"Things are going digital"

Yesterday I attended the IDSA MI Industry Leaders Consortium and there was a fair amount of discussion about the evolving nature of the profession and although not only at this event, I have heard a lot of people saying “things are going digital” and I was curious about others thoughts on this. My opinion is that the design field isn’t pivoting from analog/physical to digital, but expanding to accept digital and requiring traditional ID’ers to focus on the entire experience, which is now in some cases requiring digital.


I think this has been a theme for the last decade.

The number of physical objects in our lives is decreasing (or at best remaining constant) compared to the number of digital objects and experiences that we have.

The amount of physical things that have just been replaced by my iPhone alone: Calculator, landline, computer, game console, checkbook, DVD player, train ticket, credit card, camera, thermometer, alarm clock, MP3 player, tape recorder etc.

In 2006 used to have a physical thing for all of those. Now most of those things are gone or just stuck in a drawer somewhere to be thrown away eventually.

I agree for the most part, and I think we are saying something very similar. I feel sometimes though people think they need a quick switch to a digital function of design because physical products are somehow going away completely, but there’s still a tremendous amount of physical products and experiences that will need to be designed for a long time.

As long as you don’t work at a calculator company that is.

Almost every business probably has some level of digital footprint. If you work at a soap company, you won’t be replacing soap with cleaning apps. But more and more products are “Smart”, or are getting smarter - but it really depends on your sector.

The value stack goes down if you are purely an analog company and some Chinese firm comes along and realizes they can knock off your widget faster and cheaper.

Mike, not necessarily true, you are missing the entire brand side of the equation.

Since starting my studio 10 months ago we have been super busy. I had to bring on a few junior designers on a contract basis, and almost everything has been traditional ID or ID with some level of branding and brand strategy/positioning. A couple of the projects have had firmware level software development that allowed us to put together some light UX frameworks, and only one had an app type of component. On that one the app was already designed but the product was failing because the hardware design was not being accepted.

Is this true? Houses are getting bigger and bigger… I don’t think they are being filled with apps. Not saying that is right or wrong, but it is important to not mistake our personal views with reality. When I was in the bay area one of the other CD’s at frog laughed at me for wearing a watch and said “nobody wears watches anymore”. I named 5+ watch brands all at the $1,000+ price point that had started in the last year and were doing well… he made the mistake of assuming that his 10 friends were an accurate data set… you might no 10 designers struggling in ID, I know about the same number that have started their own private practices and are doing well… the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

This is one of the things that got me thinking about this last night as there was a Senior ID’er from Shinola on the panel, who has built their company on nearly all analog products. Our group was conversing about how we (I agree) thought society to a certain degree might start to reject tech a little bit, maybe something similar to the Arts and Crafts movement in the 1800’s.

every trend has a counter trend.

Collection of analog watches is up.
How many new knife companies have you seen making artisanal pocket knives? (not sure if they are successful)
Travel, camping, and trekking are up (all of which tend to require gear)
There has been a renewed interest in motorcycles…

On the flip side luggage is getting smart, so as the prices of things like batteries and sensors goes down, more products will become smart, possibly encouraging more hardware sales… and now those once durable goods go obsolete. Luggage typically lasts 5-10 years (depending on frequency of travel) but will smart luggage only last 24 months? $1k+ price point watches tend to last 5 years plus, but an apple watch is obsolete in 18 months…

There is always opportunity, it might not be the same opportunity, but the work is there in my experience. I try not to get attached to any one industry. I’ve been doing a fair amount of work in the autonomous vehicle space, which didn’t exist before a few years ago and is looking for non traditional transportation designers. Like with anything I think we need to continue to hunt where the work is.

In the late 90’s a bunch of my ID classmates went into web instead of ID because there was a lot more opportunity… and a lot more of them were unemployed in the dot com bust, so you have to be careful as well.

Maybe not, but hey it’s a discussion board so what fun is agreeing with each other all the time. :smiley:

I base my opinion on my extended social network, the companies and teams they work for, general job searches and my own general consumer habits. Keep in mind I am not saying all objects are being replaced by apps, I view the term digital as anything that could have a digital footprint. A Citibike has a physical product, an app, and service as an example - I still consider it a digital product, otherwise it’s just a bike you steal and give back.

Between IoT trends, analog devices become more and more connected, and many of the new spaces which emerge are all some form of hybrid between a purely analog and “just an app”. I order my kitty litter by talking to a robot speaker, my son wears a smart bootie while sleeping to measure his respiration, and I even just got rid of my remote control and cable box in place of a phone and a chromecast.

At this point almost everyone I know in the ID world is touching the tech sector in some way, the few that aren’t are in more mild mannered design fields like packaging which won’t ever go away. Many have pivoted to UX including myself, and several lost or left their ID jobs.

