This is an altered-for-the-written-word version of a talk that I gave at Shropgeek (R)evolution in September 2015. If you’d like to hear it in person, or if you’d like me to give a version at your event, please see my speaking page for further information or get in touch.
This is a fairly lengthy read and is quite image-heavy due to the nature of putting a talk into words, and will take around 30 minutes.
“Evolution”. A simple term; one often thought of in context with the past and our beginnings, and yet one which equally applies to our future. Evolution can be seen throughout our daily lives – sometimes through organic processes that seem to happen almost automatically, beyond our perception, and sometimes it is more deliberate and controlled.
The web has been evolving since its inception in both of these ways. Every day our social feeds and bookmarked lists fill up with yet more articles written, blogs posted, talks recorded – all about the incredible new things that are happening with the web, and what these mean for us. Our technologies are constantly shifting, and this is an amazing thing to be involved in, yet if certain sources are to be believed, it’s only going to become even more brilliant in the future – specifically 6 years into the future.
The internet of 2021
Let’s time travel quickly to have a look at what things will be like in 2021, with a clip from the 1995 film Johnny Mnemonic, based loosely on a short story by William Gibson, and starring a wonderfully wooden Keanu Reeves.
If you haven’t seen Johnny Mnemonic and like me are a lover of the slightly ridiculous, be sure to make the time – not only is there some shocking acting and amazing outfits as you’d expect from something of the era, but it also does a great job of highlighting what it means to try to predict, and work with the future, whilst finding yourself grounded in the realities of the present.
The film is pretty well known, and unsurprisingly nowadays you can find snippets of it online in many places, including the above clip. One of the best things (for once!) is the associated comments that can be found on YouTube and beyond.
What’s interesting is that many of the commenters’ focus is on the hardware, perhaps because we’re so used to today’s flat, clean, Medium-esque designs that the terrifying visual aesthetic and interactions presented as part of 2021’s internet are automatically dismissed out of hand.
Commenters reference comparisons with Oculus Rift, Google Glass and other physical items that we have now, and there are the occasional knowing nods to the Data Gloves that Johnny uses becoming the much maligned Nintendo Power Glove. Other features that we now take for granted, like the live translation ability shown, are not so commonly mentioned as being surprising. We take for granted how some of these far-fetched concepts rapidly became accepted by the masses over the years, and indeed “cyberspace” itself, whilst less of a common term nowadays, actually springs from William Gibson himself; appearing as a term in his other works ‘Burning Chrome’ and ‘Neuromancer’.
The film uses technology concepts that actually existed at the time, but in futuristic scenarios (such as the often-quoted “Eyephone” that Johnny wears as a visor). This forward-thinking stylisation is quite obviously balanced with limitations that nobody in the early 90s had considered we’d be able to get around – things like dial-up.
This is a trend that we see over and over again with technology predictions, in everything from sci-fi to 19th Century German Chocolate company art like the below, where their vision of the year 2000 included picturing us walking on water to meet socially, but only through the use of means they could comprehend, like balloons and strange little canoe shoes.
In Arthur C Clarke’s short story Rescue Party from 1946, he describes aliens visiting earth, who discover records spanning every little detail about every person on the planet… held on 5 thousand million punch cards. He couldn’t imagine concepts that we now consider trivial, like a database, let alone the vast amount of cloud-based storage options that we have now.
And that’s the challenge. How do we work with the future, whilst being constrained by the realities of our present? More importantly, why would we want to work with the future?
The challenges of the future
To answer that, we first need to understand the challenges that the future brings us and our clients in the immediacy, near-future, and beyond.
