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Introduction

As a UX Trendspotter I’m interested in the current discussion around what the future holds. Technology is driving major transformations.

It is intriguing to visualize what life will be like in a world where you can print everything, ranging from clothes, to shoes, to food, to human organs, and even houses! Or, where one does not need a human driver to drive a car.

We expect a world where it will be normal to live for much longer than 100 years and transhumanism will be part of our lives. Drones will be used to deliver pizzas and to monitor and deal with forest fires.

Everyone and everything will be connected via the Internet of Things.
And, we will wonder how we could have lived our lives without our robot friends!

It was, therefore, with much interest that I participated in the call for short essays for a report titled “Top 10 Disappearing Futures” for The Futurist (the World Future Society’s monthly journal).

As I later read the published report edited by Cynthia Wagner, apart from the fascinating perspectives provided by futurists from around the world, what struck me was the question, “What would it be like being an UX professional in 2030?”

And so, here is my list of the top 6 things that will be different for UX professionals in 2030 in view of 6 specific “disappearing future” scenarios.

1. Vanishing Languages and the Rise of English and Chinese, by John F. Copper

By 2030, more than a third of the world’s estimated 6,000 languages will have disappeared. First to go will be those spoken by only a small number of people. Unwritten languages will also pass early. Other languages, except for two, will experience gradual or rapid disuse.

Most people are increasingly learning and using a “dominant” language such as English and/or Chinese, both of which are growing fast in terms of their number of speakers and their usage in business and science.

English is the language of science and technology, education, business, the media, movies, and the global culture. It is the language of democracy. The English vocabulary is vast compared to other languages. Some call it the necessary or indispensable language.

Chinese is the language of more people than any other and is becoming an important business language. China is also excelling in science and technology, registering more patents than any country in the world and publishing more scientific articles. Many predict that China will be the world’s dominant economic and military power in two or three decades.

The ability to speak both Chinese and English would allow one to communicate with half of the people on the planet. This figure will grow to 60% or more in 15 years. At that time, the dream of a universal language may be upon us.

In the future, linguists and historians will be able to study the extinct languages, as they will be recorded and preserved. Bilingualism and multilingualism will keep the ones falling into disuse from becoming irrelevant, while most of the planet’s population will regularly use English or Chinese, or both.

What does this mean for a UX professional in 2030?

It certainly means that you would benefit by being very fluent in both these languages. So better start mastering these right now!

In addition, remember that English is not one universal English. There are as many versions of English as countries where the language is spoken. There is Indian English or Hinglish (Hindi + English), Chinese English, Singaporean English, South African English, Nigerian English, etc.

In order to design interfaces in English, in the 2-language world of 2030, these local nuances will become very critical.

2. The Coming Demise of Teamwork, By Paul Rux

In his classic 2001 study Free Agent Nation, Daniel Pink observed a growing trend toward solo practitioners instead of teams. He foresaw how relentless changes in technology and corporate greed would combine to reduce workers en masse to the level of office temps. It is hard to build teamwork around workers who constantly come and go. Despite a pop culture that lauds teamwork in sports, this is not the emerging workplace reality.

So forget teamwork. Instead, coach creative “stars.” The powerful trend toward freelance workplaces signals the coming demise of teamwork. Get ready to move, re-skill, and coach innovative individuals as leaders.

What does this mean for a UX professional in 2030?

This will impact how we work, and the nature of the corporate applications we design.

If we don’t have permanent UX team members working together over a period of time, we can’t rely on the knowledge in team members’ heads. There will not be permanent team members who act as the anchor and knowledge repository for new team members.

Instead, intelligent knowledge management systems will need to act as the knowledge repository. And we will need mature methods and systems that disseminate the knowledge and coach transient practitioners.

The absence of permanent teams who have the “context” of the workplace and its systems will also affect our users. Hence, UX professionals in 2030 will need to design interfaces that are very strong in terms of self-evidency and context. This will help new (and short term) users get up to speed on complex systems in the absence of help from experienced users who have been around for a long time.

3. Obsolescence of Fixed Pay-Per-Time Compensation, By Carrie Anne Zapka

Only museums will display punch-in time clocks. Future historians will view this artifact as a failed attempt to mechanize human behavior—an unfortunate result of the Industrial Revolution. Without punch-clocks, neither performance nor compensation will be correlated to time.

