For the Love of Design

5 Innovative Design Trends for 2020

By Belle Bollant, Strategist iconmobile group

In honor of Valentine’s Day, we at iconmobile want to take a moment to celebrate one of our greatest loves: Design. Below are five of the most innovative design trends you can expect to see more of in 2020.

1. Screenless Interface

The smartphone and tablet are considered two of the most influential consumer inventions over the last several decades. These mobile devices have changed the way we create and consume content. They’ve expanded our networks and access to knowledge, and have increased our opportunities to connect with others. At the same time, the devices have been criticized for their perceived effects on eyesight, mental health, posture and weakened face-to-face communication. Smartphones and tablets are limited in their capabilities. Averaging 3–12 inches in size, these devices limit consumer interaction to a relatively small touchscreen-enabled area. They are not discrete and, more often than not, are distracting.

Thus, we’re beginning to see an evolution away from screens as the primary human-to-computer interaction and towards a screenless, hands-free future. In fact, according to Market Future Research Analysis, the screenless display industry is anticipated to earn an estimated revenue of $1.65B by 2023 (a staggering 32% CAGR between 2017 and 2023).

Bringing about a screenless future, that is both natural and inclusive, will require a merging of three popular technologies: AR, voice AI, and gesture control.

  • Smart assistants (Cortana, Alexa, Siri, etc.) and in-home devices have helped popularize AI voice technologies.
  • And AR glasses have been on the market for years. Major brands like Microsoft, Google, North, Snap, Magic Leap have all launched lenses for purchase but due to size, price or capability, their shortcomings have quelled mainstream adoption. Not wanting to be left behind in the industry they helped revolutionize, Apple has also announced its plan to launch AR glasses into the market by 2023. In a report published by The Information, the current prototypes look like sunglasses with thick frames and senior management believes the device could supplant the iPhone within a decade.
  • BMW was ahead of its time, implementing gesture controls into specific models back in 2016. As touchscreens have taken over automotive dashboards, using gestures to control basic functions seems a necessity. Though commands are few for now but it’s easy to imagine to future potential. Google also launched gesture navigation for Androids back in 2018, expanding the capability to their smart home screen devices in 2019.

While still a novelty for most applications, the increasing popularity of wearables and the launch of 5G will make 2020 a year of innovation in application and integration of screenless interfaces. It may not be immediate but the imperceptibility and natural integration of screenless devices into our everyday offer consumers experience screens can’t match.

2. Personalization Through Context

Mass production has long joined the history books. A “one size fits all” approach no longer applies. Consumers demand niche experiences and services that are relevant to their individual needs and interests. To retain users, products must be designed from inception with a focus on personal, cultural and situational requirements ensuring a unique and authentic user experience.

As wearables and other connected mobile devices grow in popularity, context will serve as the next catalyst for personalization. Designers must, therefore, perceive a user’s location, surroundings, state of mind, etc., and design according to the scenarization characteristics of any given moment.

The emerging trend of personalization through contextual experience will lead to new integrations of AI and AR technologies, as well as unlikely brand partnerships. For example, at CES 2020, Delta Airlines announced the launch of their “parallel reality” flight boards, which allows up to 100 travelers to concurrently view tailored messages including personalized wayfinding, flight information, boarding time, etc. McDonald’s is also investing in contextual personalization, using AI software to alter its in-store and in-app menu configurations based on a consumer’s previous selections, as well as local weather and traffic conditions.

Personalization is no longer a nice-to-have. As our lives increasingly occur in a mobile context, branded products and services will need to move beyond users’ preferences, converging with contextual variables of time and space, to offer truly unique and valuable experiences.

3. Natural Conversation

Humans are oratory species. Our speech is arguably the most advanced evolutionary development, allowing us to communicate meaningful ideas to one another in ways far beyond the known capabilities of any other species. As technology further infuses into our everyday, many have criticized its divisive, impersonal nature. It seems natural, then, that we would project our desire for connection and understanding onto the machines we interact with, and that we would seek this connection through voice.

