From Surviving to Thriving: 4 Trends Driving Conscious Experience Design

October 3, 2022

Consumers are ever more aware of the consequences of their digital habits and are closely scrutinizing the technologies they use. People are evaluating solutions to assess the value that they can derive from them and have no patience with products that offer a shallow user experience or misalign with their personal priorities and values. Before users embrace a product, they commonly ask: Will this product improve my life? As a consequence, product designers are working hard to build digital experiences that feel and behave naturally, in ways that are in line with human needs and expectations. I believe that conscious experience design is fundamentally changing the way we create digital products and is separating successful products from those that fall by the wayside.

Technology is becoming more humanized, or more conscious, and thus, is able to behave in expected ways. Products are becoming smarter, more immersive, and more natural.

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Our work as product designers puts us at the nexus of human behavior and the evolution of technology. In 2021, my company predicted the growth of more conscious digital experiences, and we are seeing progress in each area of conscious experience design. As society moves beyond just surviving the disruption of the last two years of the COVID pandemic, products must become even more intelligent and immersive. Product designers must consider four key themes that underpin conscious experience design and apply them to any digital product that they create.

What Is Conscious Experience Design?

Conscious experience design leverages the fact that technology itself is becoming more humanized, intelligent, and capable of accelerating transformation in the ways people work, interact, build community, and enjoy entertainment. Conscious experience design takes into account several implications of products and experiences, ensuring that they’re not only useful but are also in line with users’ priorities and preferences.

The four themes that drive conscious experience design are as follows:

  • personal innovation—Consumers opt for products that align with their core values and lead to their greater well-being.
  • insightful intelligence—We are designing products that cooperate with the user to deliver ultrahumanized interactions that save time and effort and achieve their desired result.
  • natural immersion—Conscious experience design strives to deliver seamless spatial experiences and sensory experiences that flow naturally and feel intuitive across digital and physical spaces.
  • communal systems—Decentralized systems are enabling disparate communities and virtual economies that thrive on shared interests, values, and relationships in both the digital and the physical worlds.

The power of artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality, and digital environments such as the Metaverse create new opportunities for conscious experience design. Punchcut’s recent design trends report, “Futureview 2022, The Next Level of Conscious Design,” discusses these trends in more depth and provides strategies for creating more conscious products. The following provides a brief summary of what you’ll find in the report.

Personal Innovation

Well-being, essentialism, social intimacy, and the shift from self-service to self-care are all major drivers of personal innovation. Product developers and designers are translating our human needs into product designs—in some cases, perhaps spurred or accelerated by the pandemic. Products that assist in personal innovation are here for the long term.

We are moving toward digital products that emphasize simplicity over excess—creator-defined experiences that align with people’s personal values and priorities. Humanized products are enabling personal creativity, expression, and growth in new ways.

What does this mean for product designers? We must focus on creating products that users can easily personalize and shape to feel natural to them. We can achieve this goal by employing participatory-design methods, simplifying user experiences, and designing for use cases that align with users’ well-being and personal priorities.

Insightful Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) continues to provide the foundation of insightful intelligence, but the focus of AI is moving from full autonomy to cooperation between intelligent services and human beings. AI makes it possible to create human-machine relationships in which products recognize and interact with individuals in expected ways. AI that imbues products and services with emotional intelligence is now the norm, and smart systems continue to evolve to better understand people and strengthen user/product relationships.

What does this mean for product designers? We should research to understand consumer expectations and intentionally develop responsible AI principles that create naturalized machine-to-human-to-machine interactions. Products must capitalize on sensory data to leverage human emotional cues and use data visualization to help users interpret their relationships with the products they use.

Natural Immersion

The term immersive design relates closely to augmented or virtual reality in gaming and entertainment. However, immersive-design techniques are now touching business, education, healthcare, manufacturing, and retail in new and interesting ways. Many consumer applications now have naturalized user interfaces that connect humans to applications through voice, touch, haptic sensations, and even facial recognition—without the use of any special headsets.

The rise of virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality is further opening up new possibilities for immersion. Now people are seeking more holistic solutions that seamlessly weave together both their virtual and physical worlds. We are leveraging products and user experiences that are more realistic and lifelike and creating brand preferences, building communities, selling products, and providing people with companionship and support for their everyday activities.

What does this mean for product designers? Immersive design is seamless, sensory, and spatial. We should conduct extensive user research and usability testing to discover opportunities for natural flows between digital and physical activities and spaces.

Communal Systems

Distributed networks, blockchain technology, and the sharing economy are giving rise to a new era of communal systems. We are seeing a shift from centralized to decentralized systems and from siloed teams to open collaboration. Technology providers are moving from closed, proprietary systems to open, decentralized networks of resources and collaboration spaces. A fundamental truth is driving the common undercurrent of all of these communal-system trends: people want connection, fulfillment, and excitement.

What does this mean for product designers? We should think about the community we are connecting through the products and services we create, embrace influencers and creators as leaders in product growth, and create and enable spontaneous relationship building. We must also place an emphasis on accessibility and inclusion to create experiences that are relevant and useful for all.

How to Start Integrating Conscious Design Fundamentals

Every product now needs to reflect the values of the consumer, the meaning it can bring to the community it supports, and the value it delivers to the user. Here are some steps that designers can take to embrace conscious design:

  • Make well-being a priority in design. Will the products help users achieve their goals? Are they easy to use? Do they promote healthy behaviors? Ask these questions during your design process.
  • Employ participatory-design methods. Involve users in the design process from the very beginning to help ensure that the final product is relevant to and useful to them.
  • Embrace cooperative AI. Use AI and data to create immersive experiences that are hyperpersonalized and ultrahumanized.
  • Avoid the hype. Although design should move toward a convergence of digital and physical realities, don’t jump headfirst into the newest technology hype if your users don’t want or need it. Focus product strategies on aligning with real human needs, then work to determine how your product can meet them.

Conscious experience design is the future of design. Product designers must start integrating these principles into our product-development process to remain relevant in this new era, in which consumers are thriving instead of just surviving. 

Managing Partner at Punchcut

San Francisco, California, USA

Ken OlewilerKen was a co-founder of Punchcut and has driven the company’s vision, strategy, and creative direction for over 20 years—from the company’s inception as the first mobile-design consultancy to its position today as a design accelerator for business growth and transformation. Punchcut works with many of the world’s top companies—including Samsung, LG, Disney, Nissan, and Google—to envision and design transformative product experiences in wearables, smart home Internet of Things (IoT), autonomous vehicles, and extended reality (XR). As a UX leader and entrepreneur, Ken is a passionate advocate for a human-centered approach to design and business. He believes that design is all about shaping human’s relationships with products in ways that create sustainable value for people and businesses. He studied communication design at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania.  Read More

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