For several months this year I was working on a top secret project with a large utilities company in the role of a digital solution architect. Evolution was central to the project – the business was aware that new services, facilitated by huge leaps in web and general technology, were likely to cause a large decline in their customer base. There was a sense that at some point, the business would need to operate entirely differently, and that this was an opportunity rather than a curse. Balancing that were the realities of running the current day to day business:
- creaking back-end systems that needed replacing
- a website that needed to keep up with changing and ever more demanding customer needs
- staff systems that needed to have intuitive interfaces
- processes that could be digitised for efficiency
Digital and the web were only a small part of the project, and the reason that I was so keen to get involved was that it involved fundamental change across the organisation, putting it in the best position for the next 5 to 10 years. The company was influenced by the benefits that technology could bring, but were also at its shape-shifting, unpredictable mercy.
This project made me think about what it means to be making our immediate work future-friendly, transformation projects, and the role of the web and our part in it. It made me revise my views on how projects should be approached, and how we, as people who create the web, can better work with the concept of evolution.
What we plan now may not be relevant in the future
How do we ensure that the projects that we’re planning now are still as relevant and robust when they launch in the future… and beyond? Many organisations still run heavy waterfall-based approaches, with projects taking years. Even when this isn’t the case, projects overrun, new technology comes out, and minds are changed.
Our early conversations with clients are often focused on the benefits that our work can bring, how well we understand their needs, and our plans to create a solution that matches them. If implementation cannot happen for a long time, in a context where the market, business or user needs change, or where technology patterns can throw in unexpected curveballs, we may no longer meet those needs effectively.
Our projects can go from looking like this:
We actually have to consider the timelines of everything else involved, from the changing needs, expectations, and assumptions of our users, to the wider business itself. Technology trends – how we make things, how people use things, what is available, what works and what doesn’t, and wildcards – anything from terrorist attacks crashing the economy, to aliens landing. No matter how well we plan, the future will likely bring considerations that are outside of the things that we may expect.
Keeping up vs getting ahead
As people who work with the web, due to our previous experiences we likely know that things will change. Many of us exist in the future daily – we anticipate new browser releases, new devices, we play with nightly builds of browsers, we check support through Can I Use, we bookmark ever-changing specs, and we hear conference talks telling us that we can and should be using things. Even relatively simple concepts such as vendor prefixes have sparked client side libraries like Lea Verou’s -prefix-free, pre-processing solutions, and post-processing solutions.
But that’s not necessarily an attitude that’s shared by others. Many companies out there feel that they are being left behind, and I’m sure we’ve all seen horrible technical debt and legacy system limitations that hamper our projects.
Many companies long to be one of the new pretenders to the crown, seemingly with a clean slate, unburdened by the decisions and ties of the past, and able to ride the crest of the internet wave to success. In the energy industry, new entrants such as Ovo gather envious sidelong glances from the established ‘Big 6’; perceived to be free of the ties that 20-year old systems and ageing processes can bring. However, the Ovos of today are likely to be the ones envious of later newcomers in future years unless they too consider their evolution and ongoing strategy.
When businesses fall behind, they often feel the need to undertake large ‘transformation’ projects, addressing all of the current failings and issues. This is often a term with enterprise connotations, with projects being high risk, high budget, and high pressure – essentially changing the whole business – but actually, transformation is something that applies to everyone. Without an eye on the future and a willingness to keep up with regular evolution, the pressure of eventual change can feel very scary indeed, even for small businesses. To me there’s this bad ‘throw it all out’ transformation, and good, constant transformation.
The needs of tomorrow vs the realities of today
The rise in responsive design has done much to highlight the unknowns and constant shifts in technology as being a reality, and this is something that we need to factor into not only our output, but the processes themselves.
We advocate flexible designs to cater for as yet unknown screen sizes, and progressive enhancement for functionality, but the future isn’t just about new screens – in fact the future may be screenless. Many have started embracing the concept of zero UI, or no interfaces, and this is something that I’ll come onto a bit more later on. We need to introduce flexibility around both our interactions and presentation, and not tie our content into purely visual representations.
“It’s all about getting away from the touchscreen, and interfacing with the devices around us in more natural ways: haptics, computer vision, voice control, and artificial intelligence. Zero UI is the design component of all these technologies, as they pertain to what we call the internet of things.”
