Last week frog dropped its annual Tech Trends report, this time looking at what awaits us in 2020 and where the end of the “twenty-tens” leaves us. There are a number of predictions within the report pointing to both an energetic optimism for future innovations and the darker consequences of our technological triumphs over the past ten years alone.
After all, we’ve seen events like the 3D printing revolution that delivered professional quality fabrication to a consumer level at dropping price points—all the while potentially giving people access to create their own weapons. The 2010s also solidified the ubiquity of the smartphone. The 2007 iPhone design breakthrough put a powerful processor in our pocket, but also helped breed the domination of social media that has caught the attention of our psyches, and even influenced our politics.
So what does the next year hold? What does it say about our impending future and where design will come into play? Here are a few takeaways from frog’s report that we found the most surprising.
Care/of is a startup that offers customized supplement subscriptions (Photo: Care/of)
1. Design will empower consumers to take healthcare into their own hands
With rising healthcare costs along with the advancement of certain technologies, according to frog, the nation is primed to see a number of startups come along with health solutions that put consumers in the driver’s seat. As explained by frog,
"Innovation is moving faster than regulation can keep up with, and people are expecting more from their healthcare providers. In the last few years, the direct-to-consumer model has become the norm for consumer packaged goods, but now we’re seeing the trend moving to the healthcare market. Startups focused on single-point solutions, like Hims, SmileDirect and Care/of, are offering unbundled care, giving people increased autonomy over their care options. In addition, membership-based clinics are more prevalent, providing a more specialized or personalized provider experience. While some providers feel that DTC models are too divorced from holistic care networks, leaving patients to self-diagnose or connect solutions to their complete health picture, consumers are more attracted to these options because it lets them be proactive and take their health into their own hands."
As a result of this shift, the report says that health providers and insurers will “have to contend with the new ways in which consumers are accessing care.” Tools such as data analytics and virtual reality in this arena could prove to be quite useful in tracking health, making consumer agency in healthcare more plausible. Machine learning may also help pharmaceutical companies find their way to the development of faster drugs, a particularly important development in the case of impending global health epidemics and as of yet unknown diseases. “Machine learning could potentially revolutionize the uncertainty in the drug development process, helping patients get effective care and simultaneously driving down industry-wide costs,” frog Senior Strategist Sam Dix notes in the report.
These predictions, of course, can easily be viewed with either a utopian or dystopian air depending on who you ask. But it does begin to demonstrate the power of design can have in toppling bureaucracies and beginning to formulate a more co-collaborative cohesion between industries.
2. UX will go far beyond the screen
We’re all aware of the AR/VR revolution taking place, but according to frog’s report, design’s vision of the future goes even deeper—and perhaps even a little Black Mirror-esque:
“Taking the blend of physical and digital one step further, we are at the advent of a new operational mode: the brain-computer interface. We're slowly melding the space between human and computer; from keyboard typing to mouse clicks to screens taps to voice commands. Soon, we'll see interfaces that can interpret our very thoughts. Already, we see an influx in new, low-impact devices and more computational power. Smaller chipsets will allow for smart objects to connect brain-machine interfaces and allow us to imagine a more advanced Natural User Interface, to control physical human augmentation devices, and improve digital data visualization. These devices could have huge impacts across the healthcare and accessibility spaces, but they come with their own set of risks, too.”
Quite shockingly, the design and engineering world is foreseeing a future that eliminates the need for a screen using brain-computer interface. Just when we've hit a moment where many feel the need to unplug for a bit, we’re beginning to see a design mentality where technology plugs into you.
frog's report reminds us that the success and ethical conundrums affiliated with these new potential, more invasive innovations will be contingent on how designers shape them. As they state in the report, "With the right design implications and processes, we feel we can use these technologies to expand our worlds and open up our senses, rather than confining us even more to the screens in our pockets."
Scout, designed by Uniform, is a device that communicates to users when and by which smart devices our data is being monitored, and with whom it's being shared.
3. Earning public trust in technologies is paramount
Since events of the 2010s have revealed the political and societal implications of emerging technologies, it is imperative that companies begin to acknowledge and correct for errors of the past involving matters of data privacy, truth and trust. As stated in the report by Timothy Morey, VP of Strategy at frog San Francisco, "the 2020s will be the decade that sees the death of techno optimism."
The frog team’s research states that the public has become far more outspoken about their desire for purchases and services they use to align with their values. And if it isn’t consumers who eventually sway technology toward a more responsible future, we can't forget the government regulators with a laser focus on the actions of Silicon Valley's biggest companies. As such, companies must evaluate old practices to see how they can evolve to a more current ethos.
One of these areas under intense scrutiny will be the issue of data ethics, frog says: "While our data unlocks innovation in domains as far-reaching as consumer goods to financial services to healthcare, failing to safeguard this information puts people in real danger. Moreover, designing for some and not all based on data profiles alone risks ostracizing people from different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds." In 2020, the stakes for using data thoughtfully will be high, and companies will need to restructure their business models in order to "account for the currency of trust.”
The bright side of 2020 and beyond
While frog's tech trends reveal how our society might feel somewhat jaded and wary of innovation thanks to technological controversies of the past decade, it simultaneously illustrates a future that demands a more responsible way forward, and perhaps, a brighter future indeed. Other aspects of the report show how the public's more active role in politics and the environment will force companies to embrace and design a more "plant-centric future". The future of work also must inevitably evolve to be more inclusive and focused on the community within corporate structures as opposed to a ‘maximum profit by any means necessary’ mentality.
Overall, frog's report bears an optimistic outlook. But what the research most importantly calls out are the technological side effects of the past decade, those of which must be re-examined and corrected for to reach that better future we all hope to see.
Read the rest of frog's 2020 Tech Trend Report, "The Age of the Senses", here