9 Big Design Trends That Will Shape 2018

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By Mark Wilson for Fast Co. Design

Everyone thought 2016 was bad. That was before 2017. Over the past year, we learned Russia used social media ads to meddle in our election. Our data was stolen from Equifax, Yahoo, and Uber. It felt like virtually every man in a position of power was revealed to be a total dirtbag. The list goes on.

In the design industry, there is some good news. Many designers are taking their own roles in the events of 2017 to heart–and many of them have big plans to make 2018 a better year. We talked to everyone from systems thinkers and industrial designers to AI specialists, political activists, and chocolatiers, and asked each of them to name the trends and forces they think will shape the coming year.

Not only did they offer us a slew of industry shifts to watch out for; all of them shared that they feel an urge to make 2018 a better year than the last. In their plans, you’ll hear the optimism and self-reflection that only a year like 2017 could inspire. Here are their comments.


“I see political-oriented design being far more user-centered. Usually, the user-centered approach to design is seen primarily with product design, but I can see grassroots political organizing adopting a lot more of the principals. Already we have various organizations using websites as a resource to have their base participate in local actions. I anticipate these resources going a step further, where we begin to see the development of tools dedicated to informing people of local actions, local elections, offices to run for in their communities, etc. But we can also see the development of programs and activities to reach those who aren’t privileged to have and use technology.

“Regardless of the end product, I believe the goals will ultimately lead to face-to-face interactions. But having those design decisions guided by users should be the focal point of political-oriented design in 2018.”Samuel Adaramola, lead designer, Our Revolution


“The future of designing to advance the human experience will require a more comprehensive look at, well, the human experience. Not every one of us have the same abilities or the same needs, but everything from the way our cities are planned to the design of most of our products and services assumes that we do. Going forward, it won’t be enough to design for some people, or even for most. The real challenge will be to design for all.

“More industries are heading in this direction. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella made a touching commitment on the company’s behalf to design their products to be more accessible to all people, a matter close to his heart having fathered a son born with cerebral palsy. Apple and Facebook have proven they are committed to accessibility, too. Retailers like Target and Tommy Hilfiger are expanding on their own previous commitments to accessible design, making clothing and goods that suit people of different abilities.

“At first, perhaps the biggest challenge for organizations looking to honor inclusivity will be knowing where to start. With a clear focus on empathetic, human-centered design, more businesses will be able to share their best offerings with more customers from even more walks of life.”Justine Lee, Frog


“Humans are on a cusp of the single largest revolution in technology, or call it the next industrial revolution. Design as a practice is going to evolve rapidly, as fast as the neural networks and AI are. Artificial Intelligence Design will be the new role in the AI industry, just like the movie director has a role in making the movie. Artificial Intelligence Designers will lead multidisciplinary teams in the creation and design of the era of artificial intelligence.

“We are advancing extremely rapidly in perfecting deep learning algorithms. Today, we know that a deep neural network learned how to play chess at a human level in only four hours–and that it will never be beaten by a human. We are perfecting a number of things that AI can do for us, and at the same time, we are compiling a pile of extremely narrowly focused functions, all of them disjointed as a whole. It is like we are building an artificial person but we are starting from all parts of the brain at once.

“Currently, technology is leading the way in the advancement of AI. But just like design made technology human, design will play a critical role in the advancement and adoption of AI.

“The next massive role of industrial design and design in general is going to be the creation of an entirely new design practice: AID, Artificial Intelligence Design. When you look into history, it is the industrial designers that led the way into making the world a better place for humans. Industrial design is the most complex art of design because it combines human, technologies, tangible objects, and multilayered functions. It is industrial design that gave birth to the laptop and UI and UX–think of Bill Moggridge and the Matrix computer as the very first portable computer. An industrial designer who gave birth to the Apple Macintosh–Hartmut Esslinger–also gave birth to the UI and UX that the world had never before seen.

“Artificial Intelligence Design stands to become the most exciting design practice in the history of humankind. This practice does not exist yet, nor there is a school for it. But luckily industrial designers, being nonlinear thinkers and being able to cross platforms in true depth from sociology, ethnology, material science, ecology, biology, physics, mechanical engineering, electronic engineering, software development, and so on–they are our best bet, and are the best-equipped people on the planet to tackle this complex task of making AI that is safe and good for humans.”Branko Lukic, founder, Nonobject


“Digital is no longer the centerpiece of brand experience.

“For the past five years, how we design services has been dictated and limited by the touch points that were available to us–the PC, mobile, and analog touch points. Much emphasis was placed on creating experiences delivered through digital screens and as a result, people spent more time interacting via device than in person.

“This is about to change. A major shift is underway in technology, fueled by lower costs, users’ growing angst about their “screen addiction,” and the disaggregation of core technology components, such as cameras, microphones, speakers, and screens, which are increasingly being embedded in an array of different environments–especially in the home. From Amazon to Alibaba, a growing number of primarily digital brands are now placing greater emphasis on physical presence while making the most of digital and data to improve experience.

“Soon we will no longer be able to delineate between digital and physical design–they will be one and the same. Carnival Corporation, for example, has developed the Medallion–a wearable smart coin that connects customers to a cruise ship through a digitally enabled service called the Compass. Each guest receives a unique and seamless experience with their personal preferences constantly captured to optimize service as it is delivered.

“This will have huge implications for brands and organizations. Re-skilling will be critical, and organizations must ensure their workforce is willing and able to learn, relearn, and relearn again. They must also ask themselves: What future structure, brief, and role should there be for digital departments or heads of digital as digital becomes ubiquitous and increasingly invisible?”Olof Schybergson, CEO, Fjord


“I think there will be a further evolution of the definition of the word ‘value’ in 2018.

“Take the froth around the monetary value of bitcoin vs. its perceived value. It’s going to perpetuate CO2 emissions and kill the planet (faster than we already are)–it’s a great example of how the multidimensional understanding of and use of value is evolving. You have the raw power of monetary value butting heads with the value of a conscience. Who wins that fight historically is clear. Similarly, the very idea of truth has been put into question in the larger national conversation, by our very president, and that has profound consequences. Brands are actively getting involved in that dialogue around genuineness. (Patagonia’s recent extreme statement in response to Utah parks is great example.)

“We are in the midst of abiding change. We don’t yet have the tools or systems in place to help us navigate. And the values we collectively upheld, which fueled the industrial revolution and governed the last generation, need to adapt. As designers we have to remain optimistic. As individuals, we need to become more skilled at navigating the value-exchange, from CRISPR to machine learning, from artificial intelligenceto emotional technology. Every company today is cultivating a path that leads simultaneously in two directions–powerful tools that enhance what it means to be human, and powerful tools that threaten the core of humanity. We have to stick up for ourselves and opt-in with intention.”Charles Fulford and Dawn Moses, Elephant

Read the full article on Fast Co. Design.

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