I recently read two articles that say a lot about the future of experiences.
- On March 12, Christopher Hawthorn, architecture critic for the Los Angeles Times, announced that he is joining the city of Los Angeles to fill a newly created post, chief design officer. He wrote in the Los Angeles Times that “I’ll be working in the mayor’s office to raise the quality of public architecture and urban design across the city — and the level of civic conversation about those subjects.” He indicated that one of the ways that Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti will measure the success of the post is how well the city discusses “design in a more sophisticated and nuanced way in Los Angeles” — with a more thoughtful, innovative approach to how to design the city’s spaces to make the city’s future more inclusive to its diverse population.
- I heard about the announcement only hours after reading a Fast Company interview with the design chiefs of bellwether businesses ranging from IBM to Microsoft. The article noted, “The top priority of Tim Allen, design partner at Microsoft, is to evolve Microsoft’s existing design skills, methods, and tools to meet the needs of ‘people interacting with technology in immensely diverse ways.’ Inclusivity is not only a philanthropic imperative, but a business one. ‘[W]e know that customers and employees prefer companies that design in ways that are inclusive, cohesive, and sustainable for all human beings,’ he says.”
The theme I see connecting these stories: design has arrived. Yes, designers are making experiences more delightful and products more efficient. In addition, design is becoming essential to the future of entire businesses and economies. As the Fast Company article notes,
After years of being ignored, designers are getting the recognition and investment they craved, whether they’re working for a tech giant, a healthcare startup, or a white-shoe firm . . . As Joanna Peña-Bickley, head of design for Amazon AWS Internet of Things, puts it: ‘If you have design in the C-suite you are more likely to be the disruptor, not the disrupted.
Why? I think a number of reasons stand out:
- Experience is the brand. As Altimeter analyst Brian Solis wrote in his book X: The Experience When Business Meets Design, product is only one way that brands distinguish themselves now. The customer experience has become so essential to a company’s success that designing great customer experiences is synonymous with creating products that build customer loyalty. This will especially get stronger as enterprises embrace technologies that afford ambient experiences.
- New priorities. Both businesses and cities are getting smarter about designing spaces and experiences that are more sustainable and adaptable to changing lifestyles. It matters that Los Angeles is taking a fresh look at designing its future. Cities such as Toronto are doing the same thing through ambitious redesigns to accommodate self-driving cars and connected technologies. Meanwhile, Amazon famously designed The Spheres as a more eco-friendly employee space using 40,000 plants from around the world. The experience at the spheres provides a respite for employees while creating a urban destination for the community.
- Inclusion. Organizations are getting better at designing products, experiences, and spaces that reflect a more inclusive sensibility, such as designing for accessibility and for an aging population. As Arin Bhowmick, vice president of design at IBM, wrote recently, “We need to consider all spectrums of diversity and inclusion: visible differences (genders, race, language etc.), non-visible differences (e.g., LGBT) and diversity of mindset (different thoughts, perspectives, experiences). Diversity and inclusivity are not just buzzwords.”
These and other factors are coalescing to make experience designers more strategic in a few important ways:
- By designing experiences that are central to the future of an organization, whether a business or city
- By envisioning ways to help organizations make the world better in addition to selling products and services
The role of design has evolved since the dawn of the 21st Century and the introduction of the internet. Today, with the introduction of ambient technologies like Augmented and Virtual Reality, I see Design being a competitive differentiator and a strategic arm for enterprises large and small. Design has matured beyond just about making things pretty. Design and more broadly designing experiences is the driver for how to make humans’ lives better. We are becoming the catalysts for change, and at Moonshot we’re proud to contribute to this evolution through our own creative studio and partnering with clients to design more empathetic experiences.