"The Decade of Design": How Last 10 Years Transformed Design's Role in Tech

The 2010s are coming to a close, and as different blogs recap all the highlights, we’re reminded of just how much changed in such a short period. As little as a decade ago, we didn’t live our lives glued to a smartphone. In 2010, Uber and Instagram were just getting started. As mobile upended the way products were built, designers were called to action. Their expertise made them particularly well-suited to the challenge of distilling complex technical systems to essential interactions. Companies that had previously ran on as little design resources as possible began hiring in spades. (In one memorable run, the IBMs of the world acquired over 35 design agencies in two years.) Silicon Valley, which had long exalted the engineer, finally began to appreciate the power of the designer too. We didn’t want to let this decade pass without acknowledging the milestones and moments that made this happen. It turns out that a lot can unfold in 10 years, so to help us parse out the most important stuff, we spoke with 12 people across the industry, from design leaders to educators to investors. (To narrow scope, we focused on the U.S. but it’s worth noting these trends played out across the world.) The tipping point that transformed design’s role in tech was — what else? — the iPhone. Although Apple technically introduced it last decade (2007), it didn’t enable in-app purchases until 2009 or launch the iPad until 2010. So its biggest effects were felt in the last 10 years, as mobile spread throughout the world, reshaping consumer preferences and the design that powers them. People we spoke with named many different ways the iPhone (and resulting smartphone trend) changed UX/UI design. Here’s a few common themes. Everything got a little more complicated Mobile made everything more complicated. The screens were smaller than on desktop, and more varied in terms of size. They weren’t just clicking buttons with a mouse — they were using their fingers to swipe, tap, and hold, often while in motion. They might be walking, driving, standing in line at the airport, gondoliering, you get the idea. “Mobile normalized the idea of computing beyond the screen,” said Josh Clark, the creator of the popular running app Couch to 5K and founder of the design studio Big Medium. “Our phones became the main event, the computers we use most throughout the day.” All these factors meant companies had to make tough decisions about what functionality to prioritize — a task designers were uniquely suited for. Data, data, data At the same time, mobile phones brought an avalanche of new information about users. Huge swaths of the population had pocket-sized computers that could see, hear, and interact with what was nearby. People used their phones constantly, resulting in what technologist Jon Gold called “infinitely more data than anything we’d seen in 2.5 decades of software development.” Product teams started running constant A/B tests on UI variations. They’d experiment with button color or text, seeing how it impacted sign ups, purchases, shares, or other behavior. Companies — with Facebook leading the charge — started hiring more designers to power these experiments, and data-driven design became its own discipline. “They’re constantly nudging stuff for growth, and I don’t remember that being a job 20 years ago,” said May-Li Khoe, former VP of Design at Khan Academy. “Smartphone adoption and data usage have totally changed what design even means in the last 10 years.” She’s had a front row seat for this, having worked in tech for decades, with long stints at Microsoft and Apple. From 2011-2019, the…

Like to keep reading?

This article first appeared on figma.com. If you'd like to keep reading, follow the white rabbit.

View Full Article

Leave a Reply