How can digital design and innovation impact society?

How do emerging technologies like AI and IoT impact digital design practices? What new roles will designers develop in this changing landscape? What responsibility do designers have in addressing the ethical challenges posed by technology (user privacy, data security, and algorithmic bias)?

The faculty of the Master in Design for Digital Experimentation answers these and other questions to learn more about the new program that begins this September, which focuses on speculative digital design, digital experiences, exploring the limits of digital design and digital innovation with a nod to future needs and internet culture.

Tim Rodenbröker
How do emerging technologies like AI and IoT impact design practices, and what new roles do you see for designers in this changing landscape?

Designers have a much greater responsibility today than in the past. Their work often has an impact on the behavior of millions of people (see “Manuel Lima – The New Designer”). Innovations are entering our world at an unprecedented pace, affecting the systems we are involved in, in complex and unpredictable ways.

I think as designers, we need to ask more critical questions today than ever before. We need to expand the concept of design and venture into spaces that were previously reserved for engineers, programmers, architects, philosophers. In my teaching,

I strive for a holistic understanding of design in order to assess technologies such as AI and IoT historically, systemically and ethically. Of course, I am totally aware all this sounds bold and not pragmatic at all. But my goal is not to provide definitive answers. I want to identify and ask the right questions with my students.

What responsibility do designers have in addressing the ethical challenges posed by technology, particularly in areas such as user privacy, data security, and algorithmic bias?

From my point of view, “Ethics” is a notion that currently receives too little attention in the field of design. In ancient Greece and Rome, reflections on the “good life” for the individual and the community were a fundamental part of the public discourse. The Stoic philosophers, for example, saw a fulfilled life solely in terms of contributing to a functioning community. I think we should now dedicate a modern renaissance to these ideas. Issues such as data security and algorithmic bias are such pressing problems because we have been forced to quickly adapt economically and culturally overwhelming complexities. Instead of just fighting these fires, we should take the time to ask ourselves how, where and by whom they were set. We should strive to understand which strategies could potentially make us more resilient in the future.

What role does cross-disciplinary design collaboration play in addressing future challenges?

Networking the disciplines and closing the gaps between technology and design is probably the biggest challenge in developing a resilient designer personality. To do this, we need a culture that leads us away from individualism and towards collectivism. We should forget the idea of the designer as a hero and use our strengths as communities. Some modern tools help us to do this, while others don’t and even harm us. We need to use creativity and design to shape the conditions in which creative work can be done collectively.

How can design foster a culture of attention rather than distraction, especially in an era dominated by information overload?

That’s a great question. I think it’s about asking what has been buried in the rush of innovation promises over the last 30 years. What could fairer and more sustainable social communication and information structures look like? How did it happen that we outsourced our entire digital infrastructure to American monopolies? What price do we pay for what we get? I want to shed light on alternative concepts and cultures such as Slow Media, Permacomputing, Frugal Innovation or Low Tech to collectively question and rethink these structures with my students.

Tim-Rodenbröker-03
Tim Rodenbröker
Zander Brimijoin
How do emerging technologies like AI and IoT impact design practices, and what new roles do you see for designers in this changing landscape?

Specifically AI, more than any other emerging technology will change how we design in the future. The design process will become a collaboration between AI and designer from ideation to finished products- with the best designers being the ones most skilled in getting the best AI outputs. Designers will be at the forefront of defining how we incorporate these new technologies into a process that is good or bad for the industry.

What responsibility do designers have in addressing the ethical challenges posed by technology, particularly in areas such as user privacy, data security, and algorithmic bias?

Designers often don’t realize the power they have to influence how these technologies get implemented, at times we can be asked to design interfaces that capture personal details- and too often do not ask what happens with the data, and whether it’s necessary or even moral to do so. Often this is a clash between business interests and design that designers often lose- but in the future, users will ultimately only use what they trust and there surely is financial incentive for building trust as the public gets more and more educated about managing their privacy. Often questionable practices with regard to privacy come from sheer laziness of storing emails, or personal information as metrics of success when there are so many other ways of establishing non-invasive metrics- and designers can surely start there by designing better metrics and eliminating steps that require more personal information.

What role does cross-disciplinary design collaboration play in addressing future challenges?

In the experience design industry it’s essential to collaborate across disciplines to get a better understanding designing increasingly more sophisticated spatial experiences. The only way to really solve new problems is to foster new kinds of collaborations that haven’t happened before, generative designers with spatial designers, AI designers with toy designers, User interface designers with furniture makers. My favorite way of working is different disciplines working off the same pool of inspiration and goals but bringing aspects of it to life from different perspectives. Designing how an idea should sound, its physical form, the emotional journey of it, the way the idea is reflected in what people do and how they interact- all working together and learning from each other.

How can design foster a culture of attention rather than distraction, especially in an era dominated by information overload?

