As we head into 2022, our design studio took a moment to take stock of which direction the fields of design, culture and technology are heading towards and seeing how well they line up with who we are. We are excited about 2022, and we decided to share major design and technology trends that we hope to explore in the next 12 months.
Web3: A Happy Upheaval
Let’s start out with the word that’s on the tip of everyone’s tongue — Web3. The world is connecting in new ways across borders and cultures, and everyone in the world of tech is questioning dominant platforms, old business models and visual aesthetics. This upcoming year will mark an exciting new start for everyone who’s been longing for a new version of the Internet, digital art, and online connectivity.
A lot of technologies that created a foundation for this year’s major trends aren’t new (a seminal Blockchain whitepaper by Satoshi Nakamoto recently turned 13), but in 2021, we finally created a new language to talk about long-term implications of these technologies. The term ‘Web3’ became unavoidable. ‘Web3, the future internet we’re moving towards, is a decentralized internet. Under Web3, the internet is shared online and governed by the collective “we,” rather than owned by centralized entities. […] Web3 is about rearchitecting internet services and products so that they benefit people rather than entities,’ writes Maven Ventures’ Jay Drain Jr. Web3 imagines an environment that is more user-friendly compared to our current reality of Web2 where users can’t control their data and where newsfeeds and algorithms create dangerous echo chambers.
Another popular 2021 term, Metaverse, offers an even bigger vision for the future — an immersive, interactive version of The Internet straight from futuristic sci-fi novels. Even though the term Web3 and Metaverse are often used interchangeably, they are not the same. ‘The metaverse feels vague and speculative because it is […] While some technologists want to anchor the vision along the lines of Meta’s Ready Player One-esque keynote presentation, the reality is the metaverse will require everyone’s input and participation to truly take form,’ says Senior Product Manager at Roblox the host of the “Hello Metaverse” podcast Annie Zhang. Even though the Metaverse isn’t fully defined yet, it’s a useful concept that a lot of Web2 companies looking for a rebrand are using. This year, Facebook became Meta while Square changed its name to Block. In the meantime,
Microsoft is betting on its Metaverse-inspired Mesh collaboration tool for Microsoft Teams. And we are all patiently waiting to see what Apple’s VR/AR glasses will do to enable new Metaverse experiences.
Even though big players are trying to enter this new market, 2021 in tech was all about celebrating underdogs. Many artists and designers (including those who built their careers creating digital art) have been operating within constraints of conservative art market. The NFT boom allowed creators to gain more control over their work and financial situation. Moreover, it offers a space where industrial designers, architects, and musicians can experiment and imagine virtual worlds that we will soon inhabit.
‘It should not be surprising that a growing number of us–especially we who are most intensely online — are embracing the concept of ‘owning’ online things. A belief in the value of NFTs is a logical extension of the vitality of online experience and existence,’ writes a group of authors behind Dark Star DAO. This year at Card79, we were excited to enter a new world as well and create a series of NFT’s named ‘Kintsugi Upgrades’ that carry on our core values into the Metaverse.
The Kintsugi Upgrades project imagines an alternate future where ancient artifacts are discovered by a more advanced civilization than ours and then they rebuild and augment these artifacts with enhanced technologies. The ancient Japanese art of Kintsugi – which literally translates to “join with gold” – perfectly embodied the spirit of merging old and new to make something better. Through the process of repair and reconstruction, we imagined these objects being even more valuable than the original.
The Kintsugi Upgrades project was enabled by digital scans of ancient artifacts donated by world leading museums (like the Minneapolis Institute of Art and the Malopolska’s Virtual Museums) that we were able to digitally shatter and rebuild in 3D modeling software. Then we modeled upgrades to give each piece a whole new functionality.
Afshin Mehin founded Card79 based on the belief that blurring the boundaries between digital and physical product design would be an important theme with design. That’s why as a studio, we love combining our practice of designing and developing mass manufactured physical products and this new type of product design that involves digital-first NFT artifacts.
