Frog sets the 2018 trends agenda

Despite a year that has seen significant developments in the application of machine learning, predicting the future is still not an exact science.

Nevertheless, strategists from the global design business Frog have collated a series of technology trends to look out for through 2018.


AI Disrupts Design

With AI as both tool and skillset, the evolving role of the human-centred designer will be to dissect what it means to be human.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is changing everything, and the Design industry is no exception. As AI enters our design toolkit, the opportunities are exponential and unknown. Well-established heuristics, design language systems and user interface toolkits will make it possible to train AI to learn the basic principles of designing a great digital product. Some time-consuming design processes will increasingly be automated, others may become obsolete.

With the help of AI, datasets become rich sources for innovation. Design-forward companies like Airbnb and Netflix have long been integrating AI into their products and services to personalize experiences. Photography platform EyeEm is using machines to assess image data by training AI to define qualities like ‘beautiful.’ By deploying AI across all phases of a project, designers can take a much broader and more meaningful perspective on their creations.

Meanwhile, as AI becomes embedded into our products and services, designers are tasked not just with creating machines for humans, but creating machines that are human-like. In the process, we’re dissecting what it means to actually be human ourselves. As more consumers demand their AI not just have a personality, but a charismatic one that they want in their lives, we enter into an unprecedented level of intimacy between human and machine. To succeed in this world will require a human-centred touch.


Radical Vehicle Redesign

Thanks to car sharing, electric vehicles and autonomous driving, our cars (and how we use them) are due for a major overhaul.

Your current car will be the last internal combustion engine (ICE) car you ever buy. For those who buy new cars, your next car purchase is likely to be an electric vehicle (EV). Those who buy used cars will buy their first used EV within just a few short years. The economics are about to flip, making the purchase, maintenance and ownership of ICE cars more expensive than EVs. Car makers are lining up to meet demand. Interestingly, the secondhand value of ICE cars may plummet as owning one becomes uneconomical compared with EVs, further rewarding early adopters of EVs as they palm off their ICE cars.

And your EV may well be the last car you ever own, if you even have cause to purchase a vehicle at all. Uber turns 10 in 2018, and has now given more than 5 billion rides. It’s given rise to multiple competitors and even impacted the way we think of transportation.

Yet, despite technological advances and a boom in car-sharing, vehicles look the same as they did 10 years ago and business models remain unchanged. On the near horizon are autonomous cars, which stand to further disrupt the way we commute. Soon, we’ll see cars and entire business models redesigned to reflect these massive shifts.


Inclusivity Goes Mainstream

From fashion to finance, companies will get serious about designing products and services with more people in mind.

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. 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 honour inclusivity will be knowing where to start. With a clear focus on empathetic, human-centred design, more businesses will be able to share their best offerings with more customers.


Social Media Grows Up

The Wild West days of social media are over as more commit to bring value to the space with responsible, empathetic design.

Social media’s reputation has taken a beating recently. Critics have growing concerns over its role in hosting nefarious actors who spread misinformation and troll online–not to mention the massive proliferation of bots trained to do both. And with multiple studies into its impact on mental health, it’s clear more are taking a closer look at what social media is in society. Now is the time to determine what it could be.

With a renewed responsibility and a focus on purpose, these platforms will increase in value. As a bonus, they’ll force businesses, neighborhoods and governments to start taking their presence on these channels seriously. For example, crowdsourcing experiments like New York’s 311 Online has inspired the startup Cityflag to build an app that could make participatory government available to any city willing to give it a try. Managed communities, such as social networks for physicians and neighborhood networks like Kansas City’s Nextdoor, create places for pooling efforts and creating momentum.

As we increase scrutiny and regulation, users will become more savvy and be willing to commit to making these vital online places for sharing, learning and connecting a safer place for all. We’ll move away from seeing these digital spaces as just a means to gather for entertainment, but as grounds to empathize and make a difference.


Lo-Fi Data, Hi-Fi Experiences

We will add anonymized, lo-fi data to the IoT toolbox to create richer, human-centred experiences without violating privacy.