We can look to the unwritten rules of conversation and how the brain manages attention for inspiration on how to navigate the rules of attention. I liken our era of living with technology to be like raising a 3 year old, who doesn’t know how to get your attention in the right way. Society has developed an incredible system of cues of when and how to get someone’s attention and when not to. A subtle nod across the room only if you have eye contact, a gentle touch on someone’s shoulder as you leave if someone is already engaged in conversation, yelling only in an emergency. Why do we accept that your phone has the right to just loudly ding no matter what the context the device is in? The future of attention would be designed experiences or objects that are truly smart enough to address the situation it’s in, and the appropriate level of attention to demand at that moment to create the right type of signal to engage. Basically, it’s high time that technology learns some manners.

How do the way we physically interact with objects and the positioning of our bodies affect our perception and comprehension of the space around us?

People have incredibly powerful sense memories with objects which colors their perception through the lens of everything they’ve experienced with that object in their lives. The way someone moves their arm with a tennis racket vs a toaster and what they expect to happen when they do is based on a lifetime of experience. It can be incredibly powerful to draw on the skills people have with certain objects and play with what those can be for, the familiar mixed with the expressive potential of technology and animation. In addition, body position can change an experience from being active and open, to cerebral to meditative. When designing an experience that’s often where I start, is how to break the gallery pose of people just standing still, moving them physically as a first step to engaging them mentally.

Kirill Danchenko
How do emerging technologies like AI and IoT impact design practices, and what new roles do you see for designers in this changing landscape?

AI represents an immensely powerful technological advancement. Nonetheless, it’s critical to remember that it’s just a tool. Similarly, the IoT should not be perceived as an isolated domain but rather as an integral component of our surroundings. Historically, both tools and environments have evolved, leading to the emergence of specialized design roles. Yet, the fundamental principle remains unchanged: a designer acts as a facilitator, enhancing the interaction between individuals and their environment. It is important for designers to first acquaint themselves with, and then guide others through, the intricacies of AI and IoT, thereby fostering a comfort level with these innovations. And as these technologies become more sophisticated and widespread, it wouldn’t surprise me to witness the rise of niche roles within this domain, such as AI Interaction Designers, IoT Architects, and even positions dedicated to overseeing the ethical and security aspects of AI/IoT, like Privacy and Security Designers or Ethical AI Advocates.

What responsibility do designers have in addressing the ethical challenges posed by technology, particularly in areas such as user privacy, data security, and algorithmic bias?

Designers, as key contributors to technological advancement, must recognize the critical importance of confronting challenges rather than overlooking them. This understanding forms the foundation upon which everything else is built. A shaky foundation can ruin the entire structure, potentially causing widespread negative consequences. Grasping the significance of these challenges naturally leads to proactive measures: advocating for user privacy, diligently working to secure data, and striving to minimize algorithmic bias. I think fighting the indifference is the key. There must be a personal commitment from everyone involved, including designers. It would ensure that technological progress is both responsible and beneficial for society at large.

What role does cross-disciplinary design collaboration play in addressing future challenges?

I think being a super niche expert just doesn’t cut it these days. Everything around us is getting more complex, and to really nail your job, you’ve got to have a good grasp of the broader scene. I’m all for mixing it up with different fields — the more, the better. When you dive into a bunch of disciplines, you’re not just growing professionally in a narrow sense; you’re also stepping up, taking responsibility, and doing something beneficial in general.

How can design foster a culture of attention rather than distraction, especially in an era dominated by information overload?

It boils down to how seriously you take your own role. Design skills? They’re like superpowers, and every designer needs to be mindful about how they’re applied. It’s about constantly checking in with yourself, wondering if the project you’re pouring hours into is actually something positive. If you’re ace at your job but your work ends up promoting distraction over focus, maybe it’s time to hit the pause and rethink it? Sometimes, choosing not to be part of something can be just as impactful as throwing yourself into it. Be mindful. Do no harm.

Jacob Heftman
How do emerging technologies like AI and IoT impact design practices, and what new roles do you see for designers in this changing landscape?

A lot of the conversation so far has been around AI creating the kinds of visual output that designers are currently responsible for. In my opinion, that question is a bit short-sighted; what interests me is what happens to our practices when designing for these types of technologies may not be visual at all.

If we’re interacting with software and devices through voice, gesture, physical input, or written prompt – and, as software and devices increasingly make more of their decisions autonomously without us – these types of experiences will be much less dependent on graphics and visual interfaces.

There are further implications beyond that, too: it’s hard to imagine a day where we’re not looking at a screen to accomplish most of our tasks, but it’s very possible. This will require a big shift in most aspects of our work, since designers are trained to be visual thinkers and make things you primarily experience visually.

What responsibility do designers have in addressing the ethical challenges posed by technology, particularly in areas such as user privacy, data security, and algorithmic bias?

On a personal level, the same as anyone else, and in the same ways that they have responsibility in any ethical challenge: inform yourself and others about these practices, don’t use products that don’t meet your ethical standards, etc.

