The Soda Academy
"If digital agencies are good at one thing, it is figuring out how to keep up in a world of changing technology and interaction style."
"Today’s digital agencies need to start re-tooling to meet the needs of a world where screens start to take a back seat."

Mark Newcomer, Mirum

Design Thinking in 5 Years Will Require a Complete Retooling of Agencies as We Know It

Design Thinking in 5 Years Will Require a Complete Retooling of Agencies as We Know It

In short, our reliance on screens as the primary interface will continue to shift. More specifically, as devices, seasons, and new User Interface (UI) paradigms emerge and converge, websites and screen-based interactions will move to a more peripheral function. To conceive of, design, and deliver, the next generation of experiences, much of how we design today will need to be reconsidered. The transition will be painful for some, natural for others, and confusing for most.

For as long as I can remember, some form of glass screen has been the dividing line between the human and computer worlds. Furthermore, most of my professional career has been to focus on building for this intersection, designing for the screen, and getting humans to better interact with digital touchpoints – the domain of the digital agency as we know it. I believe this world is about to dramatically change.

If you take your average group of digital design agencies, there are a lot of similarities between them, no matter how big or small the agencies are. This is especially true of planning, creative and technology teams – the teams responsible for figuring out what to design and for whom, how to make interactions as easy as possible, and how to make technology work seamlessly for both users and clients.

While every digital agency has a somewhat proprietary process, 20 years of designing around screens (regardless of the size) has brought a sense of familiarity that is universal across the agency landscape. There are standard best practices from planning through usability, and there are standard case studies that prove an agency has done something more than once. Clients hiring agencies today are more adept than ever in looking for these practices.

Even in a world where devices are constantly changing (getting faster, more flexible, more pervasive), agencies have lived in this environment for many years. Change is the constant, however that change has always centered on the screen.

Let’s consider the next five years, and what happens when the screen is not the primary point of interaction between humans and computers. What happens when the interface is all around us? What happens when it takes in motion, sound and sight? What happens when an interface is literally an entire room?

Does this sound like what you’d expect digital agencies to solve for? I would hope the answer is yes, because it is where the future is headed. If digital agencies are good at one thing, it is figuring out how to keep up in a world of changing technology and interaction style. This is the next step. To build these surrounding, full room interactions – or Digitally Enhanced / Enabled Physical Experiences (DEEPEs) – agencies will need different skills sets, and the ability to think way beyond the screen.

Will all agencies make this turn? Probably not. This is where we will start to see a new agency paradigm emerge: Agencies able to transform physical interactions into digital ones and shift the notion of digital from a screen to a holistic environment. Technology is not just flooding board rooms or brands’ offices but it’s also flooding into customers’ living rooms, cars, kiosks areas, and more. The signs that we’re moving away from screens as the primary point of interaction are well underway.

Today’s digital agencies need to start re-tooling to meet the needs of a world where screens start to take a back seat. There will still be plenty of discrete digital properties to build – think websites, mobile apps, VR experiences. But the next generation digital experiences will be about convergence more than building individual pieces to stand alone.

Here are five considerations for the future of design thinking as it relates to how humans and machines will interact, and the role of agencies as partners to bring the two together to make what’s next:

From User Experience to Experience Architect
User experience architects are trained to manage the relationship of content types to each other and how that content is delivered through a user interface. In the future, experience architects will need to learn how to coordinate content and interactions across technologies, interaction types, and physical spaces. These specialists may be more akin to a conductor than an architect of information and UI primitives.

From 2D Design to Physical Design
Since digital agencies have primarily designed for screens, the tools of the trade have followed suit. For example, what better way to design for a computer screen than using an application like Photoshop or Sketch? To coordinate, design, and develop a Digitally Enhanced/Enabled Physical Experience, (DEEPE) teams will need to break out of today’s traditional tools and build physical environments that help mimic what is not being seen by the user. At some point, these physical design spaces may be the showcase of an agency environment.

From cookie messaging to behavioral signature
For decades, digital experiences have been built around the concept of a cookie. A little snippet of code that remembers something about a user session for the provider, and retains information or personalizes the experience for the end user (whether wanted to not). In designing for broader experiences where multiple sensors isolate individuals, people will begin developing and carrying around their own behavioral signatures. As humans interface with a new system, uploading their signature will allow the specific and unique behavioral styles (speech, motion patterns, voice) to be instantly recognized. As agencies and media companies drove the cookie, so too will they drive unique signatures.

From CMS to AMS (Application Management Systems)
Look for agencies to begin creating applications that help them plug and play various programs together that need to exchange data or signals. Like a tag management system, a class of software will need to be created that manages multiple experience components (voice, motion, chatbots). These will need to be swapped in and out quickly, and code created and deployed automatically.

From writing programs to programming programs to think
The final inflection point to look for is the role of cognitive computing. It will be virtually impossible to account for all the potential variations that occur as the screen becomes less important. Everything from environmental changes, energy spikes, network access, and people coming and going from the interaction stage. Agencies will need to consider a new crop of engineers that know how to program computers to think for themselves more than to program all the logic like we do with digital interactions today.

If change is the only constant, and the ride ahead is potentially more tumultuous than the past, agencies, as some of the original provocateurs of change, need to consider their roles as the screen becomes less important, and the lines blur between a digital and physical experience, whether for marketing, work, commerce, or simply entertainment. For agencies to be relevant in the future, agencies need to decide what they will be building five years from now, and hopefully the answer won’t just be websites and marketing campaigns.

About the author:

Mark is a business strategist with over 10 years of digital experience across market research firms, interactive agencies, and Accenture's management consulting practice. As Chief Strategy Officer for Mirum, Mark works at the intersection of business transformation and digital experiences. His responsibilities include running the strategic services teams, leading strategic engagements, and helping position Mirum for the future.