Andy Goodman, group director of Fjord
This is a view shared by the future friendly movement, which no doubt you’ve heard of, or seen the logo. As they state on the website:
- Disruption will only accelerate
- Our existing standards, workflows and infrastructure won’t hold up
- Proprietary solutions will dominate at first
- The standards process will be painfully slow
This was all put together initially in 2012, but it still holds true today – in the future from then.
The wrong decisions, or adopting too soon
If we think back to sci-fi, there are many cautionary tales of where technology may take civilisation. From the dystopian futures portrayed in books such as Wool and Snow Crash, through to films such as Moon, 2001: A Space Odyssey, or TV series such as Dollhouse, we can relate to human stories of how things have gone very, very wrong.
It’s not just tech taking over either – there are also illustrations of how sometimes being quick to adopt the latest and greatest isn’t necessarily the best thing. In the 2004 remake of Battlestar Galactica, non-networked spacecraft such as an older model of the Colonial Viper and the ageing Galactica itself were crucial to humanity’s survival, as the Cylons were able to infiltrate all other networked craft. People who choose software are scared of this. They don’t want to be the one that chose wrong, or jumped on a bandwagon too early – the U-turn on the Umbraco 5 CMS is one example that affected many.
Keeping up as individuals
And of course it’s not just project problems – whilst we may work with or within companies, a lot of the challenges around the future present themselves as problems for the individual. How do we, as web professionals, ensure that our skills are as relevant as ever in this rapidly changing world without burning out, and how does the future impact on us?
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, or that we have a lack of knowledge of what’s currently out there, let alone to keep tabs on everything that isn’t quite here yet. Walking the tightrope between enthusiastic eagerness to be at the cutting edge, but balancing this with the realities of legacy systems that are thrust upon us, or the processes that we have to work within because of others, can lead to ups and downs that become draining and frustrating.
Our clients work with us because we’re the expert. We don’t want to be shown up if something unforeseen impacts on our project that we didn’t know was coming. We don’t want to under-sell if the future throws curve balls our way. Recommendations may need to be made, don’t want these to be seen as failing if the future moves in other directions. New tools and technologies can make our lives easier, and enable us do projects quicker, but can also introduce greater learning curves and additional activities. If we’re watching the horizon and can spot potential, we could be there at the start, selling our unique services, and picking up business in areas where others are yet to tread.
The future is hard!
As someone who needs a website, if you don’t consider the future and evolution both in the long and short term, then you run the risk of what you have reaching that critical point where it’s so inflexible, can’t meet your needs or your users’ needs, is falling over, and needs to be entirely thrown out and started again, which is exhausting and terrifying.
As someone who makes websites, not thinking about this can lead you to be the person responsible for, or playing a part in these issues. It can also leave you vulnerable to being blindsided and derailed by unexpected change, and also by being left behind and becoming undesirable as a professional.
Luckily, due to the very nature of time itself, people have been dealing with this for many, many years now.
The future, from the past
Past visions of the future are often fascinating to us in the present. As with the Johnny Mnemonic clip, our reactions from the future frequently involve a combination of retrospectively chuckling at naive visualisations of garish tech, or admiring their accuracy of prediction.
One of the wonderful things about technology as we experience it in the present, is that at some point it didn’t exist, and may only have been a concept in fantastic stories. We can draw on this with our thinking for the future, and to help us in our work.
This 1930s image from a German magazine was one of the first things that I collected when I started putting together the research for this talk. I love the combination of the known and the futuristic.
In it we see two ladies having drinks outside whilst using a video chat program, presumably after landing in their flying vehicle. They are wearing goggles – because of flying, even though it’s enclosed? We have the technologies that would have been known to them at the time – a requirement for wires, headphones, a separate box with what may be volume controls, and a large receiver for sound.
We also have the desired outcome – a video chat program and hardware – things that were clearly conceptualised and seen as futuristic; the subject of the artwork.
