And could we do anything to stop it if we did?
How global changes stopped an industry in its tracks and why hindsight should play a larger part in our design decisions.
I recently watched the BBC’s ‘When Albums Ruled the World’, a brilliantly researched and executed documentary about the meteoric rise and equally dramatic demise of the LP and it made me wonder what other industries we currently take for granted that will be obsolete in our lifetimes?
John’s article imagined a future in which a more forward-thinking HMV had foreseen the winds of change brought by first of all the casette tape, then the mp3 and finally the ubiquity of the internet as a the final factor in the reversal of their fortunes.
What I found most fascinating about ‘When Albums Ruled the World’, was just how dramatic a rise and fall the record industry experienced as the LP tracked its rollercoaster ride through our history. This fascinating show tracked first the dawn of the album as a viable alternative to the single, how it developed from the Beatles’s Sgt Pepper as the first concept album via Marvin Gaye, Pink Floyd, David Bowie and ultimately the Sex Pistols.
It’s easy to forget now just how much the the physicality of the LP and its album sleeve artwork acted as the private art collection of the average person, providing insight into not only their taste in music, but also their personality, politics and beliefs.
This made me wonder if there was some parallel to draw with how we express ourselves today via our choice of mobile phone.
An email conversation that went on in the office just at the end of last week made me suddenly connect these two things. The topic was about the iPhone versus Android and how the new Samsung Galaxy S4 is actually a contender at last to topple Apple from its smartphone throne.
Most people in the debate still stood by Apple as an unbeatable force, however for the first time strong opinion against them started to emerge, with a least two brave voices admitting they are proud to be the owners of this new device.
This coupled with a recent report into global smartphone usage particularly in emerging economies made me wonder if Apple has reached its peak with the iPhone.
Even though Apple can still seemingly do no wrong in the eyes of the media and those frenzied fans who clamour to own their latest offerings (myself included), will they too meet the fate of the once omnipotent record labels and succumb to the whims of fate that they have failed to predict?
In our design meeting about data, we explored the idea that there is a hierarchy of information we need in order to design really great services. This scale of inputs starts with macro-changes on a global scale and goes all the way down to the niche behaviour shifts caused by the acceleration of technological advances. The combination of variables along this scale can lead to significant changes to the landscape we’re designing in.
In fact, when we take a closer look at what really killed the album, it was less to do with the onset of digital than we now assume. The most potent factor in the demise of the record industry from its heyday, was that of simple complacency. And that was what stopped those riding the wave of success from keeping an eye on what was coming up behind them.
Only time will tell if Apple will make the same mistake.