Going into 2020, industry experts predicted some business trends would affect the design world: Advances in voice-user interfaces, for instance, would require designers to transpose their visual UX skills into an entirely new field. But saying the year has thrown some curveballs would be an understatement. Rather than focus on designing and building to catapult us into a new innovative future, in a snap, the world went virtual. Livestream workouts, Zoom meetings (and happy hours), distance learning, online doctors appointments and contactless grocery delivery all became a part of the “new normal.” This swift shift to a touchless economy likely staved off a full-on economic downfall. But transitioning to a new distance economy affects everything from the workforce (meet your new grocery assistant, a robot named Marty!), to how we pay for purchases (goodbye, cash!), to how we spend our days working (hello, collaborative software!) Behind all of these changes, of course, are design jobs to be done. Here, we look at five of the biggest emerging business trends and predict how they’ll affect the design community:
The rise of robotics
In this emerging touchless economy, robotics will play a crucial role. Since they can’t get sick, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce predicts robots may become essential workers in several industries. Over the next year, you may see fleets of machines cleaning and disinfecting retail spaces or drones delivering your prescriptions . UX designers have already played an important role in making robots functional and functional, and will have more opportunities in the future as robotics play a more central role in the economy. However, according to the Brookings Institute, many of the 36 million jobs that have a “high” susceptibility to automation are also labor groups already underserved by the pre-Covid economy, including low-income workers, the young, and workers of color. Designers also will be able to apply their innovation skills to help create equalizing opportunities.
An avalanche of mergers and acquisitions
To survive in a COVID economy, companies need to get nimble. Industries that have fared fine with a brick-and-mortar model, like car dealerships, have found increased competition in digital-first companies like Carvana as consumers hunkered down at home. Certain tech-forward companies have needed to get creative, too: For example, Uber’s purchase of Postmates signals the start of a merger and acquisitions push as companies look to build new revenue streams. Behind all of this is the need for designers to help translate much more of the physical world to be accessible from the palm of the hand, while taking into consideration the desire for fast delivery amid high demand.
A climb of contactless interactions
And as more of the physical world becomes more accessible online, it’s expected that more of our human-to-human exchanges will be replaced with technology, too. One notable example: Point of sale interactions. As far as payments go, Covid has all but killed cash as paper money is notorious for being coated with germs (though there’s been no major medical studies that prove cash transmits the virus yet..) While contactless payment systems are already in place, there’s still work to be done to make no-touch payments even more seamless: Think of how many prompts we encounter now, from signatures, to entering email addresses, to adding tips and skipping receipts. Not only will designers be tasked to create concise user flows to minimize finger-to-screen contact, but they’ll also need to help make digital wallets accessible. A 2017 survey conducted by Forrester Consulting and commissioned by JP Morgan Chase found only 16% of U.S. consumers have used a digital wallet before. Designers will also need to consider concerns as some low-income earners, retirees and immigrants and those with disabilities may not have access to electronic payments.
A new era of non-enterprise software
You already know remote work is the new norm and many companies are investing in helping teams work collaboratively across different time zones, which, according to a Society of Human Resource Management poll, is one of the biggest struggles employees report having. But as designers have had a chance to “drink their own champagne,” while trying out the tools they’ve built for remote workforces, they’ve found that many of them have seen increased usage in non-work related matters (who would have thought you’d have your grandparents on a weekly Zoom chat or virtually send your child to summer camp?) There is an additional need, too, for solutions to help prevent burnout as many remote workers are finding it impossible to enjoy a work-life balance—especially those who are homeschooling. While existing software gains additional features to support social life online (like Hulu Watch Party), you can expect a whole fleet of new digital products to provide togetherness in the near future.
Standing for social change
Over the past few weeks, corporations have been taking firm stances in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and against police brutality. For example, as posted on Netflix’s Twitter: “To be silent is to be complicit. Black lives matter. We have a platform, and we have a duty to our Black members, employees, creators and talent to speak up.” But substantive changes are going beyond social media postings—and they’re happening quickly. Companies have pulled back ad spending on Facebook in response to the social media platform’s loose reins on President Donald Trump’s aggressive and misleading posts. Reddit has banned thousands of forums for hate speech. Consumers are interested in the demographic makeup of companies, and in response many organizations have committed to diversifying their workforce. The 15 percent pledge is asking that brands pledge 15% of their shelf space to Black-owned businesses, since black people make up 15% of the U.S. population—a call that brands like Rent the Runway, a clothing rental service, and Sephora have answered. In general, design will look different as people begin widening their perspective to think about those who come from different backgrounds than they do and as there becomes a concerted effort for more diverse voices to enter the conversation.