Looking forward, the way we think about capturing data will change. Along with rich, high-fidelity datasets that reveal a lot about users, there will be a need for a new class of data rich in something else: anonymity. Low-fidelity audio data capture will focus on the quality of a conversation, not the subject matter. With location and heat-mapping sensors, we’ll be able to draw conclusions about people’s behavior, but not who’s behaving. Sensors that capture low-fidelity images enable us to know someone’s there, but not who it is.

We all know big data is big business. It’s why our smartphones measure nearly aspect of our existence, from how far we walk to how long we sleep. It’s why sensors are embedded in our devices and installed in our spaces to track our movement, then connect to the web to enable smart services. The trouble is they measure too much and collect unnecessary, potentially intrusive information. Concerns around privacy and security are inhibiting the development of data-driven experiences. Enter instead a focus on low-fidelity inputs: collecting the data that is needed and only the data that is needed. Sensors certified and branded as “Lo-Fi” will be welcome everywhere and trusted by all.


Hardware Gets Even Warmer

From brighter colours to rounder corners, softer materials and more human personalities, hardware is becoming our friend.

In 2017, our hardware got a little warmer. New Google Homes and Amazon Echos launched with bases wrapped in fabric, better reflecting the cozy living spaces they’re designed to be invited into by customers. We also saw softer hues on devices such as the Nest thermostat and rounded corners on Samsung and LG phones.

Looking ahead to 2018, hardware will start to become more expressive. As our devices continue to hold a critical place in how we live our daily lives, consumers will demand options that fit their style seamlessly and aid in self-expression. Soon, our gadgets will be merged into our fashion choices. Products will be made in brighter, more vibrant colors, with materials that are soft to the touch or that feature prints and graphics we are proud to wear in style.

Meanwhile, even the virtual personal assistants embedded into our hardware are getting warmer. To increase adoption and personalize these experiences, virtual assistants are becoming friendlier, more human and more in-tune with our preferences. Gone are the days of cold, robotic voices and phrases that feel generic to all users—your bots’ personalities will soon uniquely complement you.


Immersive Experiences for All

AR, VR and other immersive tech will finally cross their barrier to widespread adoption: we won’t have to use them in isolation.

Augmented reality (AR) adds a surreal layer to the real world, while virtual reality (VR) can transport us to entirely new ones altogether. Until now, however, these worlds have been relatively lonely places, designed for us to explore on our own.

So far, the biggest barrier to mainstream adoption of immersive technologies is that using them has historically been a solitary experience. Personal smartphones and fully immersive headsets don’t allow multiple users to share the same views, and these systems are not currently designed to interact with one another. Now, the focus will be on helping us see these new worlds together.

The next stage in AR and VR adoption is to develop the accepted hardware and interactions that will help the internet extend into the environments around us. It will introduce new standards of engagement between users, as well as between users and their devices. This expansion into immersive storytelling, education, gameplay and entertainment will have incredible design implications, both in the digital world and in physical spaces. Soon, instead of being lone travelers on our augmented and virtual journeys, we’ll have friends along for the ride.


Machines Before Medicine

From digital therapies to edible machines that fight illness from the inside, we’re moving away from prescriptions and toward cutting-edge tech.

The next big thing in preventative medicine may be not be medicine at all, and it’s unlikely to come in a pill bottle. Instead, digestible robots will become your body’s advocate, patrolling for illness to keep you healthy from the inside, before you may even become aware there’s a problem. All the while, it will inform personalized, targeted, intelligent advice to help you get healthier. Trained to detect and treat different medical issues, edible health robots will also travel through the bloodstream to deliver important nutrients.

Similarly, digital therapeutics, or ‘Digiceuticals’ as it’s also called, is a growing health discipline and treatment option that uses digital and connected-health technologies. Many who suffer from conditions like arthritis, migraines and depression will benefit from these digital alternatives to traditional medicine.

A digital approach may also be the next generation of addiction treatment and rehabilitation, especially to fight the growing opioid epidemic. Every day, more than 90 Americans die after overdosing on opioids every day, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse. Digital therapeutics could get addiction rehabilitation into the hands of people who need it most—those who could not otherwise afford treatment.