Dynamic pay-per-task networks will replace fixed annual salaries and hourly pay rates. Work will be negotiated between temporal workers and “workees”—those for whom work is performed. Compensation will be volatile. Real-time supply and demand, crowd reputation ratings, experience points, and recommendation networks will replace résumés and job titles.

What does this mean for a UX professional in 2030?

In the world of multi-tasking free agents “delivering” work on task or project basis, education and experience will no longer be the sole determinants of your value as a UX professional. What will make your reputation ratings soar AND earn you more income (in a very competitive world full of UX free agents) is your ability to deliver excellent work within the shortest possible time.

This means that you will need to have the knowledge and ability to leverage tools, templates, training and other resources that help you deliver excellent quality work, efficiently. For example, you will need to be able to access the latest wearable device design templates and training so that you can get familiar with wearable device design standards and start creating the deliverable for your client, using the templates right away.

The concept of “starting from scratch” for every project/task will certainly have disappeared in 2030.

4. Bad Mood Is History: A Scenario, By Liz Leone and Jean Georges Perrin

I awaken in a bad mood. The bed is empty next to me and I suspect Liz is working again. She works too much. Without opening my eyes, I know it’s time to get up. Every morning, at 7 o’clock, the windows change from light-blocking to transparent. The late autumn sun fills the room. I peruse some wardrobe choices, my virtual mirror reflecting my image in each selection. I wait for my choice to rotate toward the front of the rack and proceed with my morning ablutions.

As I head downstairs, our garden appears through the walls. The fall colors warm me. The walls appear completely transparent with the thin layer of LED. I open the window and the curtains billow in the fall breeze. It took some time to get used to seeing the curtains suspended in midair, like some domestic apparition. Now, I barely notice. I breathe in the fresh morning scent.

As I move into the kitchen, news begins to flow on the walls. CNN knows my bad mood and sticks to light news. Madonna and Mick Jagger are going to have a baby. At past 70, Madonna says she feels vital and invigorated to be pregnant at the same time as her granddaughter. With a life expectancy of 110 and the support of her record label, she is thrilled to bring a new pop sensation into the world.

My thoughts of children have prompted the walls to display images of my sons as babies, toddlers, and eventually young men. Emotions flow. The warmth begins to repel this bad mood.

With freshly brewed tea (my custom blend) in hand, I find my way to the office. Liz is indeed working. She smiles as I walk to her. We kiss tenderly. This is going to be another great day.

What does this mean for a UX professional in 2030?

Working as a UX professional will mean being skilled at much more than navigation models, font legibility and reading speed. We will be designing for a world where one is surrounded by interfaces that constantly adapt to the user’s emotional state. This will mean that UX professionals need the ability to understand, analyze, model and manipulate emotions, thereby creating persuasive experiences. UX professionals will need to be masters of emotional design, and will have a whole set of emotion-focused methods and tools.

5. No More Waiting, by Apala Lahiri

Waiting will disappear by 2030. The concept of having to wait for something or someone is increasingly shifting to another verb, unwaiting.

We once waited for the bank to open in the morning to be able to transfer money; waited for answers to our letters that arrived by post/courier; waited to travel to a shopping area, or even to a specific country/city to buy particular items.

Or we waited in queues until we got to the front of the queue. We waited at airports until it was time to board the flight. And then waited in court for the next step in the process to happen, whether a property dispute or a divorce proceeding.

There is no waiting anymore, really. The 24/7 access to the Internet via different devices means that we can do our money transfers at any time of the day or night, can shop for that specific item of clothing online whenever we want to. So whether we are at the airport or in the courthouse, we are not really waiting. We are immersed in a digital world doing other things, like e-mailing, reading news, watching a show, or shopping.

Very soon, the “intelligent cloud” that always knows us will constantly serve suggestions based on our profile and location. And 3D printers will help enable instant wish fulfillment. What will we need to wait for?

What does this mean for a UX professional in 2030?

This certainly means that 2030 will be a wonderful time for UX professionals! With “unwaiting” as a hygiene factor for all user experience, users will expect to be served the most appropriate content at all times and in the most efficient manner. They will, after all, not wait to figure out difficult to use interfaces or content that is not appropriate to their specific “unwaiting” context! Instead, they will move on to use a different (and perhaps competing) interface.

As a UX professional in the “unwaiting” scenario, life could not be better. Who better than a UX professional to design self-evident, intuitive interfaces that require no waiting? And again, understanding the user’s ecosystem and hence being able to optimize content or solutions based on the user’s context is what any qualified UX professional does as a routine part of their job even today.

