Decoding Design

Four experts predict 2012's innovation and design trends

Posting in Design

What will the New Year bring in terms of new products and services? We ask thought leaders from top design firms IDEO, frog, Smart Design, and Ziba.

What will 2012 bring in terms of design? Are the biggest trends likely to be focused on cool, new types of products, or inventive business models? What role will software and social media play in terms of the next generation of objects and services? I asked some of the top design thought leaders and innovation practitioners for their predictions.

The four experts, from IDEO, frog, Smart Design, and Ziba (firms that were all winners of 2011 International Design Excellence Awards, among other industry honors), all pointed toward more and better "smart" (or networked) products, as well as the undeniable influence of bottom-up, boot-strapped creativity. Here's what they have to say in their own words:

Ryan Jacoby, co-leader, IDEO New York:

"Design continues its march towards the concepts of networked and global-local. If you connect the dots amongst movements like Design for America and platforms like Kickstarter and OpenIDEO, you can start to see these ecosystems for design-led problem solving. It's not just crowdsourced logos and it's not just cottage industry reinvented.

So what's next? I think we're in the midst of these changes and some very cutting edge companies and organizations are figuring these out, but I'd expect them to be more mainstream and talked about in 2013 and 2014.

Incubation is the next Innovation. As design and innovation capabilities continue to permeate organizations and the entrepreneurial landscape changes, companies will learn to systematically design, develop, pilot, and incubate new businesses. Incubation and corporate venture capital aren't new ideas. What's new is the network infrastructure to tap into talent, the accessibility of lean approaches to building businesses, and new interdisciplinary/entrepreneurial team structures."

Robert Fabricant, vice president, creative, frog:

"2012 is going to be a make or break year for design. As corporate America continues to digest design thinking there is renewed urgency around design doing. After an amazing wave of startup innovation in recent years, the tech bubble is showing signs of weakening, with prominent IPOs like those of Zynga and Groupon struggling. So there isn't much time to demonstrate the relevance of design to the new breed of agile startups like twitter and foursquare.

Design cannot hold the high ground on innovation for much longer unless we see more designers play a prominent role at startups that disrupt the status quo in major industries like healthcare, energy and financial services. With well-funded startups like Up, Nest, and Simple, designers are taking major swings at disruption by creating breakthrough user experiences. Look for more startups to enter these markets with a design-first strategy in 2012. Let's hope they succeed."

Dan Formosa, co-founder, Smart Design

"Media used to be controlled by governments and corporations. Mass messaging came from the top down. Our messages now come from the bottom up. We all have potential to communicate, globally, in an instant.

It's easy to say that technology prompted this, but really it is people's innate desire to communicate that has driven the development of the technology. An underlying theme, I believe, is the ability to unite people who care, from Tunisia to Occupy Wall Street gatherings. People act differently in groups, and the fact that we can band together on virtually every topic under the sun will continue to have tremendous impact in 2012.

Our new, rapid pace of social communication also continues to affect how we shop, how we manage our personal health, our energy consumption, our cooking proficiency, and a zillion other things.

Design is synonymous with communication, and communication affects behavior. The growing realization that design can have a powerful affect on global behavior will drive many of our innovations in the coming year."

Sohrab Vossoughi, founder, president, and chief creative director, Ziba

"2012 could be one of the decade's most innovative years, because of technology and connectivity, but also because of scarcity.

Economic abundance encourages businesses to play it safe, and focus on efficiency more than innovation. But three years into a global economic downturn, we've trimmed and economized as much as we can, and smart companies are looking for new ways of doing business.

Scarcity creates a sense of urgency that forces you to abandon business as usual and re-examine basic assumptions. This often leads to innovation."

(Disclosure: the author has consulted with frog and Ziba on editorial, but not client, projects.)

Reena Jana

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Reena Jana has written for the New York Times, Wired, Harvard Business Review online, Fast Company, Architectural Record, Artforum, Time Out New York, Harper's Bazaar, and GQ. Previously, she was the innovation department editor at BusinessWeek. She holds degrees from Columbia University and Barnard College. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure