Even before the COVID-19 crisis came to definitively mark the start of the new decade, several momentous changes in the field of design have already started to take place. It’s unlikely that the pandemic or the accompanying economic downturn will do much to quench the role of design. In fact, they may only serve to accentuate it.
Whether your organization has an in-house design team or works with a third-party digital design company, it is likely facing a series of ongoing decisions that decide the future role of design in this “new normal”. Here are a few big trends that will continue in the coming decade.
1.) Big data and automation will help marketing become more integrated with the design
For decades, it had been a dream to more thoroughly integrate different business processes into a seamless whole. Now, thanks to automation and trends in “big data”, we’ve come much closer to that reality — especially when it comes to marketing and design.
Today, automation and big data allow for product development and sales cycles that are measured in days rather than months. Other areas where marketers and designers work closely together have benefitted immensely as well.
Product development, process engineering, and advertising are just some of the areas generally put under the scope of marketing that requires extensive design inputs. Already we are seeing manufacturing, logistics, and other areas that were traditionally separate from design become more integrated. This trend is only likely to continue as businesses seek to become more agile and competitive.
2.) UX design will be more important than object design
While object design will always be important, digital design — especially when it affects UX — will be the definitive bread and butter of design. It may be argued that the UX (user experience) design is already seen as more important. As the access to technology becomes more democratic, more businesses now recognize that it’s what’s under the hood that matters to more consumers these days.
For instance, just a generation ago, more smartphone manufacturers were competing with each other based on their products’ physical form factors. For the past decade, however, we’ve more or less settled into the familiar “black rectangle”, with most exceptions still being a variation of this idea.
Now phone makers are competing more on the overall experience of their products, rather than on how easy their phones are to carry around. Apps, interfaces, access and security options, camera quality, and other features that have little to do with the physical shape of phones are generally much bigger selling points these days.
You may also see parallels in different devices and hardware available for virtually every application. This trend is only going to continue as weaker performers are more likely to drop out of the competition.
3.) Engineering disciplines will emphasize human design
An ongoing trend in engineering is to involve more of the human factor in product design and development, rather than just raw specs performance. It’s recognized that the inclusion of “humancentric” design in products can help make them more functional, safer, easier to understand, and pleasurable to use. However, the value of designing products and systems around human usage patterns has often taken a backseat to cost and the speed of implementation.
However, thanks to successful businesses that have emphasized humancentric design (Apple being the most notable example) more and more businesses are attempting to integrate better design in their products, even to the somewhat ironic extent of using AI to help with humanizing products.
While there will remain a place for products designed for raw performance, most consumers will continue to seek products that conform to their needs. They will also have less patience for products with steep learning curves.
4.) Storytelling will continue to harness and be influenced by design principles – and vice versa
The design of any object or process is, at its core, a form of communication. In a physical object, the design is what guides a user into understanding an object’s function as well as how a user feels about it as well.
The same holds for UX processes that happen in the digital realm, where users may not be necessarily able to physically interact with them. In essence, expertly-executed design in both physical objects and virtual processes can be considered to be an avenue for storytelling.
Consequently, we have been seeing an increase in the use of the term “design language”, as perhaps a wider acknowledgment of this reality. The opposite is also true, with design principles starting to affect how businesses practice storytelling.
The art of storytelling has been sparking widespread interest in marketing and sales circles in the past decade. As with a good design, a story told with a specific approach and purpose can lead an audience to a specific action or conclusion. This makes storytelling principles as vital to the sales and marketing process as good design work. We are only going to see more businesses adopt this holistic approach in the coming decades.
5.) Companies that fail to invest in design will fall behind
The COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing worldwide economic depression is poised to cull a large number of uncompetitive businesses. Good design serves as a “force multiplier” that can serve to improve the efficiency of any product or process. While it won’t guarantee a business’s success, those that have invested in the good design are going to be more likely to weather the storm.
Rather than taking a back seat to concerns over cost, many businesses will also continue to invest in design precisely because it can help manage the losses brought on by the downturn. However, the use of third-party design companies may be the way forward for many organizations, as they tend to offer better cost management compared to in-house teams.
The brave new world of the 2020s will be defined by more than just the pandemic. We are likely to see the humancentric design take a key role in helping organizations of all types and sizes take that next leap forward. If nothing else, they may even depend on it merely to survive in the tougher times ahead.