One thought for today: Time doesn’t stand still.
What we see today as being huge and difficult and complex simply won’t be huge and complex for the next generation. Take phones for example. They seem so ubiquitous, yet smartphones are good at distribution of information because of convenience, not design. In itself a phone does improve on what other ’things’ used to do. Before the phone came the personal computer, and before the PC, surfing the net meant mainframes. Before that we had books, cameras, maps, newspaper - the phone has aggregated all of these in digital forms mainly because it is the easiest 'device' to connect to the internet. Perhaps we should have seen that coming?
We often muddle up the technology with the change agent. The computer is not the innovation (although it is pretty cool), nor is the mobile phone; they are just technological conduits to information that we have unlocked. It is access to that information that is so intoxicating. So disruptive. We have moved from a time of static information, held in books and libraries, to a period of digital information, held in digital folders on sites and servers; now we are moving into a period of fluid information where our children will expect to be able to access anything, anywhere, at any time. Just like switching on a light bulb. And of course, they will value it less, just like you probably don’t value being able to switch on a light bulb any more.
This is a period of transformation, driving us to design simpler, faster, more organic ways to interact with all the information that we gather around us every day. That process has not reached its peak; we know this because everything about the internet annoys us. We know it can be better. It's the designer’s curse.
Smartphones eventually got smart enough for us to carry our own internet around with us. And we are only just beginning to design for that instead of web pages. But the creative among you should be exploring the way the bits and bytes that connect us to the internet are starting to appear in any device, or on any surface. Watch for when we can log in to our cars, or a cash machine, a shop window, or a tree - all using the fingerprint or smart watch that we will soon use to unlock our iPhones (for the record, you can already do this with Android Wear).
How do we imbue the real world with all this digital noise, and not mess it up? What do the ‘things’ that we love look like with added internet? How do they work? How are they better? This will fall on every type of designer, from architects to fashion to interior to industrial design. It is the designer who gets to decide whether we can live in a reality mediated by screens, or if we can design a world that uses touch and gesture, sound and sensors (ok, and screens) to satisfy our insatiable need for access to information. It is design that will help us manage that urge as well. These challenges, for any designer, mark this out as the most exciting of times.
Tom Uglow is Creative Director at Google Creative Lab, based in Sydney