer new paradigms for design, interaction, and manufacturing that many have yet to consider, including the ability to be perpetually on, but invisible to our senses. How should these connected devices be designed? How should we interact with them? There are many questions that are yet to be asked or answered. Ultimately, a “craftsman” mindset will help us thrive in a world where “personalization” will become as much of a physical reality, as it is a digital one.
For business leaders: The future of UX is “UX as the product” and, as such, our world is driving toward a time where defining and articulating the experiential narrative (the “what” as well as the “why” and “how”) of your brand / product / company will be the single most important thing you do to attract and retain customers. Interfaces are disappearing and business models are shifting to service-oriented models that extend the engagement and, thus, the relationship you have with your consumers. Managing this on-going experiential narrative will require long-term thinking and keen narrative design skills, especially as AI systems take over digital communication channels.
For designers: While technologies like AI will shift many designers away from the tactical to the more strategic, narrative, and psychological domains, the foundational skills you possess – those of holistic “right-brain” thinkers – will position you to successfully lead in the future. And for those who wish to remain “tactical,” the physical world, enabled by smart materials and other technologies, will return as the primary medium.
David Issa is chief experience officer (CXO) at PointClear Solutions and Worry Free Labs.
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