We live in a technologically driven society. Much of the value created in business today is underpinned by advances in technology: The economy is driven by increases in productivity and those productivity gains are driven by advances in technology. Unless you live in a cave, it is hard to escape the effects of technological advancement.
Even design is heavily influenced by the effects of advancing technologies. In fact, if you are an industrial designer, it could be argued that the most important aspect of your role is in figuring out how to make new technologies usable. The role of design is to harness technologies to meet the needs of humans in the most easily understood (read: simple), useful and enjoyable way.
Designers use technology to inspire new approaches to old problems and to address problems that they perhaps could not address before. Design is the discipline responsible for harnessing technology to serve the needs of people.
Corporations use a number of tools to help them contextualize technology, manage it and develop new generations of products and services. Technology roadmaps are a tool that provide a timeline which reflects when new technologies will be sufficiently developed for use in products and service applications. These roadmaps are used to plan the roll out of new features and generations of products and services.
Gartner, the information technology research and advisory company, introduced a tool related to roadmapping about two decades ago that adds a new insight from their research into the way that new technologies actually go from ideas to ubiquitous use called the "Hype Curve." It is a fantastic tool to understand the trajectory of new technologies. Having a sense of the positioning and timing for new technologies that will enable us to provide better services for people can be a great support for business planning for our members. Hence we present the first ever Hype curve for technologies likely to enable Experiential Graphic Design.
Simply explained, it says that new products and services are invented, then picked up by the media, who hype it up as the best thing since sliced bread. Because of that broad coverage, many savvy people become aware of it and start thinking about how they can make use of that technology to solve problems and improve lives. But that is not always easy; the first thing that happens is that the reality cannot live up to the hype and we enter into what they politely call "a trough of disillusionment!" The hype really plays a huge role, though, in generating interest and awareness in the new technology. People start to think about how the new technology can be used and gradually, applications are developed using the new technology that set it on a course to becoming a mainstream driver of value (or not, as the case may be). Then the applications either disappear, or more likely, get put on a much longer timeline—as supporting technologies or social norms need much longer to catch up with some of the possibilities of the new technology. From the initial experiments, the technology starts to make its gradual (but steady and somewhat unexciting in media terms) climb from possibilities to becoming widely used in society. This is, in fact, the most important part of the process where the real work and investments take place. As the technology matures, it becomes the driver of value in corporations and often of whole economies (ie. the Internet, wireless technology and software).
Experiential graphic design is no stranger to the influences of technology. Desktop publishing, anyone? Water jets, laser cutters, neon, shrink wrap films, LED lighting, LED and LCD screens, digital printing—the list goes on and on, defining in many cases the arrival of a new era within the experiential graphic design field.
Most of the technologies that have been introduced to experiential graphic design to date have been of the incremental nature. The big difference with the technologies on the chart is that most of them are driven by some form of digital technology, which means a combination of hardware and software that often disrupt industries, as opposed to being incrementally supportive of them as were many of the technologies listed above. There are many reasons for this, but the main one is that they introduce vast improvements in efficiency. For instance, a common and easily modifiable platform would become very hard to displace once implemented. For that reason, huge global markets are concentrated into single platforms (or single service providers) and this may have profound impacts on our profession because it is at the moment an extremely fragmented one—even for design—consisting of thousands of 1-20 person firms. Expect that to be one of the first things to change in the digital era.
The chart below represents a view of the new technologies from a number of Gartner's Hype Curves for verticals such as marketing, information technology and smart cities that are most likely of relevance to the experiential graphic design field. The time predictions are from the experts at Gartner and they should help in your business planning to understand roughly when these new technologies will become viable for use in your projects. It is, therefore, a first overview of what you might expect to have available to you to build your business and services offerings going forward.
The technologies on the chart fall into roughly three areas.
Technologies that support the design and implementation workflow: digital printing, Surveyor & EAMS, SignAgent Pro, PAM Wayfinding, virtual reality, augmented reality, interior space scanning, 3-D printing
Technologies that change the type of information you can present to a user: transparent LCD, Heads up mapping, virtual reality, augmented reality, smart terminals, voice based interfaces, personalization software, et cetera
Technologies that create different underlying infrastructures for EGD to use: beacons, wireless, sensors, mesh networks, predictive analytics, autonomous vehicles, smart city infrastructure
The value of the chart is in providing perspective on timing for you as you think through your own business strategy and service development roadmaps. They should help trigger a thought process about how value creation: How could you create new services, or solve a broader set of problems for clients and users?
The comments section has been opened on this article. Your input would be greatly appreciated, so we can make sure that all the technologies that may play a role in our community's future are addressed.