This year, a record number of people were affected by extreme weather conditions and felt the impact of the climate crisis. In the U.S. only, we lived through Hurricane Ida on the East coast, wildfires in California, megadrought in the West, floods all over, and much more. ‘Overall, consumers are hyperaware of the condition of the environment. Forrester data reveals that a third of US online adults say they spend more time thinking about the climate than they did before the Covid-19 pandemic,’ writes Forbes.
Whether we are designing digital or physical products, we have to ask ourselves about the impact it will have on our planet and our future. The NFT boom spurred conversation about skyrocketing physical costs of supporting the metaverse. Some companies – for example, CurrencyWorks, are promoting ways to make blockchain technology more energy-efficient.
Both legacy companies and emerging brands are betting on sustainability. VW and Porsche now demand that all their 30.000+ suppliers pass a sustainability rating while AllBirds that had an IPO this year made sustainability one of its most important value propositions. In the meantime, Dell is committing to manufacturing laptops that are easier to recycle.
We haven’t eliminated planned obsolescence yet, but 2021 marked a big milestone for the ‘right to repair’ movement that is gaining traction worldwide. This November, Apple announced long-awaited Self Service Repair. In Australia, the Productivity Commission is discussing a policy that will address consumers’ rights to get products that don’t have an ‘expiry date.’
This year, we worked with Relish Life to create a monthly subscription pack that gets rid of as many inessential elements of packaging as possible while still delighting customers. This project aligned with our goal to optimize customer value while minimizing usage of wasteful materials.
Consumers are also driving another big trend in product design — more ethical user interfaces, especially when it comes to smartphones and IoT. This trend has been going on for a few years but in 2021, it gained even more traction as the idea of data ownership is becoming a topic of debate. From screen time trackers to introducing more data privacy settings, electronics manufacturers are approaching design with more consideration of people’s mental well-being (avoiding dark patterns in UX) and long-term future (working towards more sustainable ways of production).
Here at Card79, we are committed to building a better future. When designing interfaces, we are betting on ethical and user-friendly UX. When we were working on ‘A Day In the Mind’ project that explored the future of brain-computer interfaces, we focused on ensuring privacy and transparency, enabling control, carefully designing default settings, and creating an integrated hardware architecture.
Internet of Things: A new generation of devices
Even though connected devices have been around for a while now, this market is still growing and maturing. The pandemic became a catalyst for innovation in the field of healthcare IoT devices. Deloitte Global expects that ‘320 million consumer health and wellness wearable devices will ship worldwide in 2022.’ And we will see even more growth in the next couple of years. By 2024, there will be around 440 million devices. It’s not just electronics for social distancing and enforcing pandemic measures. ‘[IoT devices] also allow doctors to potentially examine, diagnose and treat larger numbers of patients, as well as expand healthcare to regions where physical access to doctors or hospitals is difficult due to remoteness or difficulty of access,’ writes author and technology advisor Bernard Marr.
And it’s not just about healthcare. We can expect more IoT everywhere — our computers are becoming less noticeable, yet more powerful and almost ubiquitous. So-called ‘ambient computing’ is all about smaller devices for everyday life — in this space, innovation is fueled by advancements in AI, voice interfaces, gesture recognition, and radar sensing. Tech giants like Google and Amazon are entering the market with more and more specialized smart home devices that disappear into the background.
‘We have just started to figure out how to think about the societal implications of smartphones; now, we’ve got robots and teleconference board game systems for children. It’s all happening very fast,’ writes the Verge Executive Editor Dieter Bohn. At Card79, we are focusing on designing human-centric and ethical devices for the new era of IoT. When working on healthcare tech (like Neuralink R1 robot), smart home appliances (for example, Sepura garburator), or wearables (Slice bracelet), we are focusing on data transparency, user-friendly interfaces without ‘dark patterns,’ and durable materials.
In 2022, we are excited to work on more projects that allow us to center our work around these principles of being human-centered, inclusive and sustainable. We look onto the year ahead to see how we can do to tackle new challenges within our industry.