And that routine part of the job is going to become a critical success criteria for engaging users in 2030.

6. The Concurrent Evaporation of Hardware and Privacy, By E. Scott Denison

Hold in your hand for a moment the sleek minimalist design that is your smartphone. Note the thin metal case, and touch the glossy, glass interface.

If you like that sort of thing, then you should keep it around as an heirloom. By 2030, we will have dispensed with much of the hardware that we carry with us, including phones and laptops, car keys or key fobs, possibly even digital cameras.

All these devices will move from silicon chips encased in industrial designs to smart surfaces, smart clothing, or biomechanically engineered microcomputers that have been implanted in or attached to the body. Retinal implants or contact lenses will carry the visual interface to the individual, or the user will transfer it to a variety of other “active surfaces” such as tables or walls.

Each app will carry its own embedded interface and, though true telepathy will still be a couple of decades away, gloves, rings, or bracelets could become the access point for manipulating the user interface. It may someday give way to subdermal implants that directly access brain imagery and transmissions to the microchips that are embedded in our bodies.

As our computers become more invisible and hardware design becomes more bio-design, we will also see our privacy nearly completely disappear. Each surface will become “aware” of our presence and our activities. Our bodies will carry an internal GPS tracking capability. Watch out for intrusive messaging, hacking, and surveillance that may come ever so much closer to our thoughts, actions, preferences, and individuality.

What does this mean for a UX professional in 2030?

2030 may well be the era of “intimate interfaces.” How much more intimate can an interface be than being subdermal or retinal implants or smart clothing!

Imagine being a UX professional in that ecosystem. The UX professional’s tool kit will need to be very different. Experiences will have to be designed for invisible interfaces and interactions that go beyond touch, voice, gaze and gesture to “thought.”

Being conversant with the best practices and standards of “thought-based” interaction design, well ahead of 2030 would certainly be a differentiator for UX professionals.


Conclusion

Many things we are familiar with today will disappear by 2030. Many jobs from today’s world will disappear because of emerging technologies such as 3D printing, driverless cars and robotic surgeons.

And the new world of 2030 will have even more technology embedded in our lives. The future will, in fact, see a shift from “atoms to bytes” as Nicholas Negroponte said in his recent keynote speech at the annual World Future Society conference.

The interesting thing is that because of that very shift from “atoms to bytes,” the UX profession will become many times more critical in 2030.

As UX professionals, we are fortunate that we have a chance to play a very significant role in shaping the world of that future that will be so dependant on “bytes.”

However, we need to be prepared with new knowledge, new tools and new skills to meet the needs of our users in 2030. The paradox of ubiquitousness and invisibility of interfaces will transform society and hence also the experiences we will need to design for our users.

We need to start preparing from now.

About the authors

John F. Copper is the Stanley J. Buckman Professor (emeritus) of International Studies at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. He is the author of more than thirty books. Email johnfcopper@gmail.com

Paul Rux, PhD, is a lifelong professional educator. Email paulrux@paulrux.net

Carrie Anne Zapka is a microbiologist in R&D at GOJO Industries by day and an industrial and organizational psychology student by night. Email nuts4ideas@gmail.com

Apala Lahiri is Global Chief of Technical Staff at Human Factors International (HFI). She is an award-winning designer (International Audi Design Award), and has recently been made CEO of the Institute of Customer Experience, a nonprofit initiative by HFI to explore the future of global user experience. Email apala@humanfactors.com

Liz Leone is an editor for Rodale and a medical editor for GSK. Email liz@lizleone.com

Jean Georges Perrin runs a software company, focusing on content analysis and logistics. Email jgp@jgp.net

E. Scott Denison is a design lecturer at Ohio State University. His article “When Designers Ask, ‘What If?’” was published in World Future Review’s Summer 2012 conference edition. Email scott@scottdenison.com

Message from the CEO, Dr. Eric Schaffer — The Pragmatic Ergonomist

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Reader comments

Sharad Joshi

 

Regarding "4. Bad Mood Is History": UX will not be required to capture human emotion, but an interface would have to be smart enough to invoke human emotion like a bad mood and balance it with a good mood. Since humans are becoming much less emotional and becoming more mechanical, reaction towards emotions will be suppressed; e.g., humans tend to react to so many small provocations over a few years' time. So, bad moods will already be history at that time.

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