However, additionally there are unknown, future elements that may not have been considered fully due to the restrictions of the time, yet which are areas that with hindsight we know may require further thinking – things like how it makes the connection, how you select the recipient of your call, and whether the screen is usable in bright sunlight. What are the drink driving laws of the future? Would their vehicle be able to detect alcohol and drive them home?
This kind of musing over intentions can highlight several considerations that will always be involved in our thinking about the future:
- Where we would like to get to
- The limitations of today that we can’t get past, or take for granted
- The future considerations that we don’t even know about yet
This illustration is just one example of how video calling has been extremely frequently represented for years, in media including Blade Runner, Metropolis, and Flash Gordon, and can even be seen in a very abstract form right back into an 18th Century written version of Beauty and the Beast.
“…by the means of a starry mirror I witnessed all your interviews and read in it either all you imagined you uttered or all that you actually thought.”
Beauty & the Beast on Google Books
The ebook and tablets are also frequently cited when we look at past visions of the future – appearing in popular culture references back to the 50s like Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, broadcast in 1978.
This featured a description of a portable, electronic encyclopaedia, and future additions went on to include personalisation and an intelligent assistant – all things that are familiar to us today, but were mere fantasy at the time.
This subject, retrofuturism (looking back at depictions of the future from earlier eras), is one where you can find a wealth of fascinating resources online. Here’s one vision, Subways of the Future, which comes with the caption:
“Subways of the future will almost be noiseless and will make present subterranean transport systems seem snail slow. Pneumatically propelled “gravity vacuum tube” capsules will run underground at 240 miles per hour.”
When we compare visions like this with work being done by companies such as Tesla on their Hyperloop project, exploring exactly this concept, it’s hard not to draw parallels. However, once we move into the realms of tangible products, exploring concepts further, and dealing in reality, we start to hit limitations. Indeed, the Tesla Hyperloop paper details how the pneumatic vision would not work due to the huge amount of friction created, and that other methods are likely to be more successful.
It’s with hindsight that we can identify these limitations from things that we now know, however that doesn’t mean that dreaming of the future is a pointless activity; quite the opposite in fact.
Stories can give human context to technology – how is it used, what problems might it have, and how could people react to it? We can use stories, especially science fiction to help us to better understand technology, as well as to envision the implications of its use, and therefore to help us be better prepared for the future.
There is a whole school of thought called Design Fiction, which is a method of critical design that uses fictional and narrative scenarios – stories – to envision, explain and raise questions about possible futures for design and the society. You can use this mentality to work through the benefits, challenges, and implications of a new design idea or technology, and to imagine it in a human context rather than a purely engineering driven scenario. It’s basically much of what we do nowadays as part of our user experience work, but with an eye on the future. And as with all good user-focused activities, it can help with design and technology choices too.
Telling stories is a tactic often used as part of much of our work, and there have been many talks given and books written on the subject. For me, the most important thing is that it’s also a method that’s extremely accessible to non-web folk, making it great for things like workshops. It can allow people to help think outside of the box, freeing themselves from the limited thinking that often comes when they focus too much on their current, specific situations.
You can use concepts like this to really explore your ideas in different ways, and there are sets of cards available to buy and use in a way that prompts exploration of the social, technological, environmental, economic, and political considerations, as well as getting players to consider concepts such as the impact of a limited budget. You tell the story around your work, but then you think about why the ideas are successful, breaking it down into component parts. This comes back to the concept of atomic design, albeit in a very different way to the traditional application advocated by people such as Brad Frost.
Science fiction thinking
We can see this thinking being used in other areas too. One of the most obvious parallels that we can draw between sci-fi and the web is when we consider interfaces and the means to interact with systems. There has been an excellent study undertaken by Christopher Noessel in the form of his book Make It So and the supporting website Sci-fi Interfaces. In these he has analysed a huge range of the interfaces used in sci-fi films and TV shows, providing lessons that designers can use in the real world. They look at everything from mechanical controls, to visual interfaces, gesture, communication, and much more, collecting together a set of practical design guidelines and opportunities at the end of the book
As they state in the conclusion – spoilers! (emphasis my own):
“We’ve seen repeatedly that if an interface works for an audience, there’s something there that will work for users.
