OK, new decade and all, here's my *wishes* (not predictions) for the next few years (i'd be an idiot if i think i could predict 10 years hence) for product design and directions-
1. Design for time. Sustainability and "green" is, for the most part, about the here and now. Yes, you can recycle that packaging, and the plastic housing is made from corn, but at the end of the day they will all end up in the landfill and over time (depending on the material) even if it makes the earth happy in the sort term. How about a return to the past times when long term sustainability was less about buying a product that is "good" in it's life-cycle analysis, but more good in yours? Here's to products that can be repaired rather than disposed of (no matter how short the decomp rate is on the corn-PLA). Adds skilled labor to the economy, and keeps more products out of the landfill for longer. Quality over quantity and craftsmanship and care over features and functions.
To that note, how about products that look better with age, rather than worse? That old Eames chair or well-worn wooden desk - the more time the better it is. In my mind, the more we can design products that are meant to last longer than the owners, the better we are all ahead, in enviro terms, but also design. Design for the ages requires an adept skill to avoid trends, focus on the user and the lasting relationships we all hold with the objects we use. Sure, I'm some are abject at this given the rate of technological improvement and advancements now current... but surely there is some way to keep 90% of a hardware design or adopt a more modular process of design for those tech objects that change and improve so quickly...? With firmware, open standards, and component architecture design I believe it is completely possible...
2. It's all about the system. The iPhone is great because of good ID, good UI, but more than anything else, a good universe of integrated systems. The iTunes Store, App Store, simple sync with macs, etc. The more that products can share and relate data to things you already have, all the better. The times of proprietary systems, formats and the like are long gone and the barriers to sharing such data on "the cloud" are no more. Any new product should be considered within an ecosystem of the things that a user already has in place, or might. A fancy e-reader is useless if I can't get what I want on it. Why 2-3 different ebook formats and shops? I can buy a real book anyplace and read it anyplace. Same should be true for many things.
The wheel does not always need to be reinvented. How about things that work together better? A chair is all fine and good, but if I can't get a matching sofa, maybe not so much. Why not design a chair to match a competitor's sofa? A fridge to match a different brand's toaster? Computer accessory companies do it all the time. More and more, I hope that systems of products are developed across products, systems, brands, etc. Ignoring all else outside your own product/brand is the compartmentalized mentality of old.
3. User ownership. It is only based upon old models that the services and products don't translate to their real use. I pay for 300+ channels on digital TV. Why should I not be able to access the same from my phone? my friends TV (I'm the one watching - locking it to a physical address is old think)? On a public screen I see while on a flight? The center of the product/service should be the user, not the false constraints put upon it by the brand offering the service. Either flip the model over so that I pay one fee and can get the content/product anywhere, or go the other direction and offer micropayment so that I pay for what I want, only when I want it. If they can meter hydro so that I pay when I use it, surely the same can be done for TV, web, etc.
4. Normal design. Personally, I've always been a big fan of modernism, or what Jasper Morrison calls Super Normal Design. This type of restrained design ethos I think will (and should) become more widely adopted. You'd think in the 90 years or so since the Bauhaus, that modernism would have caught on more in mainstream product design, but yet, it has actually made little progress outside furniture and a few select (mostly higher end) products. With the economy not so hot, I'd imagine people will be buying less things. If those things are going to be around longer than usual, the less you want your products to look out of style/trend/fashion. In sync with my #1 point, if people are also keeping objects longer because the objects are good (not just by necessity), then this also applies. Let's see less styling, please and more solid design. Not every product should stand out on the counter or in the home. Not everything needs to be a rocketship or look like an alien. The perfect form for many objects is, in fact a box of some sort. Crowns, curves and crazy surfaces have there place, but not in much of what they are commonly applied to. Just because you can make a complex surface in Alias, doesn't mean you should. If more designers approached a design from a perspective of what is right, not what just is possible, I think the results would be outstanding. Look at designs from before the computer. They did have complex curves in some cases, but only where they were really necessary as it wasn't just something that could be slapped on anywhere. You needed to know the math, resolve the edges and construct a curve. Not press a button. More Muji, More old school Braun, less blobjects, please.