The advancement of AI voice technologies has led to an increase in voice interaction. According to a recent ComScore report, voice searches will account for 50% of all searches in 2020 and 72% of users who have a voice assistant said that it has become part of their lives. We also know that 53% of commuters use voice assistants on their smartphones while they drive. However, to reach maximum consumer comfort and adoption, voice recognition and natural conversation will be required.

Google, with its continued investments in AI and machine learning, has led this charge. In 2018, Google launched Continued Conversations for their smart home devices, allowing users to make several requests or ask multiple questions in a row without having to repeat “Ok Google” between each one. The brand also announced Google Duplex, a mobile personal assistant that can make restaurant reservations, rent a car, write emails, etc. These updates are notable not just for their technological innovation but for their allowance of more seamless, natural and informal interaction. Quick service restaurants are another great example of brands at the forefront of voice AI integration. Though less sophisticated, Domino’s launched voice-activated ordering assistant, Dom, during the Super Bowl back in 2014. Between the campaign and online buzz, Dom placed 500,000 orders! Two years later, Domino’s integrated with Alexa, allowing consumers to place orders through their smart home devices. These innovative, consumer-focused efforts resulted in a massive increase in digital sales, which today accounts for 65% of total U.S. sales.

Our relationship with technology is transitioning from transactional to transformational. In the past, the business was conducted in a transactional manner: brands offered products or services at a competitive price and quality, and consumers bought them. Today, while price and quality are still important, brands have evolved to have personalities and voices, connecting and interacting with consumers like friends. In 2020, we’ll see machines and devices begin to build their personalities with the help of AI voice technologies.

4. Digital Humans

Science fiction has long predicted a world with digital humans, imagined as virtual avatars (the Matrix), holographic companions (Bladerunner 2049), or intelligent humanoid robots (Ex-Machina). And whether these tales fill you with hope, hesitation or horror, we are inching closer towards making these fantastical futures a reality.

Currently, this humanistic blur between the digital and physical is most visible within the fashion industry. Over the last five years, digital supermodels have found a spotlight on Instagram, with several garnering influencer status. Shudu and Miquela, for example, have 1–2M followers each, interact regularly with fans and have been featured in fashion campaigns. Miquela even dropped an album! In 2016, Lightning, a fictional character from the beloved Final Fantasy universe, stated she was “proud to be chosen” as a model in Louis Vuitton’s Series 4 campaign. However, these AI models are still limited to the pre-recorded content we see on our screens. But this could soon be changing.

Last summer, Microsoft demonstrated their innovative prowess when they combined body and voice capture technologies, Azure AI, and HoloLens to create a photorealistic, life-sized hologram that could translate speech into other languages while mimicking natural body and facial expressions. At CES 2020, Samsung’s STAR Labs made a splash unveiling their NEON artificial avatars. While critics said the live demos were less refined than the teaser videos that went viral before the conference, NEON has demonstrated the potential for what the press release called “independent virtual beings who can show emotions and learn from experiences.”

Such advancements are thrilling and will enable a deeper connection between consumers and brand offerings but several questions remain. Chief among them: Why? What is, or will be, the purpose of these digital humans? How will they live among us? NEON has stated their artificial avatars will not function as visual AI assistants, nor are they meant to replace human beings. However, future use cases suggest we could be interacting with them daily as news anchors, health professionals, actors, financial advisors, receptionists, etc. Another important question to consider is, as more players join the game and their avatars enter mainstream use, how will these companies keep their products from being used in harmful ways (i.e.: deep fakes or the spreading of misinformation)?

5. Mixing Reality & Graphics

Blending the digital and physical isn’t only a trend maturing in fashion and technology. We’re also seeing a new generation of artists and designers adopt a mix of digital and photographic elements. This combination is unique in its allowance for nuance and helping depict a brand’s message in new, engaging ways. Graphic aesthetics can range from cute and lighthearted, to edgy, to serious. The addition of illustrated doodles creates an informal and playful feeling. Simplistic line art overlays can present a sophisticated, editorial appearance. And bold, colorful geometric shapes or brushstrokes can evoke feelings of freedom and defiance, stopping consumers in their tracks.

This trend is not reserved for still images only. In 2020, we’re likely to see the expansion of illustrated animation used within video as well.

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