The Future of Digital Product Design
Digital Product Design
Foxes are better forecasters.
When trying to discover how “experts” can improve the accuracy of their predictions, social scientist Philip Tetlock found that “a dart-throwing chimp would have beaten the vast majority of professionals” who were asked to predict the outcome of various world affairs cataloged in his 2006 volume, Expert Political Judgment.
He came to realize that “foxes” – individuals who knew many “little things, as illustrated in Isaiah Berlin’s thought experiment, The Hedgehog and the Fox – did far better at predicting futures than so-called “hedgehogs.”
These individuals knew one big thing but failed to connect the dots between the various cross-currents – or, the “little things.”
Why does this matter in the context of digital product design and modern product design?
Because a discipline that already pulls in expertise from multiple spheres of expertise – such as digital marketing, UX/UI design, CX (customer experience), web development, dashboard design, data visualization, and even engineering – needs to capture the major markers in a complex landscape where change is the one constant.
Our creative director, George Railean is one such fox. He’s got a strong handle and a deep reach into the future of digital product design trends because he understands how the various threads are converging right now – which, when laid out, knit themselves into a clear, connected path.
As we dive headfirst into the future of digital product design and UI/UX design trends, keep this in mind: none of these modern product design trends are occurring in a silo. The next decade stands squarely on the shoulders of how new technology in product design has been developing all along.
Digital Product Design Trends in 2022
In the 2010s, a significant part of the future prospects of product design rested in digital transformation.
We needed businesses, organizations, and brands to put digital transformation first.
As a priority – whether that meant upgrading their internal processes so they were software-first or diving into the digital space with mobile experiences and web application design that gave customers a sense of the brand in an online environment first.
In the 2020s – and over the next five to 10 years – we’re going to see a profound mindset shift as a result of businesses and organizations adopting digital transformation. We needed to focus on tinkering with and refining digital experiences to sell products and services before we could make digital product design a standalone goal in itself.
Specifically, we’re seeing a shift in thinking from “How can digital be used to sell more products to customers?” to “How can technology be used to deliver consistent customer value across environments, contexts, devices, and/or screens?” And, ultimately, how product design can change the world. Trends in product design will help you make the right choice, that’s why you need to stay up to date.
The future scope of product design is a necessarily vast one powered by collaboration and cross-pollination between designers, product owners, customer experience specialists, and digital marketers.
In this environment, a digital product:
- Is something that can be sold – for example, Facebook and Google have digital products only sold to advertisers. Uber sells access to services for car owners who want to monetize an otherwise idle vehicle. And Amazon sells Prime because there’s a perceived value to Prime shipping or streaming services beyond simply shopping on Amazon.com.
- Solves a specific problem by identifying the issue, designing a solution, and then taking that solution to market. This means there’s demand for the solution and market forces accelerate digital product evolution because it’s driven by the technology that builds it.
There’s no “physical” substitution for products created using digital product design. They deliver such a core value that customers exchange their time, money, or even privacy for access to that digital product. Understanding this distinction is key because it’s the vat where these emerging product design trends are stewing.
The Impact of Technology on Product Design
“Product designers will become masters of multiple hats.”
To build a product of the future, digital product designers will need to amplify their skill set and step out of their area of expertise. This shouldn’t be an issue, though, because, as we’ve seen, convergence has been happening for a while now. And designers are naturally curious.
The past decade has seen product managers focus on how we build things while designers articulate what we build. The two have learned a lot about each other, and, in the next five to 10 years, we’ll see product designers begin to ground their design in business-growth thinking.
And, again, this is a modern approach to product design because we’re trying to specifically solve a customer’s problem and highlight value through the interfaces, dashboards, applications, and even design systems we create.
Their digital design decisions will need to be grounded in considerations like how to drive revenue through product or how to minimize costs and diversify risk. They’ll also understand how, through their work, they can pull several small levels to drive business results.
The commoditization of design plays an interesting role in this development. Free design resources, design systems, and done-for-you design tooling is freeing designers up – or, at the very least, giving them the option – to move up the value chain by upgrading their own problem solving and business thinking skills.
Designers who are braced for this type of change will incorporate a lighter, more nimble way of thinking about the problems they’re solving through digital product design services – thus adapting to a rapidly changing landscape and successfully operating across a variety of functions.
Digital Product Design Innovation
“Innovation will increase the focus on designer responsibility and ethical design.”
Design doesn’t occur in a silo – and, no, we’re not talking about a customer’s desires or needs.
For a second, let’s think about the climate of the 2020s, which has a deep impact on future product development. A lot has marked the beginning of the decade – including the prevalent spread of misinformation, accelerated climate change, and extreme anxiety about surveillance.
