As a digital production studio focused on innovation, we’re constantly grappling with the challenge presented by the evolving mix of device, software and platform – a trifecta of design in the current age.
We rely on the magic that happens when physical product designers, hardware engineers, mobile application designers, backend API developers, and business strategists come together, bringing wildly different skills and perspectives to enable wholly fresh takes on completely new and digital products.
From where we sit, 2014 will be the year of the connected device – a precursor to the Internet of Things – where our smartphones act as tissue for the skeleton of hardware that’s connecting our lives.
Here are a few of the related trends we’re seeing at the frontier of digital product design.
Useful augmented reality
The proliferation of Bluetooth LE and Apple’s iBeacon protocol is helping to lay the foundation for precise, portable, standardised infrastructure with endless possibilities – be it retail, events, or in the home.
Previously, augmenting our reality involved changing our perspective based on screens held up to our faces and hackneyed interfaces revealing little more than points of interest. Now, it’s less about the screen and more about what our devices know – about us, our location, and our collective behaviour.
This is further evidence of the promise embedded within the bundle of sensors and software – smartphones – we always carry in our pockets. These devices simultaneously provide contextually useful (augmented) information, function and entertainment, while also giving us a glimpse into the coming Internet of Things – where everything around us is contextually aware.
Function in, gimmick out
Up to now, wearable technology has done a great job recording the mundane data in our lives – counting our steps, cataloguing our locations, tracking our REM sleep, and so on – but not much else.
Now, we’re at the beginning of a new era where next generation connected devices actually enhance our abilities to sleep like Withing’s Aura, learn to code like Made by Many’s BetaBall and navigate new territory like Recon Instruments’ Snow2 goggles.
In other words, actual value that’s both intelligent, meaningful and puts us at the centre of – rather than us as a by product of – the data we create.
The mobile revolution has put a massive emphasis on software over hardware – apps are the “new black”. But with new connected devices the opposite may be true – success isn’t necessarily software, it’s integrated hardware and software – holistic design that’s both elegant and functional. One thing’s certainly clear: the connected revolution will bring forth a new appreciation for physical design.
Case in point: Google – a company that dominates the world of data and software yet has never been known for its design chops – clearly sees more than just potential in its acquisition of Nest. We’ll see more of this as companies realise the impact of connected devices in people’s lives and their potential to add real value off the back of them.
All told, these are exciting days, what looks to be incremental steps are turning out to be leaps almost without us realising it – a sure sign of revolution.
Gavin Becker is managing Partner of Made by Many in New York
This article appeared in The SoDA Report, a trend report out this month.