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Design for good: Trends that emerged in 2018


It has been an eventful year in the world of design. As it comes to an end, we would like to take the opportunity to reflect upon what we learned from everything that has transpired over the year. Instances of evil design ranged from subtle dark patterns nudging users to buy products to full-blown deception around the use of personal data. Collectively, these transgressions have taught us a lot about designing for good versus evil.

We recognize five key trends that have emerged in 2018 that will become the center of good design strategy moving forward:

1. Design for trust

We saw several breaches of trust in 2018 by widely used products and platforms. Among those, the revelations about data breaches at Facebook have arguably had the most impact on us.

Despite these events, the conversation about designing for trust rarely seems to move beyond specific tactics and features. What we fail to acknowledge is that firms like AirBnB have succeeded in building trust because they started doing so from the beginning. Trust guided everything from business strategy to the design of their products and services, and they have clearly differentiated themselves from the competition. It is impossible to take an evil business strategy and fix it through good design.

Interesting reads:

2. Design for transparency

Transparency is crucial for building trust. When we learned that some models of iPhones and iPads were designed to slow down in order to nudge users to upgrade to a newer model, Apple started to lose the trust they built over the years.

As technological advancements bring new capabilities for design, designers need to ask the right questions and think about long term social effects. For example, we can no longer afford to shy away from designing for artificial intelligence and machine learning, deeming them to be black boxes. A tangible first step is to ask the right questions about risk and how these technologies would impact the user. It is important for designers to keep in mind that, although many emerging technologies may function in the background, they have a huge impact on the overall experience.

Interesting reads:

3. Design for inclusion

The definition of inclusivity expanded well beyond the boundaries of accessibility in 2018. It focused on those who are disadvantaged simply because they were in the designers’ blind spots. Products that use AI have been plagued by the problems of inclusivity. For example, most of the digital assistants on the market today have a female voice by default, skewing the perception of women’s role in society. Also, algorithms, in general, have a tendency to propagate biases that are part of the data they use.

The conversation around inclusivity has shined a glaring light on the need for a process that designs with – and not for – the users. Every organization needs to make a conscious effort to define what inclusivity means to them and enable teams to develop and implement their own inclusivity toolkits.

Interesting reads:

4. Design beyond Design Thinking:

Since the focus has shifted towards the design process itself, business leaders have started to acknowledge that Design Thinking for innovation has often been used to create a false sense of security in the organization. Ideo, the firm that made the Design Thinking process scalable and accessible to everyone has finally broken its silence on why that alone cannot be the magical solution to an organization’s innovation problems.

Design needs to be baked into the organization’s culture, systems and structures. Every organization needs to find a process or platform that works for them; there is no-one-size-fits-all option for design.

Interesting reads:

5. Design for the organization’s personality

There is no escaping that an organization’s collective character and personality comes through in every aspect of its products and services. While the wrong name got the NYC startup, Bodega in trouble, Facebook’s virtual reality tour of Puerto Rico drew backlash for trivializing a natural disaster.

The channels of engagement are becoming increasingly anthropomorphic, changing everything from packaging design and interactive displays the way Coca-Cola uses them to how Amazon has embedded Alexa into our lives. It is important for design to communicate and establish this collective personality for all the touchpoints inside and outside the organization.

Interesting reads:


At first glance, one might say that these are age old principles and that there is nothing new to learn from these trends. However, 2018 showed us that somewhere along the way, we lost sight of the importance of these principles – or didn’t evolve them in keeping with the emerging technologies and our social landscape. Many organizations paid the price for this. Once we recognize evil design and its ramifications, we can learn from it to reframe and reprioritize our design values and principles and use them for the greater good.

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