Finding what that thing is and using it for inspiration in our own work is part of how we can use these speculative interfaces.“
Make It So
The example that always sticks in my mind to illustrate this, from the book, is how earlier series of Star Trek used bright, gem-like plastic objects on set in order to denote buttons for using the computer systems. When it came to creating the set for The Next Generation, budget was tight, and there was not enough money available to use the same approach. Instead, it was decided that a simple, cheap sheet of printed plexiglass with light behind it would be used, and which the actors would touch directly – giving rise to what’s nowadays referred to as LCARS. This inadvertently did great things to popularise the concept of the touch screen, and to help embed it in the public’s consciousness for years to come.
And it’s here, the user focus, that sci-fi can be really interesting. Sci-fi gives us the opportunity to take our thinking outside of the norms and conventions of today, to test our theories against all sorts of user situations and usage scenarios, but then to refocus on the elements that can be used in a practical sense.
But if this is all sounding a bit wishy washy to you, it’s actually an area that has had extensive research conducted around it, with notable papers being published by organisations such as Nesta, who are an “innovation charity”. They have a few papers in particular that I found interesting:
- Imagining Technology
- Better Made Up – The Mutual Influence of Science Fiction and Innovation
- Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow: A modest defence of futurology
- Quantitative Analysis of Technology Futures
In these they discuss everything from the impact sci-fi has had on technology (and vice versa), and the different benefits that design fiction and thinking about the future can bring. They’re a really good thing to read if you’re interested in this area.
Of course there are those who are less keen on this kind of thinking – for example writer Warren Ellis, who wrote a blog post that says:
“Videophones. We were told again and again that videophones were not only imminent, but that they made so much sense that they might as well already be here, they fit so well into our lives. Only nobody wanted to have to get dressed to answer the house phone. Or put make-up on, or shave. Videophones hit the social fabric and bounced off, and when video calls finally arrived, they were mostly relegated to business usage and long-distance relationship maintenance by appointment. The basic unit of communication has become, not video calls or even voice calls, but text messages.
Who saw that coming? The return of the telegram? Pretty much nobody. The industry of futurism is bad at the future.”
This is an example of how even though these kind of things may happen, that doesn’t mean that they necessarily should. But for me this isn’t an argument against the technology, it’s an example of how there wasn’t enough user-led thinking around it – and so we’re back again to thinking about people, and about breaking these ideas down to establish the useful, atomic elements that we want to take forward.
The benefits of future thinking
By aiming to anticipate the future, we can not only react to today’s concerns and build better products for the short term, but also start to think about longer-term patterns and needs. Thinking about the future can help us to:
- Better consider our users’ changing needs
- Identify opportunities
- Define what the product is and what it will be
- Make more robust decisions – understand limitations and benefits of choices
- Aid prioritisation
- React quickly/better to change by embracing evolution
- Make more exciting things!
The future and our projects
So how do we do this? Well, first, what do we actually mean by the future?
As I hope we all know from Back to the Future, the future isn’t any single time. It’s is a constant spectrum, and it also isn’t the same for all of us. Our 5 year future in the UK may be very different to the 5 year future in, say, Indonesia.
The future will also vary in terms of the different elements of our projects. Your UI design, your interactions, your users, your use of technologies – they’re all involved.
On a conceptual basis, our evolutionary focus may end up looking something like this, where a shorter lifespan (at the top) may mean more regular assessment and updating, and a longer lifespan (at the bottom) being elements that play more into your larger strategic thoughts.
User interfaces & interactions
Typically, elements of our projects that users interact with directly will have a shorter lifespan than the technologies that power them. Expectations, conventions, and progress on the web all mean that our designs and front-end implementations can and should be evolved more rapidly to meet changing situations. People will want to do different things, in ways that match what they’re used to. That’s not to say that the back-end can’t, or shouldn’t evolve too, but simply that the core elements are less likely to need evolving on the same scale as our user-focused aspects.
