2015: The year in Product Design by Atomic.io
This year when your friends and family ask how your year went, you’ll be able to wow them with gritty anecdotes and speak of the chaos, giants, war, unicorns and new frontiers in the world of Product Design.
Go on. Relax. Peel off your unicorn suit. Park your cynicism for a few minutes. Fetch a glass of kale juice and catch up on the best of the 424 articles we shared in Atomic’s Product Design Weekly this year.
There’s something cathartic in allowing ourselves to get excited about what lies ahead. Which is good, because we did plenty of it this year.
It’s official. We’re in love with thinking about new design frontiers. VR feels close enough to touch. It’s been a long time coming and we’ve been swept up in talking about it. If it wasn’t virtual reality, it was artificial intelligence, messaging as an interface, wearables or self driving cars.
Designers who live in the future, or seem desperate to be, this year paused for long enough to pen their gushy, occasionally preachy reviews of what we can all expect. We gobbled them all up enthusiastically, of course. We chewed over the post-screen world, the transition from product design to virtual reality, the distraction of wearables and robots.
Peer through the looking glass at our best reads on new frontiers.
“The internet becomes something that’s omnipresent, instead of just something you click on.”
“With each type of device, we sacrifice a little more of the world immediately around us in exchange for the virtual one.”
Building 3D Touch
“…you think you want to detect force, but really what you’re trying to do is sense intent.”
Duelling giants Apple and Google dominated headlines this year. Their crusades to control the mobile web continued, and their platforms and interfaces became more embedded in our everyday lives. Along the way, their highly orchestrated courting of designers reached dizzying heights, contributing a staggering amount to the landscape and practices of product design.
We started 2015 wondering how Google’s thirst to become a design leader would pan out, and pan out it has. Google Design and their flagship Material has gone from helpful to essential as their design leadership empire continues to grow.
Facebook, usually in the spotlight for their advertising antics and privacy horse-play, continued to give back too. Instant Articles reminded us of the pivotal importance of performance in products and their steady stream of wisdom on Medium gave us a glimpse into how they’re dealing with design at scale.
Jony Ive, the Dumbledore of Design at Apple, and his gang, had a sweet and sour year. The Watch took wearables mainstream, and the iPad Pro has us questioning whether we’re ready to design on a tablet (No, not yet). They managed to trip on the red carpet a few times though, with some of their former design leaders claiming they’re now giving design a bad name. The bewildering Apple Music has also failed to impress, but even that’s a long way from dead.
Retrace the steps of the 2015 Design Giants.
not a neutral
“On mobile… it’s the operating system itself that’s the internet services platform, far more than the browser, and the platform is not neutral.”
Apple vs. Google vs. Facebook and the slow death of the web
“iOS9 is Apple’s attempt to drive the knife into Google’s revenue platform”
Design at Facebook
“If we fuck up, people use our product less
so we try and do this
as little as possible.”
The shape of things
to come: Jony Ive
and the future of Apple
2015, like every year, yielded its fair share of well meaning workflow and process puffery aimed at providing relief and assistance for busy designers. Fancy another article on whether designers should code, anyone? Another Email 101 course? Didn’t think so. But amongst the chaos, great themes, patterns, tools and ideas emerged.
Thoughtful essays like Chimero’s on the grain of the web gave new ways of looking at the medium we’re designing for. Techniques like Google’s Design Sprints gave us methods for revitalising our everyday grind and challenged our penchant for hiding behind screens. We talked more about the value and methods of prototyping than ever before, and debated how to make our design practices more collaborative.
If you tuned out the noise this year you might have missed these gems.
A dystopian view of an internet designed by machines, and the mushy, emotional weapons we can use to fight back.
“Think about the physicality of the objects in your interface. Where did they come from? Where will they go?”
The principles of UX choreography
“You are responsible for directing each element’s entrance, performance, and exit.”
Look and feel and feel
“The Twitter vs. Instagram experience is really reinforcing what matters when designing a product.”
Product design continued its rapid ascent as a powerful tool for creating commercial advantage. Design teams were acquihired, in-house teams scaled to record sizes, and a new breed of design leader emerged from the pack. This multi-talented, smooth-talking bearer of design wisdom and influence enjoyed a glorious moment in the spotlight, and then along came Jennifer.
When Jennifer Daniel got up to speak at the Creative Mornings in San Francisco in October, she probably had no idea just how welcomed her brutal assessment of design as capitalism would be. It was a delightful take down of our designer egos, a well-timed reality check.
Just as we were starting to gush over and idolize our design leaders as heroes, disruptors and unicorns, along comes Jennifer to sharply remind us that actually, we’re just here to get the job done. Almost as quickly as design got on its high horse, it got off again. Phew. It takes a great team to make great products. Within that, design, and designers have an increasingly important role to play, but creating successful digital products is still invariably a team game.
Read our highlights on design thinking coming of age, the changing role of designers and the evolution of product design practices. Giddy up.
“Designers will do anything
to convince themselves
that we’re not in a service
It’s never been more important for design firms to think differently
“The shortage of design leadership talent is driving the corporate acquisition spree.”
of the design
“It wasn’t that long ago that we believed in a romanticized notion of the power of the talented solo designer. This individual would lean back in their chair as everyone else would await the genius idea that would emerge.
“Yes! That’s it. That’s what we need to build. Thanks again, Awesome Designer. You’ve made us great again.”
It doesn’t work that way any more. And actually, it’s clear it never did.”
comes of age
“A design-centric culture transcends design as a role, imparting a set of principles to all people who help bring ideas to life.”
Design is valued.
“It’s not enough to simply hire a good designer and proceed with business as usual.”
as the tool
It’s been a long time coming, but we saw a flood of new tools for designers emerge this year. A wave of tools for decompiling designs created in old desktop tools arrived first, prototyping and collaboration tools came next and even the slowest incumbents tipped a few marketing dollars into promise videos and previews to reassure us they’re awake and keen to play.
Punditry around tools exploded alongside the tools, with tool surveys, tool comparison reviews, state of tools posts and lots of hype. Surprisingly, despite all the news and excitement, there was a notable lack of discourse about why they’re being created and how they’re going to help.
This is an exciting, and slightly overwhelming time to be on the tools as a product designer, but next year will be a truly defining year for the toolmakers vying to help you design better.
Where we are
today with UX
“Prototyping as a craft, or even as a subset of the craft of user experience design, is still young enough that it would be premature for us to try and settle a winner in the short term.”
Thanks for reading, thanks to all the authors we’ve featured throughout the year, and thanks to the Atomic crew for pulling together this Year in Review with me.
Hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re doing something you think product designers might like to see. We’re here to spread the word.
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