Professionally, as potential makers of technology, the common answer would be something like “only work on projects that do no harm.” Of course, ideally this is true. But few people have the kind of autonomy required for this advice to be useful. Most people make professional decisions through a pragmatic lens, operating in a complex world driven by forces much larger than them. I don’t think it’s reasonable to place this level of responsibility on individuals because true responsibility lies with government and corporations. So, instead, I encourage designers to participate in democrat values and organizations working for good.

What role does cross-disciplinary design collaboration play in addressing future challenges?

In an increasingly complex world in which more of our experiences are moderated through software, and most of our biggest challenges require specialists from science and other fields, it will be imperative for designers to understand a wider range of disciplines and work with the practitioners of them. At least this will be true for designers that are interested in working on the hardest aspects of what design can do.

At the same time, I’m a believer that “as much as things change they stay the same” and a certain amount of what we think of as design today will probably remain relevant.

How can design foster a culture of attention rather than distraction, especially in an era dominated by information overload?

Design is fundamentally a business of attention. In one sense, design is a tool for attracting attention, and that makes it really useful for creating distractions. But I believe that the other side of this equation is that design is also a great tool for retaining attention.

Imagine a line: on one side you have advertising and on the other you have art. The part of design that’s interested in attracting attention lives on the advertising side, and our world is pulling design that direction. We need to build towards a world that lives farther on the art side if we want to conquer distraction.

How do the way we physically interact with objects and the positioning of our bodies affect our perception and comprehension of the space around us?

Thinking about this in the context of the previous questions, I’m interested in how things like mixed reality and artificial intelligence will change how we design spaces. So much of our physical world is designed around us manipulating some kind of controls: facing a computer screen, sitting behind a steering wheel.

If a car drives itself, how would its design change? We could lay down, changing that space from one of alertness to one of relaxation. The windshield could be replaced with a glass ceiling or a headset to a completely different experience.

Isaura Fontcuberta
How do emerging technologies like AI and IoT impact design practices, and what new roles do you see for designers in this changing landscape?

For me, AI and IoT present a dual-edge scenario. On one side, they offer tools that speed up and enrich design tasks. For example, AI facilitates brainstorming and idea generation, while IoT provides additional user data, improving our understanding of contexts and surroundings.

And while these sources of knowledge deliver fast value, they often prioritize quantity over quality. Designers must raise their game, focusing not merely on refining prompt skills and resisting cognitive laziness.

The key lies in combating mental complacency and nurturing a capacity for precise analysis, adaptive learning, and effective delivery.

We must construct our products’ vision rather than just adopting content collected by AI from well-meaning individuals who share insights based on their own experiences, often acquired in a different environment.

What responsibility do designers have in addressing the ethical challenges posed by technology, particularly in areas such as user privacy, data security, and algorithmic bias?

As designers, our responsibility extends beyond functionality to shaping the very fabric of reality and molding the world around us. We cannot simply delegate this responsibility to programmers or other stakeholders. Instead, we should actively question ourselves the role our digital products play in users’ lives and their broader societal impact and embrace our accountability. I consistently ask myself: how can we improve users’ lives while avoiding harming others?

I like to craft and evaluate features considering users’ privacy, protecting their valuable or sensitive information, and carefully weighing the impact of my products’ affordances. To contribute to the creation of a better world, I believe we must integrate these essential habits into our daily workflow.

What role does cross-disciplinary design collaboration play in addressing future challenges?

When facing uncertainty, as we are now, it becomes increasingly important to consider all aspects of the design process to anticipate and mitigate potential challenges and risks effectively.

This reminds me of a recent insight from Marty Cagan. He suggests that product designers and managers now bear the dual responsibility for value and viability in their products, emphasizing problem-solving within product teams. If this is the case, then collective intelligence and cross-disciplinary collaboration become crucial for product teams to achieve this ambitious goal.

Such collaboration empowers us to deepen our thoughts, adopt a holistic approach to our designs, and ultimately contribute to the creation of a better society.

How can design foster a culture of attention rather than distraction, especially in an era dominated by information overload?

As digital product designers, we can cultivate a culture of attention amidst distractions. However, achieving this requires a foundation of ethics and good practices. We’ve got to be mindful of the content we put out there.

Sure, compelling storytelling can help maintain user focus, but we must prioritize their well-being. It’s essential to design our product affordances with cognitive ergonomics in mind to make our products easy on the brain.

How do the way we physically interact with objects and the positioning of our bodies affect our perception and comprehension of the space around us?

I recently discussed this topic with a friend, prompted by the prevalence of the new Apple Vision Pro and visionOS. It got me thinking about the lack of feedback humans receive from the objects they interact with. Our physical interactions and body positioning greatly influence how we perceive space.

This issue becomes particularly critical in terms of accessibility. For instance, when driving, we may experience situational disabilities. The situational awareness required for safe driving may prevent us from looking at a screen, for example. If you tap on a button on your car’s dashboard screen and receive no feedback (sensory, for instance), how do you know you’ve activated it without diverting your attention from the road?

This highlights the need for feedback mechanisms in our digital creations to ensure safety and usability. These are increasingly crucial considerations in the digital world we are creating, and I believe we must address them thoughtfully.