What’s Next in Design? Look Around Before Looking Forward

11/06/2019 By Robert Nieminen

What’s next?

The question is one that speaks to our innate desire for novel experiences and our dissatisfaction with the status quo. It’s also one that can drive creativity and innovation.

As an editor, it’s a question I get asked fairly regularly, and my response typically is based on my understanding of the industry and what I see trending. However, I admit my perception of what’s happening can sometimes feel responsive to what’s already taking place: increased interest in and focus on wellness, generational shifts in the workforce, technological advancements and integration, vertical market overlaps, social equity and environmental issues, and so on. And with change being the only true constant, it can be difficult to predict with any certainty where we’re headed in the future, at least for the long-term.

That’s why I was so engrossed by our opening keynote presentation and a panel discussion we hosted at Design Connections 2.0 last month in Palm Springs. Our speakers envisioned a future in which artificial intelligence surpasses human intelligence – a moment commonly referred to as singularity – and its implications for humanity. Big data and machine learning, for example, will open up tremendous possibilities in the built environment and beyond but come with ethical challenges that will need to be addressed by people.

As our keynote speaker, Joyce Bromberg of Convene, noted: “There will be another big inflection point when singularity happens. When [artificial intelligence] overtakes human intelligence, it will change everything.” By her prediction, singularity will be here in less than 10 years.

It’s a staggering thought. Rather than fear the unknown, however, Bromberg urged designers to ask themselves the question, “How can we utilize foresight and think about what might be?” Therein lies a key insight. To anticipate what’s ahead, we need to understand where we’ve been and where we are before imagining where we might go. 

It’s a sentiment expressed by Robert Laterza, experience leader at Lutron, in this month’s Dressing Room story (page 32). “While times have changed, Lutron believed then what we believe now, which is that light can transform life,” he says.

That notion is on display at the Lutron Commercial Experience Center, which brings to life the company’s human-centric lighting approach (Lutron HXL). The 5,500-square-foot facility was designed to inspire and encourage clients and customers to expand the ways they think about lighting design. In other words, it’s not just about illuminating a space, but creating one that’s healthy, productive and comfortable for occupants today and tomorrow.

Likewise, the University of Utah’s Lassonde Studios emphasizes how design research creates quantifiable impact and significantly benefits student experience—a project discussed in greater detail in this month’s ASID column. From flexible areas allowing students to customize the space for their needs, to energy-efficient materials and innovative design, Lassonde Studios promotes a bold new vision for education and supplies students with the tools necessary to become the entrepreneurs of the future.

Speaking of education, you’ll also find opportunities to earn CEU credit through several distance learning articles we’re previewing in this issue. Covering topics from fused spaces that explore the intersection of vertical markets to designing the next generation workplace and more, these educational articles will not only provide insight into what’s happening in design and a glimpse into where it may be headed, but also offer valuable continuing education credit to those that need it.

You’ll also find in this issue the major trends that are happening in the wallcoverings industry as identified by the Wallcoverings Association, our second installment on open plan offices and considerations to keep in mind when designing them, as well as a range of new products to inspire your next project.

We hope with this issue you’ll find information that’s relevant to your practice today, as well as to get you thinking about how it might apply to the future. And while it may be difficult to know what’s around the corner, to quote computer scientist Alan Kay: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

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