How To Predict The Future

September 2, 2010

I recently attended an un-conference where the discussion of AR in the classroom quickly turned into a conversation about what kind of screen we will be designing for in the future.  My approach was to fallback on the adage ‘design for your audience’ as no matter what type of technology – or screen in this case – that is available to us (as developers, producers, designers), you will not have a successful product if it does not meet the means, wants, and capabilities of your audience – design and innovation is all about people. So while it may be great to develop an amazing iPhone app to use in classrooms, if you cannot ensure that all classrooms – or even all pupils within one class room – have access to iPhones, then that product essentially fails as it is unable to fulfill its objective. Granted there are exceptions to every rule, and surprisingly, apps and products may fall into an unintended set of hands and become wildly popular; but this is a lucky accident and not planned success – certainly not a a business model anyone wants to fall into.

That said, the conversation eventually concluded that while it is rather feeble to debate what type of device we will be designing and developing for in the future, the one common denominator is the screen – large or small, this is where we are optimizing our designs.. And if there is any validity in the above video (a result of the Open Innovation experiment) than the future of screens looks rather beautiful.

What I particularly like about this video is that quite a few of the innovations imagined do not seem so far fetched. While a stretch screen may not be foreseeable by 2014, many of the behaviours of the other screens and devices in the video are advancements of  functions that -for the most part- already exist. For example, the end of the clip shows two friends sharing a document simply by dragging and dropping from one device to another; an idea already in somewhat basic practice (re: Bump, iPhone app).

However the most interesting part of the video is the way we imagine and present the future. The casual use of these tools by the actors in the video reminds us that we are already comfortable with much of this technology, and it’s coming pervasiveness will not scare us – but rather, feel organic and natural (albeit, at the loss of privacy and introspection). Of course, as Emmett Phan explained to me earlier this week, demonstrating the casual day-to-day use of future technologies is a popular method of introducing new – and often scary, unorganic – products to the general public to ensure ease of acceptance – which proposes some interesting reflection on how we got to this point in our digital history in the first place.

To me the evolution of technology reads a bit like Inception, wherein a technology is predicted or imagined, made casual, believable and desirable to the public, developed, produced, officially introduced and distributed. (Consider the iPad if you will, which bears remarkable resemblance to the PADD used on Star Trek: The Next Generation over 23 years ago.) The seed is planted by creative people who recognize human behavior, wants, and needs, and imagine new tools (or, in this case, new screens) to enhance or assist our lifestyles.

The way we predict – or imagining our futures – is therefore heavily informed by our current experiences with technology. The devices in this video each utilize some sort of ‘sharing’ feature, pointing to the importance of using technology to enhance our social networks and experiences. As social media and telecommunications continue to drive innovation, these predictions are therefore less shocking and read moreso like expectations. At the heart of it all is an audience that wants to use technology to connect, learn, and share with others. That said, as I mentioned in the beginning of this post, no matter what kind of screen or device we are designing or distributing on, what remains is that our job will always be designing for our audience.

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