Fast Com­pany’s an­nual cel­e­bra­tion of world-chang­ing de­sign, fea­tur­ing Mi­crosoft, Nike, Ever­lane, Ikea, Google, Gil­lette, Red­dit, Sephora, Airbnb, NASA, and hun­dreds more.

Fast Company - - News - —Suzanne Labarre

Re­cently, a group of Ir­ish de­sign­ers and re­searchers con­ducted a study to see if tech­nol­ogy could re­pair the re­la­tion­ship be­tween ci­ti­zens and lo­cal govern­ment. Their work (see page 56) re­vealed that a clev­erly de­signed, com­mu­ni­ca­tion-fa­cil­i­tat­ing chat­bot could in­crease faith in govern­ment. It’s a heart­en­ing demon­stra­tion of de­sign’s abil­ity to strengthen ties be­tween ci­ti­zens, govern­ment, and so­ci­ety—a real feat at a time when the world is wit­ness­ing all too clearly how seem­ingly smart de­sign can also con­trib­ute to the ero­sion of democ­racy. The past decade has seen the rise of user-cen­tered de­sign, a phi­los­o­phy that fetishizes ease of use to the point of ul­ti­mately grant­ing users very lit­tle con­trol over their tech­nol­ogy ex­pe­ri­ences. It rose in tan­dem with mo­bile com­put­ing and en­abled count­less con­ve­niences: We can now hail a car, or­der food, or trans­fer money with a few sim­ple swipes. But the cost has been steep. In ex­change for stream­lined ex­pe­ri­ences, we’ve un­wit­tingly re­lin­quished our pri­vacy and for­feited much of our di­rect hu­man con­tact. We’ve even let so­cial me­dia al­go­rithms shape our po­lit­i­cal dis­course. The fu­ture of de­sign is about more than cod­dling users. It’s about giv­ing them power over their tech­nol­ogy. Honorees of Fast Com­pany’s 2018 In­no­va­tion by De­sign Awards hint at a world in which pri­vacy and user-friend­li­ness are bet­ter cal­i­brated., a subscription-based so­cial net­work that was this year’s Gen­eral Ex­cel­lence win­ner, was de­signed to avoid the Faus­tian bargain of many ex­ist­ing so­cial net­works, such as Face­book, that swap a free ser­vice for the right to mine and ma­nip­u­late users’ data. Re­lay, an hon­oree in the Prod­ucts cat­e­gory, is a screen-free de­vice that kids can use to talk with friends and fam­ily. Both high­light an emerg­ing de­sign trend: re­mov­ing some con­ve­niences in or­der to give users more con­trol over their ex­pe­ri­ences and dig­i­tal iden­ti­ties. has no thumbs-down but­ton for voic­ing your anger, and Re­lay lacks the com­put­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the de­vices we all keep in our pock­ets. Yet nei­ther com­pro­mises our pri­vacy in the bargain. An­other fo­cus for de­sign­ers this year is in­clu­siv­ity. Com­pa­nies are

incorporating the needs of his­tor­i­cally ex­cluded com­mu­ni­ties, such as peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties, into the de­sign process. Google, for ex­am­ple, worked with devel­oper Ta­nia Fin­layson, who was born with cere­bral palsy and lacks the use of her limbs or voice, to cre­ate a key­board that al­lows peo­ple with limited mo­bil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate in Morse code through their smart­phones. Mi­crosoft part­nered with the vis­ually im­paired devel­oper Saqib Shaikh to de­sign See­ing AI (page 66), an app that uses ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence to iden­tify peo­ple, things, col­ors, text, and more for low-vi­sion and blind users. The de­sign of em­pow­er­ment has made its way into ar­chi­tec­ture and ur­ban­ism, too. The Nbbj-de­signed Ama­zon Spheres, an of­fice build­ing-cum-green­house, es­chews the lan­guage of pro­duc­tiv­ity and in­stead en­cour­ages em­ploy­ees to very lit­er­ally stop and smell the roses. Stu­dio Gang has reimag­ined the lo­cal po­lice sta­tion as a lo­cus for neigh­bor­hood life (see next story). The point here isn’t that de­sign swoops in and saves the day. It merely ush­ers peo­ple to­ward bet­ter out­comes. “If de­sign can help peo­ple start to con­nect and build re­la­tion­ships to each other,” says Stu­dio Gang’s founder Jeanne Gang, “it will cre­ate more re­siliency within that com­mu­nity.” The big ques­tion for com­pa­nies is whether de­sign that shifts the power dy­namic to­ward con­sumers is good for the bot­tom line. Com­pa­nies that gen­er­ate rev­enue from users’ data are no doubt loath to cede much con­trol to those users. But this year’s IBD honorees sug­gest that more than a few busi­nesses are bet­ting on the com­pet­i­tive edge that hu­man-cen­tered, pri­vacy-fo­cused de­sign will pro­vide in the fu­ture. And there is mount­ing ev­i­dence that fail­ure to do so will be de­bil­i­tat­ing: Wit­ness Face­book’s in­abil­ity to build au­di­ence in the wake of its Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica scan­dal. Google of­fers an in­trigu­ing case study. No other com­pany has mas­tered user-cen­tered de­sign at such scale and across so many prod­uct cat­e­gories, from email to smart speak­ers—all while hoover­ing up cus­tomers’ per­sonal in­for­ma­tion. But fol­low­ing high-pro­file data breaches like Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica and Equifax, users are grow­ing wary of hand­ing over their data. Com­pa­nies and share­hold­ers may be in­creas­ingly skep­ti­cal, too: With costs more than $400 mil­lion (and count­ing), Equifax’s breach is es­ti­mated to be the most ex­pen­sive cor­po­rate hack­ing in­ci­dent in his­tory. In this cli­mate, Google has been in­tro­duc­ing de­sign changes to give cus­tomers a clearer pic­ture of their dig­i­tal foot­print, and Google CEO Sun­dar Pichai sug­gests more ad­just­ments may be on the way—shifts, he be­lieves, that are just good busi­ness.

Modern Meadow’s chief cre­ative of­fi­cer, Suzanne Lee, is brew­ing leather in a lab. See page 69.

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