— 2018

In 2017, we saw the rise of conversational AI, an increasing buzz around human-centred design, and a growing global awareness of service design (finally!). We saw bitcoin balloon and burst, disappointing a few late investors but paving the way for a more mainstream understanding of blockchain technology. We agonized over national borders, fought fake news in our filter bubbles, and transferred much of our trust from sturdy standard-bearers to “disruptive innovators”.

This year, we see third-party API innovation happening more quickly and with fewer barriers to entry. As CityMapper’s night bus service has shown us, strategic service design based on aggregated, anonymized user data can lead to better and new user experiences, and the EU’s 2018 open banking regulations are sure to encourage this strategy in the fintech sector. In a post-truth world, people don’t want trust so much as they want transparency and decentralisation, two themes that we predict will have a strong impact on technology and service design in 2018.

What can we expect from this year? We put together some insights and predictions for 2018 from our designers and consultants here at Spotless:

AI is gaining a conscience, but not total consciousness

The beginning of 2018 saw a strong uptick in searches for “facematch” and “artificial intelligence”, due largely to Google Arts and Culture’s trending app. Smartwatches and other wearable tech like Intel’s Vault glasses are poised to gain more widespread adoption and further add to the data coffers that will feed AI’s cognitive development. While a large number of people are beginning to understand what artificial intelligence is (and offer their face to help it learn), a growing number are also asking what it should be. The fear of mechanical robots replacing jobs pales in comparison to the fear of intelligent technology doing more harm than good. But with this public trepidation in mind, AI experts seem to be asking the right questions as they move forward: How do we eliminate AI bias? How do we distribute the wealth created by machines? How might we ensure artificially intelligent software is robust against manipulation?

While we ponder these larger questions, however, examples of Narrow AI – machine learning focussed on a single task – are growing more and more numerous in the workplace. Customer-facing services like help chatbots are already widespread, but new uses for the smart software like Zoom Videos’ auto-transcription of voice calls, precision farming for agribusiness, and HR chatbots in large companies will help expedite internal processes through simple machine learning algorithms.

Blockchain is no longer chained to bitcoin

We can now clearly see how hyperbolic the market for bitcoin and its crypto-cousins were, but its emergence spurred an interest in the decentralised ledger system that supports it. In 2018, we already see a growing awareness of how blockchain can be used in the provision of services, from wholesale insurance to your daily cappuccino.

The fee-less and transparent transfer of currency is the goal of many new blockchain-based companies, and aligns with the larger transition from insecure financial computing to secure computing. We predict that the traditional banking institutions will move with this trend – and push them to innovate – rather than let it eat their profits.

Design Thinking is pervasive and… invasive?

With more options available, customers will hold companies up to higher standards. This is true for banking as well as nearly every other bureaucratic bulwark. This is partly due to the popularity and proliferation of Design Thinking methodologies, which encourage rapid and transformative innovation in the interest of the end user. We’ve seen it happen with sharing economy services like AirBnb and new social services like local late-night transport, so people believe that companies can and should innovate in their favor.

But more and more tech blogs and respected designers are weighing in on the issue of Design Thinking, critiquing it as far too codified to encourage true creativity. While clear processes give stakeholders and non-designers a language with which to work on multidisciplinary teams, the terminology can encourage a collaboration too focussed on process rather than outcomes. In response to this, we predict 2018 will be a year for the resurgence of craft. It will be a time for practitioners see more appreciation of their design expertise, without losing the best of what Design Thinking brought us: a core value shift toward user-centred design.

Users are taking back their data

There’s a new awareness and questioning of what data consumers are sharing and how it is being used. Naturally, software and online platforms gather enormous silos of data which are then used to create a more proactive and intuitive service for its customers. However, one size does not fit all, and little thought has been given to empowering people to set preferences within their service. We know customers have grown fatigued by notifications on their devices, and subsequently, they have begun to question what data they are sharing.

Users want to steer clear of an Orwellian future, yet apps, software and online platforms have utilised dark patterns to surreptitiously hide data collection and its subsequent use from their users. However, this year users will be given more power and control over the services they receive – no more putting up with constant notifications. Now services will be based on a tiered give and take relationship. One of the challenges this brings is that this proactive level of engagement needs to be thoughtful. Companies like LEGO and Ford have embraced this by incorporating users into their design process through social channels.

Designers are bypassing the screen

2018 is the year of the user, and frankly, they’re fed up with using. At least in the traditional sense of eyes on screen. Facebook’s news feed algorithm change, seemingly a direct response to growing public concern over addictive social media services, was met with an expected plunge in stock value but reflected the larger zeitgeist. People are rubbing their drying eyes and greying their screens, hoping to give their weary eyes a break. That doesn’t mean they want to give up on technology, it just means that we don’t need to stare at it. It means that we want to swipe our foot under our car door to open it, rather than unlock it through an app – and it means that screen-less, voice-activated tech like Google Home and Alexa will become more popular as people begin to resist smartphone sedation.