Please note that as ever, I include any UIs in my definition of user-facing, whether they are the public website, CMS controls, or a means to perform internal tasks. These may be the front end of a responsive (or not responsive!) site, apps, social, an interface for wearables, customer service dashboards, or others.
We should design and build our top levels to expect regular change, and not to be inflexible and wedded to traditional patterns. Take for instance inputting a number into a form. Traditionally this would expect direct text input, probably from a physical keyboard. Now we have virtual, touch keyboards, and on the most part our inputs still stand, but perhaps we can use HTML5 input types to make it nicer. Then what about voice? Or perhaps we want to introduce the ability to perform character recognition by capturing an image directly, and processing it. Perhaps that’s through a phone camera, or perhaps it’s through the internet-enabled retinal implants that we will all have in the near future.
Fundamentally our back-end stays the same. We are storing a number. The service to capture and validate this probably stays the same. What’s different is the way that we present the interaction to the user, and how the capabilities that we offer them differs. Yes, it’s progressive enhancement, but it’s also a willingness to embrace change, and to tweak the interface design and to try new things as interactions and expectations evolve. The same thinking here applies to exposing content. By structuring it appropriately, and by exposing it in a flexible way, this will give us the ability to move beyond screens and into other realms.
Feature-based components & integrations
Our features and integrations are similar. Perhaps you’re integrated with a payment provider who is the only one who does the feature you need, but then a competitor becomes available who does it better. You want to swap it out with the minimum impact possible. Things like social login are a great example of this changing over time, where changing trends in usage may influence the options you provide for authentication. You want to have thought about this, so that your architecture and your dependencies are able to cope as easily as possible with the switch. Decoupling, and using service led architecture can obviously help with this.
Your needs will change, your users needs will change, and outside of the interface, the features and functionality that you offer will also need to be able to support this.
Core digital platform components
The core digital platform components are things that for me, are integral to someone’s digital work. Things like content management systems, mailing services, analytics etc. You’re not going to be changing these very often, but when you do, the change will be considerable in comparison to the previous two, but they don’t always necessarily mean that you have to write everything from here upwards if you’re mindful of this from early on, and consider componentisation and separation.
Core back-end systems
And finally, what I’m terming the core back-end systems are likely to have a much longer lifespan. These aren’t exclusively digital. They’re business-wide, and may be things like accountancy systems, billing systems, booking systems. These will rarely change, and the impact of these is likely much larger, and will be felt much wider.
A practical guide to the future
This concept of the different levels of the future is particularly important. We need to think about tomorrow, next month, next year and 10 years time, all at once, because they are all the future.
In the next few slides I want to take you through how I see some of the points I’ve raised previously applying to our projects. These will be a mix of what you’re probably already doing, and things you maybe aren’t, or could be doing more of – green is used to denote the current ones, and yellow for the future ones.
I have also compiled all of these points into a gist, available here. Now, I’m not a designer, so I’d love to get some more specific design thoughts. I also deliberately kept this quite high level for the purposes of doing the talk, but if you’d like to submit anything more specific and detailed then please be my guest.
Discovery & planning
Start with the big picture. This is the distant future all the way through to tomorrow, and a great time to address this is during discovery and planning phases. The mindset of people working on projects is an incredibly important piece of the puzzle, but this doesn’t always happen naturally. Having the right philosophies can really help, so as a web professional it’s really good to encourage this to spread throughout the team.
Consider usage patterns, interactions, and behaviours, including how we may expect these to change over time.
Embrace wider trends, such as remote working, and see how we can apply these to benefit our projects.
Learn from the past – not only in terms of things like timescales, what does and doesn’t work, but also to identify missed opportunities.
Don’t be bound by form. Don’t tie yourself too heavily to screens.
Create a set of high-level principles to be referred to in the future, for the whole team to refer to. These should be accessible and understood even by non-digital people.
