Tales from SXSW and how design must be a force for positive change

Innovation requires change. Technological advances are pushing companies to move faster and create new ideas, products, and services that in the industrial age took decades to develop.

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With change now occurring exponentially instead of incrementally, design is no longer a link in the innovation chain, but the hub of the wheel.

Change was a central theme at some of the design and tech conferences we’ve recently attended. And perhaps as a reaction to recent changes, diversity and inclusion were a common element at every session we attended at SXSW 2017 in Austin, Texas.

So how is change manifesting itself in the service design world, and how will diversity and inclusion affect the way we design, and what we design?

Put your device down and step away from the screen

One of the real changes we’re seeing are digital experiences that go beyond the screen. Designers are creating radical experiences where the human touchpoints between interaction and technology are no longer limited to a graphical user interface.

Voice control systems like Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, and Amazon’s Alexa have become household names. And if you’re up for it, you can get a microchip inserted into your hand like one of our team, who’s already looking forward to her next chip upgrade.

As technology becomes more seamlessly integrated in our lives, what we design and build will use technology to move technology into the background. To do this, we’ll see data used in more creative and meaningful ways, which will hopefully unleash its potential to truly improve people’s lives.

Google’s Project Soli will most likely create a new industry standard when its gesture-based control and object identification chip launches later this year. It’s set to change gaming and augmented reality, and has mass market potential.

Though most people in our industry still spend most of their time designing for screens, the implications of this shift away from the screen interface will be profoundly interesting. And full of new business opportunities too.

Get ready to reset the way you work

When it comes to inclusion and diversity, a lack of both has fostered a lack of empathy. People have stopped looking at issues from other people’s points of view. The technologies we’ve adopted to be social have fostered destructive levels of anti-social behaviour, and polarised opinions.

At SXSW, there was a strong assertion that people from different backgrounds strengthen the teams that produce the most advanced and innovative products. Capital One has this down to a science, and use a method to analyse the character of each team member to identify potential issues, or strengths, and to make sure that team members complement one another.

And in an industry that values seeing things differently, it seems natural that design should embrace different ways of thinking. Gil Gershoni and April Durrett from San Francisco-based agency Gershoni discussed how any perceived disability, in Gil’s case dyslexia, can be used to provide fresh perspectives. By transforming a person’s disability into a hyper-ability, teams can harness this neurodiversity to solve design problems in unique ways, and unlock hidden potential.

New ideas come from acknowledging difference

The upshot of these changes will make service design a true force for change. But we need reactive and proactive change to make sure diversity and inclusion are at the centre of what we do, in our design teams, and in our organisation. In short, we must design for — and think — from a human perspective.

It’s this human perspective that will shape our role in solving the big problems out there. As designers and creative thinkers, we’re needed more than ever — a sentiment that’s coming from some of the brightest minds in tech and design. But ideas are only meaningful if we put them into action.

Change is of course a choice. It may mean that you have to challenge some of your existing beliefs, and adjust your mindset before you can move forward and develop new ideas, products and services. And with the right mindset, innovation is bound to be a force for positive change.

Thanks to my colleague, Lars Damgaard, Experience Design Lead, for his input.