And since we interact, on a daily basis, with technology informed by design, there is (and will continue to be) a growing shift in the “ethics” of design. In other words, designers will need to take responsibility for the outcomes of their design choices. Product design innovation is very important.
The design workflow will need to consider how the small elements of their choices come together to promote positive and transparent customer behavior – or, instead, bring about further obfuscation about user pathways, questionable practices when it comes to knowledge representation or even illicit data collection.
This means that designers will need to consider a variety of factors when creating digital products, like freedom, protection, legality, choice, privacy, influence, inclusion, sustainability, and accessibility.
Here’s how that might work in action:
- Accessibility focuses on making a product or service usable for users despite impairments or disabilities that could otherwise inhibit them from consuming or interacting with the product. We’re already seeing this in action with platforms such as Instagram providing object recognition technology to describe posts. There’s room for improvement, which is where AI-powered image caption generators will feature more prominently. This iterative process is just one example of how technology helps in product design maturation.
- Inclusivity in design means crafting products that acknowledge the diversity of users across race, ethnic origin, age, gender, language, and sociocultural context. A simple example of inclusive design is multi-ethnic and multi-racial emojis in Slack.
- Sustainability is starting out as one of the top product development trends in 2022 but is poised for rapid adoption. Building sustainable websites and apps that reduce processing time and load on servers means reducing emissions. Something as simple as optimizing visual content using lazy loading, choosing a lightweight CMS, or choosing “green” hosters that rely on renewable energy like solar, wind, and hydro are just a few current examples.
Modern Product Design
Speaking of cutting down on unnecessary clutter when designing digital products, design systems will play a huge role in how quickly, efficiently, and delightfully we design.
Currently, we’re right at the beginning of a product development future trend headed by Google’s Material Design 3. As a flagship UI library and a comprehensive design system, Material Design 3 is paving the way for quite a few significant shifts in the way we design and articulate online visual identity and user interaction.
First off, the focus on Flat 2.0, which is an improvement on the initial “Flat” design trend, will deepen. Flat 2.0, demonstrated by Material Design 3, offers users a good balance between usability and flat aesthetics – which is incredibly necessary as interfaces are becoming increasingly complex.
Secondly, this “focus on flat” for minimalist UIs is creating a nice little void where product designers can then incorporate motion design and animation that works on different platforms, creates a visual rhythm, and attracts or guides a user’s attention.
Furthermore, motion graphics and animations can, in a very sensorial way, shape a product’s brand and experience in a more lasting way than a simple static image. And that’s really what’s missing from digital experiences right now.
We’re seeing a greater use of motion graphics as cues for user interaction in product design development. These initial dustings include animation in navigation, menus, or interactions that result in pop-up graphics or mimic 3D movement on a 2D plane.
The emphasis on Google’s Material Design 3 is not the first example of a design system creating priorities for product designers – but it’s definitely the most successful.
Its three new features – dynamic color, which gives users more control of color schemes, UI design patterns for foldable mobile devices, and design tokens that package up repeated styles in CSS variables – simplify the product design process while offering greater customization opportunities for users.
Designers are then freed up to focus on “microinteractions,” which is when designers focus on the “small stuff” of an interaction between a user and a digital product. While a product can successfully solve a user’s broader problem, how it does so is often just as important – and plays an unconscious role in how fully users feel they can adopt a technology.
For example, the Nest thermostat features a screen that remains off most of the time. When someone approaches the interface, it lights up – without having to hit a button to view the temperature in the room. Users perceive this as perceptive, intuitive, and seamless technology. But it couldn’t have come about without designers focusing on the microinteractions that take a product from “nice to have” to “can’t live without.”
So, it’s not just what we build – how we build and design digital products will change thanks to modularity in product design. What we’re seeing is an embrace of atomic design principles, which enables the design of larger, often more complex, design interfaces from smaller “pre-built” or pre-defined components.
Atomic or modular design gives designers a tried, tested, and true way to transform the abstract into concrete by relying on design systems that keep the user experience consistent and scalable. And we’re going to need this methodology to remain lightweight while still creating thoughtful user experiences rather than just a collection of screens or web pages.
The Future of Product Design: Conclusion
The further we get into the next decade, the more prevalent these themes will become. Some, like agentive design, which is the application of artificial intelligence in product design, and conversational UI, will still be emerging – and might only see a maturing in the 2030s and beyond.
But, one thing is for sure: we’re leaving behind the legacy methods that focus on a physical product first, and then consider software.
We’ve seen this firsthand at Fuselab Creative digital product design agency. Also, as a dashboard and interface design agency, we help businesses begin with digital first, designing new products around the software that powers it up.