Technology has made design mainstream.
Through the supercomputers in our pockets, whether via Apple’s generation-defining flat design or Google’s ubiquitous Material visual framework, the public consciousness has raised its expectations of how things should look, function, and feel.
New fields of design are constantly born within this accelerated digital culture and the search for user-interface and customer-experience validation has driven the creative and marketing industries to the same paralysis facing everyone – too much data.
The pressure of modern business has fed an appetite for numbers, whether as a backbone for decision-making or a safety-net for failure. We have become so good at collecting data that we now neither have the time to process it or the clarity to make sense of it. And nowhere is it more evident than in the context of society’s greatest challenge – keeping the population healthy.
One in six adults collect their health data in an effort to avoid being another statistic in the obesity epidemic, and yet the waistlines continue to swell.
While there are millions of apps to choose from, the data collected falls into only a handful of biometric categories e.g. number of steps, calorie intake, sleep duration, heart rate, and the ever-generic “activity”. For a society that reacts to every beep, notification or micro-alert, remembering and factoring in a data source measured yesterday can feel like a lifetime ago.
“So what does six hours of sleep last night, seven the night before and six-and-a-half before that mean?”
It would not be a stretch of the imagination in a world where spacecraft orbit Jupiter and cars are driving themselves, to expect that our data could be more insightful. Instead of looking backwards, should the question to ask not be “How much sleep do I need tonight?” In the blink of an eye, our pocket computers could scan our schedules for the client presentation and gym session tomorrow, calculate the appropriate alertness level and energy expenditure required, reference it against our health history and weight goals, and ultimately output a recommendation.
“Dave, you will need eight hours sleep tonight. Bedtime in thirty minutes…”
Technological invention alone is no longer enough to impress us. It is at the intersection of technology, design, and the human body that technological innovations will be born to move and motivate generations to come. Value will more likely come not from the new, but in new ways of making existing things and paradigms simpler, more meaningful, and more emotive.
For while the focus is still on collecting data from body, the gold rush defining the years to come will be in the seamless and perceptively incidental modes by which the human analytics is pushed back to us – beyond the rudimentary and lifeless screens in our pockets and on our wrists.
The ubiquitous and finely crafted notification ‘ding’ will undoubtedly be joined by more tactile modes of communication – heat, light, pressure, vibration – and react not only to digital information, but also external environment factors (e.g. air pressure, sunlight, wind) and internal biometric thresholds (e.g. body temperature, blood composition, hormonal balance).
Factor in the rise of artificial intelligence, advances in robotic and textile engineering, and the accessibility of new technology, and it becomes easier to imagine a future where data is no longer something we actively collect and analyse, but simply live life guided by it.
Technology has helped design become mainstream, but now it is time for design to focus technology towards being truly humanly meaningful.