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"The Future Will Look More Like the Past Than the Present"

Is this the future of the workplace? Source: seagate.com

Kate Stone, founder of Novalia, said this during a recent meeting in our London office, and it has since resonated with me quite a bit. Kate was talking about the ephemeral nature of technology and the way technological advancements enable humans to do more and more with less and less, and suggesting that one day technology will enable us to do everything with nothing. I think.

The mass and volume of digital technology has gotten progressively simpler as our expectations of technology have become increasingly impatient. Finger print recognition, voice control and social media all contribute to our amplified need for convenience and our addiction to the seamless transfer of information. Could these new technologies end up pushing us towards a future that looks more similar to the past than the present?

As the future unfolds, we will expect our devices to understand and react to our needs before we know them ourselves. The things we thought were already simple are becoming even more straightforward, and much of today’s digital landscape will rapidly become irrelevant. On the surface, technology is generally becoming uncomplicated and mobile experiences are going to get much more “frictionless,” to use the hot new digital buzzword.

When we talk about digital strategy and digital integration in terms of design, are we asking the right questions? More often than not, the digital input in our current physical environment equates to a scattered overlay of a few screens, projectors, and iPads. We treat technology as an afterthought as evidenced by the consistent implementation of bulky and expensive hardware. The reason this happens is less about the fact that technology isn’t advanced enough, but more about what we’re used to. The more we interact with screens, the more we expect to experience things via screens rather than in the real world. With 18–29 year olds spending 37 hours per week socially engaging via a screen, it’s no wonder a screen here and there is seen as an effective digital strategy.

But what if the casings were taken away? What if we were to re-imagine how digital technologies interacted with our everyday? What knock-on effect would that have on our physical environment? What if the pages of your average brochure could be turned into a smart surface that delivered a seamless interactive experience? In the office, screens could be a thing of the past, emails could be projected onto your hand and any surface could become your desk. How would you work? Standing-up? Lying down? And how would that influence the way we use the workplace? Would we need a desk? If so, would they be how we know them or resemble a design from the past?

We increasingly expect the world to be interactive, but that doesn’t mean it has to be seen through a traditional interface. With this in mind, we should approach technology design with the aim of enhancing the user experience through a seemingly invisible digital intervention. There’s no need to be constrained by the physicality of technological objects. Tables that otherwise appear normal can be written on digitally, walls become touch screens, posters become touch sensitive and notepads are portable piano keys.

The ability to turn an ordinary surface or point of contact into an experiential platform offers enormous potential for businesses to leverage innovation and deliver more benefits to more people with fewer resources (with the added benefit of not looking like a scene from Tron). So, with digital intervention becoming commonplace and technology becoming more invisible, will the future of digital integration look more like the past than the present?

Riccardo is an enthusiastic and versatile designer with a keen interest in technological processes, and the synergy between the physical and the digital realm. He is passionate about user experience, the psychological impact of design and the way we dialogue with physical space. Always looking to break the mould, Riccardo harnesses a keen eye for detail and design insight to deliver new ideas and processes to benefit our clients. Contact him at Riccardo_Dawson@gensler.com.

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