Mobile is reshaping the digital economy. It's been just five years since the launch of the iPhone, but the industry has now fully embraced the smartphone era. Users now love their smartphones and cannot imagine life without them. It's clear that mobile now delivers transformative services that impact users' lives, and, as such, it's difficult to imagine a time when services were designed just for websites; today, well-designed mobile services are taking the world by storm, and most companies are scrambling to get into the game.
At the same time, we're also transitioning into a new phase in digital that's likely to be just as transformative as mobile, if not more. It involves the emergence of a new trend that positions digital services as living, evolving systems, blurring the distinction between the Internet and the real world as the two increasingly merge. It's the next stage in the digitisation of everything.
Today, interactive technology is easily spotted, thanks to glowing rectangular screens. Tomorrow that might not be the case, as our bodies, cars, rooms, or even cities will be connected and alive with technology - some of it visible, much of it invisible.
Technology in this next phase in digital will be more distributed. A wide range of devices will surround us, and they will be linked to the Internet and to each other - well beyond the current four platforms (mobile, computer, tablet, TV). Most devices will also sport sensors, meaning that lots of data - from your exact location and pulse to the device rotation or the temperature in the room - can be captured and shared in real time.
The internet is merging with the real world, and technology is meeting biology. Apple's Siri, Microsoft's Kinect, Google's Project Glass, and Nike Fuelband are early pace setters in this next phase.
At Fjord, we believe that design will play a key role in this emerging landscape, and the term that will be used to describe this new development is "living design." It will have a few key characteristics:
• Living entities - Unlike many other design creations, digital services are living and evolving entities. We need to design for fluidity and change.
• Built for people - Services need to be built around people and their lives, not the other way around. Services will adapt to our context and needs.
• Natural interfaces - The service interfaces and interactions are humanising - they go beyond click and touch, to voice, gestures, info from body sensors, and more.
Living design is driven by the Internet of Things and includes anything that can be linked, connected, and digitised online. This emphasis on digitised 'things' means services we use will literally be about life - how we live our lives, make sense of the world around us and communicate, interact, share and grow as a species.
Creating a new language
When a new paradigm emerges, a new language for interaction needs to be invented. The mobile-led touch paradigm brought us tapping, swiping and pinching. What will the dominant and universal inputs for this next paradigm be? What will a thumbs-up mean, and will it mean the same thing in the car as in the living room? What will a raised hand or a raised eyebrow mean? When you talk, when does the technology listen, and when does it not pay attention to you?
An exciting aspect in this new phase is that we have the opportunity to create experiences that are truly tailored around people - complete with their quirks and idiosyncrasies - rather than solutions that force people to understand and interact with machines on the machines' terms.
The creative use of the new language should be left to the end users. But the new universal "alphabet" will still need to be invented and popularised - an exciting prospect for any designer.
Designing for living design
Living design presents an entirely new design challenge and requires us, as designers, to embrace a new way of thinking that goes beyond the screen to consider voice technology, movement and gesture, and the full body as the interface, rather than merely a mouse (PC paradigm) or fingers (touch screen paradigm).
Also, because the real and the digital will become more difficult to distinguish, our expectations about what digital can do for us will rise and digital services will need to match our expectations. As designers, we will need to explore ways of humanising the speed of service delivery. Just as we can interpret emotion from a person's face in an instant, the expectation for rapid service delivery is the same.
For the users of these new services, the experience should be natural, familiar, and easy to adopt. It's tempting to go all out to achieve the "wow" reaction in users. But this reaction usually doesn't have as much value over time as the 'of course!' reaction. At Fjord, we consider 'of course!' to be the highest form of flattery, because this user feedback indicates that we have created something that feels natural and intuitive
The universal design driver at Fjord has always been 'elegant simplicity.' We believe in transformation through simplicity, and in the ability to create a stronger bond when you achieve elegance and connect with the user's heart.
Tomorrow's star designer
With the interaction now moving beyond screens, visual design will in fact become more important. The reason is that while some of the interaction moves beyond the screen, we will also have an ever-growing range of screens around us. Some of the screens are used for display only, while some are interactive. But overall, the amount of pixels that need careful attention will increase, not reduce.
Many specific design skills will need to evolve or change over time. At Fjord, we believe that the most successful future designers will have deep specialist design experience, but will also have working knowledge and appreciation of other disciplines needed to create amazing experiences - notably technology and business.
There's one core design skill that will not need to change: Empathy. In order to create services that work for people, good designers will need to understand and side with people.
If we're successful with design in the next phase of computing, we will create the ultimate paradox: a more people-centric society where all the corners of our existence are increasingly mediated by technology. In it, we will literally be 'living' design, and it will be a fun journey.