Industry Review 2020: Changes in the Industry, Design, & Product, & Consumer Behaviour

I use near years as an arbitrary check-point to reconcile thoughts, notes, and ideas gathered over the last year, and the year before that.

Reflecting at and adding from the notes a year before, hopefully, makes sure that good ideas go forward, and short-term noise is easy to spot & drop.

I feel these changes will have a significant impact on designers, product managers, and people working in tech. These trends are intertwined, it's hard to decipher which one comes first.

Of course, I could be wrong. There's a ton of bias including groupthink, and recency bias — so take it with a big bag of salt.

1. Structure of Design & Product Teams

Companies & startups scaling up the traditional design methods, team structures, specializations, team-mixes, and goals — seem to be coming to similar answers.

In my conversations with designers at several companies, here are some notable changes:

  • UX Research is a separate department (not tied to the design department), serving research needs of the company at large. Often touching upon aspects traditionally covered by market research
  • While UX + Product Designer or end-to-end Interaction Designers, both, remain popular depending on the culture & problems of the company/product/service
  • Visual Communication Designers are making a comeback, including motion designers & content designer — a role traditionally server by Art Departments. Why is this happening? Along with a rewned interesting in people from animation, gaming, and film-making who are experts in gaminification, motion design, character design, etc.

Which brings us to the next trend:

2. The Comeback of Content-First & Communication Design

More companies are realising that on the internet, you're in the content-attention-action business, from e-commerce to building platforms — it's all content.

Amazon is content, email is content, Instagram is content, heck all your enterprise tools are also content.

There is no escape. Features are not the big game anymore unless you have an AI that works. (We all know Siri is dumbest of all; Cortana doesn't count)

So how do you differentiate, if not with features? Make content & make it more consumable & binge-able.

3. Social & content is not done yet; it's just getting started

If you have a social media platform fatigue, brace yourself because there's far more to come. With more and more platforms embracing and winning with mixed media content and spawning new micro-communities, I feel we need at least twenty more social networks!

What's mixed-media content?

Think of an Instagram story: it can be a video, audio, text, and some more.

 

TikTok's authoring tools allow you to make even better videos. It's seriously mind-blowing what you can make with TikTok on the fly.

Here's a video I made combining clips on Primer Rush (mobile version of Primer Pro) and here's what I shot directly on TikTok.

The one on TikTok took far less time and was easier to sync to the music.

Stories are not just photos; they are the new age mixed-media content. From Snapchat, IG, TikTok to Fireworks — we are yet to see the explosion of content, social, and other platforms.

Heck, if Substack could reinvent newsletters (and we thought this war was over), everything is still open for disruption.

Subtrend: Voice, Loops, & Micro Content

The TikTok format of music/voice and video loops is going to have a significant impact on how consumers consume content.

Product pages with a series of TikTok anyone? We aren't even starting to scratch the surface. The TikTok format will be very relevant for anyone who wants to communicate anything online (all of us?) and product-marketing.

Is your brand loopable?

Subtrend: Audio + Tactile

We'd also see an explosion of smart voice-UI applications and even some tactile UI picking up (3D Touch, Apple Watch feedback, etc.). Tacklike works way better in public and for personal stuff (I don't want a ringing reminder for medicines, just my watch to vibrate in a particular sequence).

Dhvanil Patel explores this in detail on his blog.

All this new content, both from consumption and creation pov, will be fueled this next change:

4. 5G & Wifi 6 for Designers & Product People

Let's not get into what these are. What it means is more devices, always online, reliability, with low latency.

The reduced latency will allow the computationally heavy stuff to move to the cloud (someone else's computer). We'd see true smart cars, enterprise-grade smart security, real-time remote medical assistance, mindblowing mobile-games, new age educational content, and crazy new authoring tools.

We already see Google Stadia. Although Google over-promised and under-delivered with 5G & Wifi 6 — google's promise of 4K@60FPS gaming on mobile could become real.

 

5G & Wifi 6 will also allow platforms to be live first. Imagine TikTok where you can only go live first and then post what you made live (Interesting fact: Snapchat already tries to differentiate between content produced on the app vs off the app, etc.)

Maybe for the first time, you could wear a VR headset and see a live game with a screen that sucks less.

Which brings us to the next significant change:

5. Usable AR content & applications

Oh no! Not another post about AR & VR is coming — and it never does.

