New year, new relationships

Partner and Executive Director

This is the time of year we cast aside the past and look toward the future with a fresh perspective. Our designers, technologists and strategists have been reflecting on the trends and innovations they’ve seen in 2014 and expect to continue influencing the marketplace in 2015. When we look ahead we expect to see the greatest opportunity for innovation to emerge at the convergence of traditional categories, like the public and private sector or online and brick-and-mortar retail, which will enable greater personalization of products and services.

This convergence is changing the fundamental relationships between organizations and people in monumental and historic ways. Designing these new relationships in order to create real and lasting value for both people and businesses will be the most significant challenge for design-focused organizations in 2015 and beyond.

We’ve identified five areas of convergence where we expect bold new relationships to be forged this year. Only time will tell whether customers will favor established businesses with credible brands and valuable know-how or align with passionate start-ups unburdened by legacy – but either way, the opportunity is greater now than ever.

Health: Bottoms-up consumer data will converge with top-down traditional patient health information.

While connected and wearable devices are generating a plethora of new consumer health data every day, little has been done with this data to uncover meaningful insights or drive healthier behaviors. Health care systems and organizations are well positioned to interpret this valuable data, but technology shortcomings, legal barriers and patient trust issues are failing to capture and effectively merge it with traditional patient stats. Connecting these two groups represents a huge opportunity to improve patient outcomes.

While new platforms, such as the Apple Watch, will provide the much-talked-about technology platforms, the real innovation will come from a less hyped but equally critical area: new services.

Just as urgent care clinics have redefined the doctor’s visit, new, emergent companies such as Oscar Health will disrupt this area anew while serving as partners to businesses with established customer bases and vast amounts of existing data. Legal boundaries will be stretched and patient trust won over by the delivery of exceptional service and improved outcomes.

Consumers are being asked to be more responsible and engaged with their health, but they need better services to do so. This will be a new relationship for health and insurance companies to navigate – operationally, legally, and in terms of customer experience.

“Health care companies have been trying to get consumers to engage more in their health through offerings such as consumer-driven health plans, while consumers have been increasingly purchasing personal health tracking devices with little convergence between the two. This will start to change this year, resulting in new and unique insights about our health.” – Brandy Fowler, Associate Director, Strategy

Mobility: Public and private sector systems will merge to create smoother journeys for passengers.

With the rise of ridesharing services such as Lyft and Uber, and public transportation systems such as MTA in New York and TFL in London making their data set available, we see an opportunity to make better use of city infrastructure and ultimately make it easier to get around our crowded cities. This is especially critical as urban populations continue to grow with a diverse demographic set, driven primarily by young professionals and a growing older population, with varying needs and wants.

Auto manufacturers, emergent start-ups, and public services will continue to compete on cost and experience. Successful enterprises will need to better understand personal preferences to deliver the right travel experience for each customer.

In the case of airlines, we expect to see them take better advantage of passengers’ propensity to carry their own smartphones and tablets on board. Given that there is a great deal of room for improvement in the current fragmented and stressful travel experience, we can soon expect to see airlines facilitating all aspects of the door-to-door travel experience – from booking, getting to and through the airport, the in-flight experience, and beyond to the next journey.

“People are increasingly getting used to the fact that the systems and services that can now track behaviors also have the ability to provide more personalized experiences. This is especially true in the media and retail sectors. This year, as companies realize they have an opportunity to connect with people as individuals, rather than just serving the masses, expect to see an influx of these new personalized service offerings across all industry sectors. Experiences –such as when a person travels, stays at a hotel, or rents a car – will become curated and tailored to offer the highest level of service that is both meaningful and relevant. In the experience economy, one size does not fit all.” – Heather Martin, Creative Director

Food: Online grocery shopping, food delivery, and the food media will merge to create personalized food networks. 

Today, we see people more engaged in food culture, but with less time to actually cook. Grocery shopping and cooking can be monotonous and time consuming; as a result, people are turning to online shopping for greater convenience. The rise in farmers’ markets and boutique food stores can be attributed in large part to those in search of a richer shopping experience.

The opportunity is to create a more convenient, richer online shopping experience by delivering personalized cooking programs based on food preferences, available time, and sources of inspiration.

With the integration of nutrition and tracking data, personalization will start to address both health and the enjoyment of food and cooking. Food storage and waste will be minimized through just-in-time fulfillment.

Start-ups like Blue Apron have linked recipes and ingredient delivery around a set menu, but we expect the next step to further personalize this experience to truly offer smart food networks.

“In the past four years, we have witnessed disruptive brand and retail innovation with companies like Bonobos and Warby Parker redefining consumer experiences and expectations. The food and cooking category is the next frontier where highly personalized experiences founded on digital-first, omnichannel retail strategies and same-day delivery will collide with celebrity chefs and farmers’ markets. Imagine a mash up of Eataly, Everlane and Top Chef – who’s hungry?” – Tucker Fort, Partner

Retail: Digital payments will merge offline and online shopping experiences with a new level of personal service.

The launch of mobile payment services such as Apple Pay means online and offline payments are merging while cash becomes more obsolete. This means greater convenience and ease-of-payment for consumers, with payments becoming less of a feature of the physical retail environment. This will enable retailers to create more approachable store layouts for shoppers and better interaction with sales associates – a significant opportunity space enabled by digital payments.

Furthermore, with phones and store environments connected, we see the merging of physical and digital browsing, i.e. the store experience will be personalized and made contextually relevant to customers.

However, with digital experiences becoming easier to implement, person-to-person customer service will actually increase in importance in retail environments or online via video chats. Service representatives will be better informed with new data that they will use in appropriate ways to offer value to customers. In return for losing their anonymity, customers will expect stores to use their information wisely and incoherence across channels will be less tolerable.

Design can help companies create experiences that are both simpler and more engaging, driving sales by offering people what they actually desire.

“Both payment systems and retailers have historically approached shopping experiences through a channel view, with internal team structures and product development solving for the channel rather than the way people actually shop. For people, shopping is shopping; we don’t think, “I’ll buy my new Nikes through an online retailer.” Rather, we might browse for them in a store, research prices and reviews online, choose overnight shipping to our office and then finally head back to the store to exchange them when we change our mind on the color. Structuring solutions around an understanding of the true customer journey versus the channel will help companies deliver seamless experiences and ultimately take their customer service to a whole new level.” – Jessi Pervola, Associate Director, Brand Experiences

Work: There will be increased efforts to strike the right balance between personal and business connectedness. 

Shared channels for work and personal communications has resulted in more blurring and merging of our work and personal lives. We are beginning to see a tipping point where the constant stream of intermingled communication is becoming overwhelming, and people are beginning to value moments of “disconnection” and retreats from technology.

However, rather than full disconnection, the real answer is to design better products and services that adapt to our different life modes. We see startups rethinking the e-mail inbox, but there is a broader opportunity in designing the transitions from life to work in more elegant and humane ways.

Reduced costs and increasing arbitrary categorizations of smart devices such as phone, watch or tablet will result in more divergence in the design of devices to make a greater distinction between home and work life.

“It’s easy to assume that all of the data about how we live offers designers a great opportunity to provide what we think is potentially valuable information in context. However, the more challenging and restrained choice is to decide what not to show. This becomes more complicated as devices and services compete for our attention – which ones will truly begin to understand and respect personal space? Our products and services need to stop taking advantage of what they know about a person’s context in order to make assumptions about what he or she might want. This way of thinking views people as little more than triggers for events. People have higher order goals, which often require focus rather than disruption.” – Clay Wiedemann, Director, Interaction Design