ArticleJune 27, 2022 · 4 min read time
What was the world like from a design perspective in 2007 when Nitor was founded? Apple’s iPhone caused what was to become a revolution in smartphone usability and design; designers, developers, and customers began to work in tighter collaboration; and agile methods began to gain ground.
We have come far since 2007. Fifteen years ago, it was common that a designer had to explain why they were even needed in a software development project. This is not the case anymore, nor will it be in the next 15 years. Quite the opposite, in fact. The demand for skilled designers is growing. Nitor’s design team has grown from the first UX designers in 2014 to a team of nearly 30 digital designers.
We – Timo-Pekka and Satu – figured that with our combined work experience of 40 years, we could reflect a little on the state of past, present, and the future of digital design.
The mobile revolution
The launch of the iPhone was a breakthrough in design: it was the first touch phone that you could use without a pen-like stylus. Direct touch manipulation, like the two-finger pinch to zoom or the list-scrolling without the need to drag from the scrollbar, was mind-blowing to us. Looking back, it’s safe to say the touch created a new UX paradigm and the UI styles for both mobile app and web designs evolved a lot.
The rise of Facebook and other social media had a surprisingly big impact on digital design by shifting us from desktop-only to a more responsive design. Forward-thinking concepts such as mobile-first and multichannel-use existed as concepts but the business models, required technology, and inexpensive data were not there yet.
The early days of collaborative work methods
In 2007, designers mainly played with other designers. There was very little collaboration with developers. The same was true for communication between clients and consultants, which was restricted mostly to meetings.
Back in the day, it felt odd if a client would join in the design process. A consultant was regarded as an extra pair of hands who would work on their own and present the results to the client in a ceremonial meeting. By and large today, consultants have become valued team members who work together with the client. Having witnessed the past, we can say this is a definite change for the better. The introduction of agile way of working has been a welcome addition. Communication, transparency, and efficiency have improved. Now, design is an integrated part of the agile development process and designer is the key communicator between the customer, business, and the developers.
The road ahead is accessible
One of the most prominent trends in design right now is accessibility. Accessibility is about addressing a number of barriers that all of us have to some degree, either permanently or temporarily in a certain situation. For example, what needs to be taken into account, if the user requires reading glasses or has age-related issues with hand-eye coordination. Designers have to have access to the right users to validate their plans.
Most digital services have room for improvement in accessible design. The average audience, with no special needs, often still steers the design. We believe this is, however, changing. When you pay attention to accessibility, you actually make the service better for everyone.
AI and natural voice-user interfaces
We believe another revolution is waiting for us in the voice-user interface design. Someone just needs to crack how to use speech more naturally as an input method. Some familiar examples of voice input services are smart home systems controlled with voice input using Amazon's Alexa, Google's Assistant, and Apple's Siri. At the moment, we are in a place where there is potential, but in reality is still quite clumsy – especially for smaller language groups like Finnish. Perhaps the use of AI will solve this.
Corporate social responsibility and sustainability
Another significant shift is in corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability. Overall people make much more conscious and value-based choices. Social media keeps businesses accountable. Companies have to pay increasing attention to the well-being of their employees. They need to make responsible choices in their projects and choice of clientele and address requirements like optimising energy use. Design has a major role in creating sustainable services and products for the masses, not just the early adopters.
Our wish for 2037: To be part of building a more resource-smart, ethical, and sustainable world
We hope that there will be a change in how we use resources and technological innovations in the future. For example, the use of cryptos is questionable from a climate sustainability point of view; AI brings up questions about equality and ethics; and we keep shipping stuff we don't need from all over the world, wasting resources and energy. We believe developments in AI could be better directed on services and uses that serve humanity best.
As designers, we want to be more involved in projects that improve sustainable development from the very first steps to having a real impact. Our role is to keep questioning and, in this way, make sure that we are making the right choices, whether it means energy use, environmentally friendlier services, decent work, or accessibility. We're part of the solution now and in the next 15 years.