Changing Design and Designing Change

People are less interested in the science and engineering, the mechanisms that make emerging technologies such as advanced robotics, synthetic biology, and the IoT possible, but they are deeply concerned with the outcomes. As these technologies emerge, grow, and mature over the coming years, designers will have the opportunity to bridge human needs and the miraculous technological possibilities.

It will be a great and even intimidating challenge to involve design early in the process of defining new products and services, but it will be critical as we establish the practices of the twenty-first century — from the design of technology policy, to systems, to tactical interaction frameworks and techniques. Policy design will involve advising regulators and politicians on the possibilities and perils of emerging tech; system design will demand clear understanding of the broader interactions and implications that surround the immediate details of a product; and framework design will benefit our day-to-day tactical work, providing a foundation for designers and design practice to come. What all of these technologies will create, as they evolve together, remains to be seen. But, the most interesting discoveries will be at the intersections.

Understanding new technologies, their potential usage, and how they will impact people in the short and long term will require education and collaboration, resulting in new design specializations, many of which we have not yet even considered. In the coming years, as the boundaries between design and engineering for software, hardware, and biotechnology continue to blur, those who began their professional lives as industrial designers, computer engineers, UX practitioners, and scientists will find that the trajectory of their careers takes them into uncharted territory. Like the farmers who moved to the cities to participate in the birth of the Industrial Revolution, we can’t imagine all of the outcomes of our work. However, if history is any indicator, the convergence of these technologies will be greater than the sum of its parts. If we are prepared to take on such challenges, we only have to ask: “What stands in the way?”

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