Six major trends, and the challenges they pose for the profession (which AIGA will take on as its challenges), emerged from our research. These trends define design’s role in a much broader, strategic context than its roots: the making of things and beautiful things. Although that remains an important contribution, they will be a manifestation of a solution that may involve many different forms, including intangibles such as strategy and experiences. Among designers and educators, there has been an enthusiastic response to taking on these trends, although there is also anxiety about whether designers are adequately prepared to take on the broader context of the roles these trends imply for them. They were, in the order of importance as identified by designers:
Wide and deep: meta-disciplinary study and practice
Designers must be able to draw on experience and knowledge from a broad range of disciplines, including the social sciences and humanities, in order to solve problems in a global, competitive market of products and ideas.
As the contexts in which communication occurs become more diverse, designers need to experience meta-disciplinary study as well as training deeply in specific disciplines. They must understand the social sciences and humanities in order to understand the content they are asked to communicate and they must understand how to work collaboratively with other knowledge and practice specialists.
Begin with the facts, then handle the details.
Next you’ll want to separate out the essentials that you want everyone to understand from the details and supporting facts that will bolster your argument. These secondary elements are then slotted in as modular on-demand details or side routes that your audience can explore on an individual level. For example, someone viewing a story about demographics may want to dig deeper into the data about their hometown before moving on to the conclusion of the story. These, microinteractions are important because they that will allow users to freely navigate and dig deeper without feeling like they’re missing the key points of the story.
Expanded scope: scale and complexity of design problems
Designers must address scale and complexity at the systems level, even when designing individual components, and meet the growing need for anticipation of problem and solution rather than solving known problems.
Design problems are nested within increasingly complex social, technological and economic systems and address people who vary in their cognitive, physical and cultural behaviors and experiences. The role of the designer is to manage this complexity, to construct clear messages that reveal to people the diverse relationships that make up information contexts and to deliver sustainable communication products and practices to clients.
Targeted messages: a narrow definition of audiences
Messaging will shift from mass communication to more narrow definitions of audiences (special interest design), requiring designers to understand both differences and likenesses in audiences and the growing need for reconciliation of tension between globalization and cultural identity.
The most effective means of communicating has shifted from broad messages for large audiences to narrowly targeted messages for specific audiences. This is the result of both media capabilities (in terms of narrow-casting and mass customization of messages) and also global dynamics. This trend demands a better understanding of a variety of cultures, the value of ethnographic research, a sensitivity toward cultural perspectives, and empathy.
Break through: an attention economy
Attention is the scarce resource in the information age, and the attention economy involves communication design, information design, experience design and service design.
The trend toward an “attention economy” encourages discussion of what is currently driving clients’ conception of form, the attraction of business to design and the problems of designing for a market that values the short term “grab”.
Sharing experiences: a co-creation model
Designers must change their idea of customers/users to co-creators (mass customization) to coincide with the rise in transparency of personal and professional lives (social networking, blogging, etc.).
This trend focuses on user-centered issues through a filter that identifies appropriate methods for understanding people (for example, the current movement toward ethnographic research, rather than focus groups). It brings communication design closer to the work of product designers (who really have the attention of business) and the emerging area of service design. Social advocacy issues both emerge from this phenomenon and are empowered by it.
Responsible outcomes: focusing on sustainability
Designers must recognize that the pursuit of excellence involves focusing clearly on human-centered design in an era of increasingly limited resources, in which appropriateness is defined by careful and necessary use of resources, simplicity, avoidance of the extraneous and sensitivity to human conditions.
Popular, political and business forces are all coming to grips with the challenges of working in a world of limited resources. Designers, as those who use creativity to defeat habit in the solutions they propose, must assume a leadership role in proposing responsible uses of resources. This involves both the traditional concept of sustainability and also an understanding of appropriate technology and resources for the uses proposed. Responsible outcomes embody ethical issues, social need, global imperatives and the unique contribution of design thinking.
Build the responsive framework.
Now it’s time to create a responsive framework that lets your audience determine how the story is told. Simple features such as breadcrumbs and smart user-driven navigation are essential to help guide the user. Interactive infographics, charts, maps, and other data driven or detail components can be particularly compelling when the viewer wants a deeper dive. And while the particular technology or medium you use is secondary to what you’re trying to communicate, each has its own pros and cons. On one end there are web-based interactive options as seen in The New York Times Interactive Features,Bloomberg Visual Data and various web-based apps that offer unlimited freedom in functionality, interactivity and data integration. However, they require particular expertise to create and may require a live internet connection to view.
On the other end are more traditional options such as interactive PowerPoint, Prezi, and Google Slides that are more restrictive but are also more accessible to the lay person. The technology you choose depends on your audience and resources, but remember that there are a lot of different ways to tell your story.
Whichever path you choose, intelligent application of responsive storytelling will keep users engaged longer and create a valuable experience that tells a more effective narrative, reinforces your credibility, and instills trust in you, your message and your brand.