It’s a similar discussion to the one people have around automation “OMG Robots” - no every job won’t be replaced by robots, but it’s obviously a rapidly growing trend that will be disruptive for a non trivial percentage of the workforce over the next 20 years. The same way we’ve watched giants of industry like Motorola, Kodak, IBM all dissolve their hardware product operations and massively scaled design operations. I’ve also seen a number of smaller consultancies that I used to work with close up operations, pivot or only be able to stay relevant by focusing on specific niches that they were deeply invested.

It’s not to say the end is neigh, but to say it isn’t a clear trend would seem to ignore most of the evidence that I see from where I’m sitting. You’ve got a long standing career in a broad range of industries, many of which weren’t tied to tech - so I can appreciate that many of those areas may remain unfazed, or their digital operations scaled unrelated to their ID staff.

My first day of class in ID the head of the department got all of the sophomores together and told us there were no more jobs in ID… in 1994…

Personally I’d rather design the bike that gets shared than the app, but glad there are some designers out there like to make the pixels work. :slight_smile: And there are a lot of options and shades of grey to this work. I’ve done some high level UX and visual design for products I’ve worked on with a digital component and then outsourced and managed the actual app design/implementation. With a lot of the standards going around it is pretty straight forward…

but when people tell me that traditional ID is going away I always call that bluff. As far as I know new shoes, forks, sunglasses, watches, snowboard bindings etc come out every single year… putting a sensor pack in them doesn’t make it a new field of work…

I would agree that physical objects will have a lesser importance as time goes on. It is really a just an algorithm. How much time one has in a day and how they choose to use that time. If a greater percent of time (and there is no denying it is) is being devoted to InstaSnapYouFaceChatBookGramGoogling, less time can be used camping, fishing, sports, hobbies of yesteryear, cars, motorcycles, etc.

Less time devoted to physical objects will lower demand. Everyone blames online sales for the fall of ToysRUs, but is there anyone blaming the fact that apps get more time than some plastic horse?

Toys R Us is a great example, theres always a spectrum of the potential Wall-E dystopian future and a more realistic in-between. But if looking at the kids you know is an example for every niece or nephew I have who spend their time with non-tech toys, sports, or hobbies, theres at least 2 who are spending most of their time strapped in front of a phone/tv/computer. The group chat has very quickly replaced the after school hang out for a lot of kids these days.

Doesn’t mean there won’t be ID jobs, I certainly never implied that - but if there was any way to gauge an accurate year over year growth metric for the ID field besides IDSA conference attendance, I’d say it’s probably on a very slow growth trajectory considering how many new grads enter the field each year. Even when I entered the field 10 years ago only about 1/3rd of my small class wound up with actual ID jobs - not sure what that metric looks like for new grads today.

I will be interested to see if there will be any disruptions though with children (and anyone in general I guess) who are becoming addicted to tech. I am starting to see tech addiction and “disconnecting” a huge theme more and more, and even during the Olympics they mentioned it. Nevertheless, my personal belief is that for the foreseeable future there will be a huge need for designing physical products, but we will continue to see an upward trajectory of digital components and experiences, which definitely will open up the possibility for work from ID’ers willing to open their minds. I have been interacting with some really talented UX designers lately and have been surprised at how low the learning curve is from ID, its really a matter of learning the tools out there like Sketch, Adobe XD, Figma, InVision, etc… The design principles are pretty much the same.

I will go one step further and add that not only are most things going digital but they are also going on “the cloud”. I now no longer store music on my devices or workstation, same goes for my contacts info, and increasingly so for my photos.

I think you’ll see a growing spike in the counter-culture where some kids are kept away from tech, social media, etc as much as possible. I had an argument with my wife last night on when our 2 month old is allowed to get toys with batteries…we’ll see how that plays out in another year. :laughing:

This is part of a bigger discussion but you are forgetting that the entire reason people post on those apps is to project a life better than the one they actually have. FOMA and the likes, people will still make it look like they have gone camping with the cool gear, the enamel coffee mug by a roaring fire etc. People still want those products if all they are doing is taking a selfie of themselves to post on “the grams”. For all the viewer knows the post is staged and come Monday morning all that gear is being returned…it still needs designing in the first place.

Toy companies are getting smart to this. One good example is “LEGO dimensions”. Essentially it is a video game that you have a pad with a sensor on. Your kids LEGO Batman has a chip on his foot that when placed on the pad allows you to play that character in the game. The kid still plays with the LEGO without the console but can then jump in front of the screen to become a square eyed zombie.

It’s all about marrying things together, nothing exists without the other even if not directly related.

If you are just beginning to observe that “things are going digital” in my estimates you are about 5 years behind the leading edge. What I am seeing now with GenZ here in Korea is that they have grown up 100 % digital and are now just beginning to explore the physical world. The complete opposite of generations before them. It is a game changer that is moving away from pure dematerialized digital lifestyles. It does not help that we are now recording statistics on pedestrian deaths caused by self-driving cars…

What is the proportion of time posting content versus viewing content?

Again, viewing content reduces time to create content.

Definitely not just beginning to observe, just reached a point that I felt like posting about it :wink:

wow, super interesting, if you have a second could you elaborate? I find this fascinating.