Consider not only your problems and requirements in the now, but also what may come. However, ensure that you’re focused on the right things – as we’ve seen from the Warren Ellis quote, we may not always get this right.
I have talked a lot in the past about the responsibility of the technical and strategic choices that we make, especially when it comes to the impact on users – are we making our lives better, or theirs? We need to think about both when making decisions for the future, as well as why those problems exist in the first place:
“A good science fiction story should be able to predict not the automobile but the traffic jam.”
I really like this quote, which is something to think about when we think about our requirements. As with some of the design fiction cards, we need to think about the wider impacts too. As individuals, we should also consider whether we can do more than just meeting needs, and actually do some good. There are always big problems and little ones, but are you making the world better?
There’s a quote from Mike Monteiro in his book ‘Design is a job’, which states:
“We used to design ways to get to the moon; now we design ways to never have to get out of bed. You have the power to change that.”
This always reminds me of Here Comes the Airplane – a great example of how our industry is sometimes focused on creating the wrong products.
When it comes to the ‘doing’ phase of the project, shortening the future reduces the unknowns. As well as all of the things that we’re hopefully already doing, try to remove your connection to now, and to think about what could be, perhaps by embracing activities for future thinking in workshops and brainstorms. We need to consider current limitations, but if we only live in the now with these and don’t consider where things may go, we run the risk of never pushing our solutions.
An example of an activity is to take a futuristic scenario, and to get team members to talk about how you could build it with what you have today, as well as to think about how the bits that don’t exist today might do in the future.
It’s when you ask people to imagine and talk about the future that you find out who they really are. People will always project a lot of things on the future; their hopes and fears, their dreams and nightmares. It’s much easier to find out what people really believe by asking them about the future rather than by asking them about the present.
And of course, once the initial doing has happened, we need to continue to evolve our website.
We should consider better digital preservation, and especially preserving our project learnings for the future as well as the final product. If we don’t do this, we won’t be able to learn from it in the future.
Playing more with new technologies is also extremely important. As an individual, playing also be both a great creative outlet and a way to be able to keep up with changing trends in technology and design without the pressure of a client or limitations of today – you can really go for it with thinking about the future.
Maybe things aren’t viable for production sites just yet, but by getting the hang of them early on you can understand them better, talk or write about them, and become aware of the pros and cons – basically become better at your craft. There is also a place for fun and speculation, especially since great things come out of the unexpected.
And watch more sci-fi! As we’ve seen, being able to identify the atomic, user-focused elements that we can introduce into our work can actually bring huge benefits.
I drink a lot of jasmine and especially Japanese teas. I was at a conference recently where Andrew Pendrick spoke, and he told a story of “wabi sabi”, which is a hard-to-translate Japanese phrase that describes a mindset of accepting transience and imperfection, and embracing the beauty that they can bring.
It’s fading autumn leaves, or the change in tea cup glaze from boiling water being poured in over and over again through time, and imperfections starting to seep into the cracks.
The concept of wabi sabi is also extremely relevant to our work with the internet, and is often quoted in conjunction with agile/lean mindsets. Both transience and imperfection, and the beauty they can bring are part of what makes the internet great.
We design and build for what we know, and we stay flexible enough to change. We can make predictions, but shouldn’t wed ourselves to them.
We can shape the web to meet our needs, and play a part in its evolution to feed where we want to get to, in the same way that science fiction stories help us envisage and gain excitement around technologies that we wish were real.
“The future remains uncertain and so it should, for it is the canvas upon which we paint our desires. Thus always the human condition faces a beautifully empty canvas. We possess only this moment in which to dedicate ourselves continuously to the sacred presence which we share and create.”
By accepting change as a necessity in projects, and by not seeing it as failure or that we were wrong with our choices, we can start to identify the opportunities instead. Don’t just see the unknowns and imperfections of the future as something to be battled against, but as something that can push our work forwards.
The slides for the original talk given in September 2015 are available to view on Slideshare.