As a product designer and part of the team of dreamers, I prefer to invent the future rather than predict it. But here are 10 trends we are watching in the coming years. Some are mundane, and some are unnerving, some are even hopeful! As always, the future will be as we design it.
1. New digital ecosystems powered by AI
Smartphones changed almost everything about how we relate to other people in the 2010s. Based on what we see from our partners and clients, the 2020s will radically change the way we relate to the supercomputers in our pockets. The rise of smart AI assistants may mean we all have a smart AI OS on our mobile device will. What we previously called “app” will be known as a “skill” that your smart AI has. Why would you need to have Uber, Doordash, Expedia, and dozens of other service-based apps on your device when you can have one single, smart AI assistant that will be capable of unifying these services?
2. The rising primacy of voice interfaces
As designers, we are always aiming for a powerful interface with a zero learning curve, the interface that will put functionality front and center. Those of us with kids have seen them lean into the NLP capabilities of Siri and Alexa. Older users also turn to voice-based systems because they are exhausted by graphical user interfaces that constantly demand for their attention.
Voice won’t “replace” typing, but we are already being asked to design more multimodal interfaces pairing voice input with graphical output.
The voice input icon will be an expected part of the GUI in 2020.
3. A new digital landscape for money
Non-traditional financial companies (rather than banks and governments) are rapidly inventing new cashless ecosystems. Trust and accountability remain big hurdles, but we expect to see a lot more:
- Biometric mobile wallets accessible only by owners, where payment requires your fingerprint, facial, or retina recognition.
- Cashier-less retail stores. Not a new concept for many Asian countries, but still a new trend in the western world.
- Credit cards issued by digital companies. Apple Card represents a new kind of credit card that connects to an iPhone user’s Wallet app and can be used as a default option whenever they use Apple Pay.
- Cryptocurrency. In west Africa, 15 countries recently agreed to adopt a single cryptocurrency, called Eco, in 2020. Large companies like Facebook want to introduce their own digital currency.
4. Real value from Augmented Reality
Augmented reality is finally mature enough to be more than a gimmick. AR tools are increasingly used to solve a variety of problems, such as orientation in shopping centers or providing quick contextual instructions on how to use a particular product.
5. Technology that responds to your emotional state
More and more service designs are trying to incorporate reading facial expressions and the tone of a user’s voice to adapt the system behavior. We’ve seen this targeted primarily towards the good of the consumer - such as increasing user safety when driving. But it is inevitably going to also drive personalizing content, advertising, and experiences in ways we have yet to imagine.
6. The rise of DeepFake & 7. AI-generated human personas
Martin Scorsese's latest gangster epic, The Irishman, reportedly cost $159 million, most of it on digital effects to make the actors appear decades younger. Cinema enthusiasts used DeepFake technology to do de-aging and demonstrated the results.
But the rise of deep fake videos and misinformation is fueling this era of fragmented truths and making it hard for an average person to differentiate fake from real. With no real regulation, it isn't clear whether our social media platforms are up to the task of protecting the public from campaigns of misinformation.
At the same time, large social media companies invest in the development of deepfake technology. For instance, TikTok’s parent company quietly built a deepfake maker. Snap’s recent acquisition of AI Factory also makes it clear that the company is investing in the technology. Samsung’s Star Labs announced NEON at CES (full disclosure, we helped design their launch materials), which promises a whole panoply of emotionally interactive services and companions in the future.
Adobe has recently announced a service that will help to detect manipulated pictures and videos through the use of AI. But can it keep up?
It seems that we’ll soon be designing for a “post-truth era.” We anticipate needing to create product experiences that encourage critical thinking from our users.
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8. Digital detox
For the last decade, technology companies have worked hard to build dependency on users. With their focus on views, session duration, shares, average time on page, etc., product teams have become better at creating addictive experiences than at creating enriching ones.
It’s not a surprise that we are grappling with defining what constitutes a “healthy” relationship with technology.
In a nod to concerns over the mental health impacts of social media and the addictive nature of games, providers like Apple are encouraging features that let people track and limit how much time they are spending in each app.
In combination with algorithmic / AI-assisted prioritization, we hope to see a push toward enabling better user self-control. We have already seen a focused move toward interface designs that help users reduce the duration of their average session in our partner’s plans.
9. Predictive analytics will make digital experience more humane
We expect to see renewed innovation in predictive analytics. While there are already lots of algorithms (Netflix, Amazon, Google, etc.) suggesting what we search, buy or watch, most of us are looking for something beyond what we have already experienced, or outside of the ordinary. We love to hear recommendations from family and friends because such recommendations feel genuinely personalized. We expect to see AI with predictive analytics focused on creating new recommendation methodologies - both in exploring the tails of the distribution and in powering connection to genuine personal conversations - allowing for the discovery of new content to feel seamless and nuanced.
10. Battle against dark patterns
“Only three seats left!” “No, I don't want free X” It seems every digital experience these days tries to leverage FOMO. In the design world, those techniques are known as dark patterns - manipulating users through stress and trickery to take desired actions.
These techniques are so endemic that governments have started to create laws against dark patterns. And while laws won’t win the battle against dark patterns, they will help make users aware of the concept and more wary of the companies who abuse them. It almost gives us hope for the future of less stressful digital experiences.