Design for the Future

by Jason Magee, Andrew Isaac & Kath Blackham, Deepend

Hot on the heels of the 2017 SXSW festival, leading Australian independent digital agency, Deepend, shares some key insights into the future of design. 

Design by AI

Until now, humans have always been superior to machines – smarter, emotional and creative. But imagine if a machine could trump us, and even create better designs.

Jason Robinson from IDEO and Pip Mothersill from MIT Media Lab have been on a mission to push the boundaries here. After identifying a set of ‘master moves’ (a series of principles all designers adopt in their workings), Robinson and Mothersill’s teams went on to ‘teach’ a machine to master emotion, irrationality and creativity to assist in the design process.

Emotion is ‘taught’ by converting set emotions into shapes. By programming a glitch, the team simulated personality and inspiration. Coding chance gave the element of irrationality, while randomly mixing descriptions within the process delivered the impression of creativity.

While not yet fully realized, it might not be long until machines are delivering creative concepts for human designers to perfect. 

User-First, Always

While it’s not a new concept, user-centered design is a trend set to shape the future of the industry. And although there are different ways to roll this out, the speakers at SXSW revealed the core principles are the same. The key is taking the best version of your product to market quickly so you can get early user feedback and then start iterating and perfecting your offer. This process involves full-team and user collaboration within a limited timeframe (Google says five days), with measurable goals.

Without taking an initial leap, you could be working on a product for six months before finding it just doesn’t work. Getting your user involved from the start is a must.

A New Approach to Research

Once upon a time, user research would be completed as a stand-alone project before design and development began. The findings would be presented as a large document and would never be seen or referred to again. Today, user research needs to be incorporated at every step to inform decision-making. 

Allison Abbott from Capital One Labs therefore advocates Design Research, an approach that uncovers user needs to inform the design process in a structured way.

According to Abbott, good Design Research consists of insights, strategy and action, and is based on those doing the research being good listeners – “participants need to be storytellers, not conversation partners.” Here, her eight second rule ensures designers resist the urge to fill the silence during research, ensuring the results are not biased. Auditing questions to ensure they do not lead participants was also noted as critical to getting better insights and more effective designs. 


AR and VR were hot topics at SXSW and with barriers to entry diminishing daily, it’s clear the next wave of immersive storytelling is just around the corner. This includes Mixed Reality, which improves on VR, delivering a shared experience designed to enhance reality and facilitate human connection. While VR’s problem is that it can be isolating, MR’s goal is to work with your real-life, making it more useful and social. 

This provides an exciting opportunity for multi-layered design, but as Rachel Weiss of L’Oréal warned, brands and those who support them need to remain considered and objective driven in their approach. This means examining how an immersive design can support a sales experience.

“While we are all still figuring out how VR and AR really work, we couldn't be doing it without objectives and a hypothesis of how the technology will help us achieve these…If you’re working with VR or AR and you're not thinking about how you can sell within the experience, you're not doing your job.”

Andrew Isaac, Deepend

Andrew Isaac, Deepend

About the Author: Andy is the Creative Director at Deepend. He is a passionate digital designer who possesses 15 years experience within the design industry. As a designer, Andy uses his extensive illustration skills and web design usability knowledge to create beautiful, accessible and successful digital design. A big fan of comics, he also illustrates for children's books, Axel and the Beast. 

Jason Magee, Deepend

Jason Magee, Deepend

About the Author: Jason Magee is Deepend’s User Experience Designer with over 12 years of experience. Through his various roles within the publishing and digital design industries, Jason has extensive knowledge in user experience and interface web design. Prior to joining Deepend, Jason was a Web/ Product Designer at APN Digital for the New Zealand Herald. He has also been a web designer for Yahoo!7/Yahoo!Xtra.

Kath Blackham, Deepend

Kath Blackham, Deepend

About the Author: Kath Blackham is the Managing Director of Deepend and member of the SoDA Board of Directors. She has worked in the digital space for over 15 years in countries as diverse as Russia, Switzerland, England and Australia. She is one of the nine members of the exclusive SoDA (Society of Digital Agencies) Board of Directors, whose focus is on innovation, the exploration of technology, collaboration, and business support.