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Calling all design rebels: the tech industry wants you

Technology design has drifted into a matured, potentially boring, state of consensus, argues Wired’s Editor in Chief Scott Dadich, in the latest issue of Wired. He describes it as an environment where rules are generally agreed upon — smartphones all look the same, a singular typeface dominates — but it’s also a place where the glimpses of design rule-breaking are starting to slowly emerge.

These design rebellions can be seen in ultra subtle ways points out Dadich: the design-thinking of the Instagram founders, the outside-the-box decisions that led Netflix to release entire seasons all at once, or the purposefully frustrating video game design in Flappy Bird. (We’ll be highlighting many of these tech design breakthroughs at our Roadmap conference). But Dadich calls for the next stage of technology design, a new era rich with design rebels that can break the current rules, and shake up the boring consensus that we’ve arrived at.

The new Apple Watch is displayed during an Apple special event.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
The new Apple Watch is displayed during an Apple special event. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

It’s easy to call for a revolution, but more difficult to recognize when one occurs. Even harder yet is to predict when creative change will happen. I covered the wireless industry for several years in the pre-iPhone and pre-Android eras and very few pundits accurately predicted the disruptive nature and accelerated rate of change of those two platforms.

But one thing is clear: technology design has now become a creative art not unlike the creation of movies, fashion, books, and, well, art. And we’ve only just arrived at this point in technology design — where creative rules have become a little stale — because of the decades of maturation of the underlying infrastructure of technology. Chips, network connections, hardware development, computing, storage and sensors are cheaper than they’ve ever been. Smartphones are now solidly mainstream devices, and connected devices in homes are becoming common place.

John Maeda , President, Rhode Island School of Design, Roadmap 2013
John Maeda , President, Rhode Island School of Design, Roadmap 2013

This new era of creative technology will be a risky one. The tech titans of previous years built industries off breakthroughs in engineering and programming. Now future tech rockstars will need to craft creative tech experiences that deliver emotional responses to users. This is like the art of moviemaking or novel writing and it’s a hits-driven, difficult business. Hot creators get hotter, while companies that lack inspiration and innovation struggle.

How exactly will the tech industry find the creative sparks to give Scott Dadich his era of design rebels? Well, I personally think it will get a lot worse before it gets better. I think we still haven’t suffered through the era of consensus long enough for real rebellion — rejection of the status quo — to emerge, and rebellion for rebellions sake is not a new movement. We need the staleness of the 50’s to deliver the Beat generation or the hippies that followed them.

And now that technology is a creative art, folks outside of the traditional tech industry will likely play a much large role in creative change. Apple hiring fashion designers is only one example. For example, someone like KK Barrett, production designer for the movie Her, has no background in the tech industry, but was able to creatively visualize how people in the future would interact with technology in a way that rings so true with viewers. At the heart of that vision was that technology will have the ability to aid human connections, instead of get in the way.

If you’re looking to meet tomorrow’s design rebels, and be inspired by creative thinkers like Barrett, come to our Roadmap conference in November in San Francisco.

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