It's not here. My VR Headset lays in the corner which most content and the best apps already consumed, and the new content is coming in at a super slow rate.

But with Apple making considerable leaps in AR, from games to Measurement app — it feels like it should already be here.

One of the biggest applications we'll see is probably in data and education:

  • Our brains can't imagine 10,000 vs 1,000 vs 100 but what if I could show you?
  • What if I could show you how all the elements in the periodic table look like?

The most significant limitation for VR and AR is not the consumer-side tech; you can get a Google VR Cardboard box dirt cheap. But the creation of tech & content remains expensive.

Now that I can create 4K video on my iPhone (cheapest reliable 4k video-camera in the market folks), you will see me making and posting more content in 4K. But till I can just point and create VR content with my app, the content production will suffer on VR platforms.

The story can be a little different for AR, though! There are also rumours of Apple eventually launching AR glasses that will come to replace the iPhone over the decade. Not saying it's going to happen — but we're going to see more push in this direction!

 

So content platforms, mixed media, low-latency, and AR — looks like designers will be busy. We may have one of our next big obsessions already in the works:

Plus there will be crazy new screens and mediums to design for.

6. Neomorphism

Skeuomorphism was about mimicking reality. Neomorphism is about taking inspiration from reality and imagining new materials that exist purely in our digital lives.

While we are in very nascent stages, over time, designers will have to imagine new "materials" that users can interact with new and exciting ways.

Adding signifiers for AR/non-AR use, or more interaction, rich touch screens will continue to demand us to imagine new interactions and feedback.

Google's Material design laid the foundation for it long back, with things like "Fab" button becoming ubiquitous among utility apps. We are just getting started here, folks.

But like always, this could be rendered just another trend rather than a major move.

7. Mobile is the new Hub

Remember the days when a Mac or PC was your main hub to which all devices connected? As IOT continues to slip into our lives bit by bit — with an extended, yet failed, pushed to make even our toilets smarted — mobile will be the new hub.

With Apple leading the way with A13 — mobile chips will continue to get better.

This opens up a whole new world of even bigger possibilities:

  1. Real Video Editing on iPad
  2. End-to-End Music Creation with multi-device attachments
  3. 4K Live Videos from Mobile Devices (almost all flagship phones of big phones now have 4K videos)

This future won't come all at once, of course.

8. Private Design Mentorship

As traditional educational institutes continue to fail to prepare students for real real-world; the internet is cutting out the middle-men (as it does in everything).

Designers, Engineers, Science Educators, Digital Marketers are taking to various social media platforms from YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, Medium to teach & share the nuances of the craft for those who listen.

More senior designers, who find it difficult to build content online, are instead starting to take students, Jr. designers as remote interns (some paid, other free). Mentorships mostly include assignments, one-on-one sessions about specific issues the designers are dealing with.

However, as the trend catches on — we'd see Dunning-Kruger effect, mixed with the economic incentives — where a lot of impractical or lousy advice will be sold en-mass.

Information Asymmetry beats us often. However, this time, folks are seeking out mentors in people who are already working in the industry rather than going for people who started teaching without any experience in the industry.

As always, the quality of the outcome will depend on the research students do before taking up courses or mentors.

10. Difficult Discussion

This year brought out some critical discussion on #designtwitter and in the design community at large. We do need to become more mature as a community to live what we preach — empathy.

The most important discussion we've started is that of consequences of our grand designs.

11. The Sacred Unit-Economics

The unit-economics aware investors are here to stay. Product and design departments will have more participation, as this is likely to become the new norm.

It will become even more important for designers to learn about the basics of business. Asking questions to your friends in the product departments may be a good start. Also this excellent book (for India).

This "trend" has deep undercurrents in the turbulence of global-economy. I will spare you the details of trade-war, global slowdown stuff you can find online.

12. Data-Informed not Data-Driven

As we realise biases of data, consumers become more aware of what data companies and apps ask for — and as we understand most of our traditional stats methodologies multiply biases — we'll find companies, product & design departments will move their stance from data-driven to data-informed.

You want data to inform you and still allow space for bets and innovation, instead of multi-variant testing every shade of blue in existence.

We will continue to see a demand for a more balanced approach than A/B testing your way out of everything.


This article is a summary of notes I wrote for live webinar with TapChief on the topic "Product & Design Trends in 2020". Watch the full video here:

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