As the underlying tech becomes a commodity, design emerges as the answer

The technology industry is undergoing a creative transformation. A large amount of value is shifting from the development of underlying technologies — the infrastructure, the platforms, the chips, the radios, the hardware — to the design of how technology interacts with the user. This tectonic creative shift will determine many of tomorrow’s tech winners and losers.

The trend has been emerging for a couple years now, although user interaction has always an important part of tech. But there are some major driving forces behind this trend, and why it’s emerging now. We, at GigaOM, think experience design is so important this year that we’re focusing our two-day annual RoadMap conference (which will take place in San Francisco in a couple weeks) on the topic.

One point of pressure is that the costs of the underlying technologies have dropped dramatically — much of these technologies are now commodities that lean startups (or really anyone) can buy with a bit of funding and a solid business plan. Cloud services like Amazon Web Services provide low cost on-demand computing; chips, sensors and radios are cheap enough to embed in every device and machine; powerful smartphones are becoming widespread and delivering sophisticated and standardized mobile computing platforms. All of this is being connected with blazing fast broadband — the internet (the true mobile internet that’s been envisioned for years) now just, frankly, works.

The value of the internet is now moving to the valuable and emotional experiences that people get from using it and interacting with it. Instagram didn’t rocket into a billion dollar company and get acquired by Facebook because it was the first company to make a mobile photo sharing app. Hundreds of companies had tried that for years before.

Its success came because Instagram was able to craft a photo-sharing experience that its users fell in love with — an emotional connection. I finally got an iPhone a couple years back because I wanted to use Instagram (before Instagram came to Android). Instagram’s co-founder Kevin Systrom will talk about this process in a conversation with Om at RoadMap.

Another reason for this trend is that as the mobile internet flows ever deeper across cities, towns and villages the world over, it’s getting regular people connected — your grandma, the doctor in the rural Midwest or a farmer in Delhi. The first mobile apps and websites that made money off of Silicon Valley early adopters five years ago now need to be able to create a valuable and emotional experience for everyone. The emergence of Pinterest as a powerhouse — and its image-laden influential grid design — shows the weight of this new class of users and how important experience design has become.

Finally computing and the internet are now becoming ever more attached, embedded and connected to our bodies. It’s becoming a seamless part of us as never before and 2013 has become the year of the smartwatch and wearable computing. The wearable product that will break out is the one that can design an experience that users fall in love with.

Some tech companies can see this creative and design-centric writing on the wall. Increasingly tech firms are working with design firms like IDEO, Frog Design and Fjord. In fact Fjord was recently acquired by tech consulting company Accenture. At RoadMap you’ll hear from Frog Design’s Creative Officer Mark Rolston, IDEO’s Editorial Director Shoshana Berger, Ammunition Partner and founder Robert Brunner and many other leaders at design shops that have worked intimately with the tech industry.

Om and I hope you can join us at RoadMap 2013, the experience design conference for the tech industry. Other speakers include:

  • Jack Dorsey, CEO and co-founder of Square
  • Tony Fadell, CEO and co-founder of Nest
  • Joshua Brewer, Former Principal Designer Twitter
  • Beth Comstock, CMO, SVP GE
  • Scott Belsky, Behance Founder and Adobe VP
  • Jonah Jones, Lead User Experience Designer, Google
  • Carl Ledbetter, Sr. Principal Creative Director, Xbox Industrial Design, Microsoft
  • John Maeda, President of RISD
  • Alexis Maybank, Founder Gilte Group
  • Sean Rad, CEO Tinder
  • Erik Spiekermann, Typographer and Graphic Designer, Founder Edenspiekermann
  • Bret Taylor, CEO, Co-Founder Quip
  • Scott Thomas, Founder, The Noun Project
  • Franz von Holzhausen, Chief Designer Tesla