Looking back over the last decade, we’ve hailed fledging applications of AI and machine learning, new interfaces like mixed reality, social media and all kinds of smart mobile devices. For example, the Montréal-based Transit mobile app allows navigating a city’s public transit system in real-time, plan trips, and see service disruption notifications, thanks to GPS data shared by their public transit partners.
But this year is different. After all this forward momentum, the novelty of digital has worn off. During this phase, we’re undergoing something of a digital spring clean: embracing products and services that have value and relevance to our lives, and discarding the rest.
In light of ongoing scandals which shake public trust in data, government and society, we’re becoming more aware of the long-term consequences of many things we once took for granted. In a more savvy and sceptical age, we're interested in what it takes to regain control and make technology work for us, not subvert us.
Fjord’s 2019 Trends report identifies the biggest shifts around sustainability, the digital realm and the nature of public spaces. The fundamental questions they raise deal with individuals’ personal experience, but also that of the world at large. Together, they outline a route for organizations to add value in a changing world.
Sustainability gets personal
Observation: Last year, Fjord Trends highlighted the rise of The Ethics Economy, in which organizations took a political or ethical stance above and beyond their bottom line concerns. In the 12 months since, anxiety and anger about the environment in particular has grown; plastics are reported to not only swirl through oceans and into sea creatures but now ourbodies too.
We as consumers recognize our responsibilities, and we know that an individual’s scope for impact can be powerful. We see that, plastic straws and shopping bags aside, spending power can catalyze improvement, incentivizing organizations and industries to effect change on a large scale.
Inspiring example: In December, after more than a year of work, research and consultation, Université de Montréal and the Fonds de recherche du Québec unveiled the Montréal Declaration for Responsible Development of Artificial Intelligence, including a set of ethical guidelines. The Declaration includes an important principle requiring that the development and use of AI must be carried out as to ensure a strong environment sustainability of the planet.
Digital design for disconnected users
Observation: As well as concerns about our impact on the natural environment, our digital lives are a growing source of fear and distrust, as data scandals and manipulative practices can paint an unwelcome picture of one of humanity’s greatest accomplishments.
Furthermore, as we learn more about the mental health impact of our online lives, we’re feeling more inclined to not only tune out the noise, but to disconnect altogether.
Three of Fjord’s seven key trends deal with the online world to some extent, which reflects our belief that good design can resolve many of these concerns. ‘Silence is Gold’ tackles our digital distractions; ‘Data Minimalism’ proposes an alternative to opaque data collection; and ‘Synthetic Realities’ refers to the heightened sophistication of video and audio manipulation, and how those tools can be a force for good rather than ill.
Inspiring example: Montréal-based Simthetiq creates simulations and training solutions. Its Station IX dome environment uses “Reflected Reality” to reproduce a 280-degree field of view with an unmatched richness and depth of detail to fully immerse anyone that enters. Uses vary from architecture and constructions, defence & security, sports and entertainment and more.
Blurred boundaries, better spaces
Observation: The public realm is the third and final ecosystem poised to change radically with better design. Companies are competing across transit, personal mobility and delivery, and we are facing an increasingly cluttered urban landscape. We need to start treating the city as a platform with services consolidated into one mobility ecosystem which is built around citizens' realtime needs.
In fulfilling new business purposes and lifestyles, the way we design spaces will have to change, with retail and workspace kicking off the revolution.
Inspiring examples: Last May, the Ville de Montréal changed its “Ville intelligente” mandate to become the “Laboratoire de l’innovation urbaine”, allowing the idea exchange and openness with the community (institutions of higher education, community organizations and startups, for example), in order to better answer the population’s needs.
Also, the Doctr App, developed by the Montrealer Technologies Wise Guys, gives access to the wait times and occupancy rates of emergency rooms in Montréal, Québec City, Laval, Gatineau, Saguenay and other cities across the province and the country.
Value for who?
These shifts are momentous, and the rewards for those which drive them reach beyond bottom line growth to improving the world we live in. It sounds like a tall order, but there’s a clear place to start.
In recent years, big institutions have finally started to acknowledge a variety of voices. But providing value to diverse people requires inclusivity in design: addressing new standards and nuanced personal preferences at scale.
In time, AI will enable us to do this algorithmically, but first we need to draw on qualitative research and data to understand user needs and mindsets, to look beyond labels of customers, consumers, commuters and citizens.
The innovation plateau is an opportunity for organizations that offer value, not scale or legacy. In busy lives and on a crowded planet, there’s no room for irrelevance.
About the author:
Scott Weisbrod is a leader at Accenture Interactive where he is Group Director for Fjord in Canada, an innovation and design consultancy. At Fjord, Scott is dedicated to creating new growth and relevance for Canada’s leading organizations by blending a combination of strategy and high-value consulting with service and product design.