Tech-Bite 5: Rise of virtual design

Tech-Bites: exploring our favourite tech trends for 2021

The acceleration of digital adoption during 2020 will become an important factor of change and it will drive technologies assessment during the year ahead. To have a better idea of how the future will look like, we asked our experts at Qindle to share their view on it.

Qindle’s Creative Director, Strategic Design Consultants and Product Designers present here their favourite tech-bite for 2021.

The Rise and Rise of Virtual Design

Tech trend by Jason Kempen, Creative Director at Qindle.

Jason Kempen, Creative Director at Qindle

Over the last few months, the world of virtual art, fashion and design has exploded into our daily headlines. From Beeple’s historic art sale at Christies for $63 million to windfall sales of digital collectibles from designers such as Andres Reisinger and Alexis Christodolou, the subject of NFT mania has been hard to avoid, polarizing people and opinions across design, art and even sustainability.

But this movement – the acquisition of virtual objects for use online – has already been around for quite some time. For those that are keen gamers, the idea of acquiring digital add-ons (costumes and skins) and mods for use within gaming environments is nothing new. In fact, it is a fundamental part of today’s game business models, as seen with hugely popular titles like Fortnite and Call of Duty. Even within the traditionally analogue world of fashion design, brands are starting to take notice and create products – virtual fashion essentially – that appeal to a new generation of shoppers who live a significant portion of their lives online. In 2019, The Fabricant started pioneering the idea of digital couture – garments freed from the restraints of the physical world that are modelled onto photos of their owners, creating unique and covetable content for their online channels. This in turn has inspired brands like Moschino and Balenciaga to embrace virtual platforms: from fashion shows in the forms of a cyberpunk videogame, to co-branded collections for The Sims.

This all comes together in the so-called Metaverse, the recently-coined name for the many platforms and virtual worlds that allow people to come together online. In these new ‘worlds’ people  can interact (and transact) in ways that blur the boundaries of both physical and virtual realities. Often powered by blockchain and cryptocurrency technology, these realities, although seemingly ‘fringe’ at the moment, give us an insight into the not-too-distant future of online commerce. Accelerated no doubt by the global pandemic and the need for people to find new ways of interacting and creating communities. From new entrants such as Core that aims to be the ‘Youtube of Game Creation’ to established companies such as Nvidia also building new worlds, this space is heating up quickly.

So, what does this mean for brands and creators? Freed from the constraints of physical limitations, the virtual world offers an incredible new opportunity for designers and creators. Anything that can be imagined can now be made virtually, and thanks to blockchain directly attributed to its creator, helping to cut out the middleman and ensure transparency. Although the current aesthetic is still heavily influenced by game design and characterization, it will be fascinating to see how this visual language online matures and self-curates over time.

For brands, this represents the chance to find novel ways of reaching new generations and markets – but avoiding the pitfalls of jumping on the NFT bandwagon is key. While tactical plays can provide short-term media hype (I’m looking at you, Taco Bell), the challenge will be to find meaningful ways to build on core brand equities and portfolios in a way that feels credible and meaningful. Whether it means the development of virtual mobility solutions alongside now seemingly traditional electric and fossil-fuel vehicles, or entirely digital homeware collections, one thing is certain: imagining our future has never been more exciting.

From User Interface to Omniface

Tech trend by Jasper van Eck, Strategic Design Consultant at Qindle.

Jasper van Eck, Strategic Design Consultant at Qindle

“An iPod, a phone, and an internet communicator…do you get it?” were the words spoken by Steve Jobs right before he unveiled the first iPhone and with that created a device that impacted the lives of billions of people. Jobs had a vision to combine existing technologies and tools, as if the answer was already there, but everyone else had just failed to see it.

As remarkable as the iPhone seems, I believe that its innovation essence is not unique. Many other impactful innovations that we use on a daily basis have recombined existing technologies and trends, updated for the context of today. In some cases, this involves combining previously ‘dumb’ devices and connectivity to create ‘smart’ new iterations. Sonos, for example, combined the app ecosystem, WiFi connectivity and the rise in music streaming services into what we now refer to as a ‘smart speaker’.

Our appetite for smart devices seems insatiable. Globally, on an annual basis we create a staggering 1.6B smartphones , 0.8B smart home devices  (smart speakers, thermostats, doorbells etc.), 320M smart wearables, 240M ‘hearables’ , and 0.5B PCs and laptops. In order to provide for this global demand, the world produces enough LCD screens to cover the entire surface area of the Netherlands ten times over: an enormous 320.000km2.

The world has moved on quickly from the original promise of the iPhone – a single interface for all your devices – to offering many interfaces across many devices. Our definition of an ‘interface’ is evolving, too. For every physical mobile interface, there are 80+ digital app interfaces. We will increasingly find ourselves immersed in multiple interfaces at the same time, wherever we are, on all sensory levels (audio, visual and touch).

Today, many companies still offer experiences through a single physical or digital interface. Efforts to diversify those interfaces often fall flat: to retain relevance, they create new company-owned platforms, interfaces and forced user flows. In my view, the easiest path is actually to find ways to partner and integrate with existing platforms and interfaces. This means taking a counterintuitive step and yielding full control of the experience, instead organizing around the user, and their desired journey. Companies should combine and connect multiple physical and digital interfaces into a single user-driven experience: an ‘omni-face’ experience.

Creating omni-face experiences is, of course, easy for companies like Apple who own an entire platform and retain control over the end-to-end flow. For example, via their Fitness+ service, your Apple Watch can share real-time data with an Apple TV and overlay it on your exercise, while also serving as haptic input for exercise countdown clocks to keep you focused9. A more common omni-face experience occurs when buying products online, with banking apps integrated seamlessly into purchase flows. This omni-face experience works, because banking apps understand their function in the user flow: to provide payment authentication as quickly as possible through the sensors on the phone. A more sensory example is Philips Hue lights that can extend the mood of a movie into the entire living room. Some consumers are even creating their own omni-face experiences. A Tesla owner, for example, can automate the heating or cooling of their car based on their calendar, a connected thermometer and the car’s internal sensors.

True omni-face experiences are starting to emerge, but I believe we’ve only scratched the surface of what’s possible. What if you could orchestrate a scary movie on Netflix, your WhatsApp chat, your smart thermostat, smart lighting and your smart aroma diffuser into an integrated, omni-face experience?

Personalised transport in the era of passengers 

Tech trend by Wojciech Stadnicki, Senior Industrial Designer at Qindle.

Wojciech Stadnicki, Senior Industrial Designer at Qindle

What excites me about our future is the way we will travel. A new era of mobility is bringing entirely new possibilities to users and completely redefining the car concept.

The worldwide Mobility-as-a-Service (‘MaaS’) market is growing significantly, with a CAGR of over 25% from 2018 to 2025. The key concept behind MaaS is offering travellers mobility solutions based on their travel needs. Companies like Sixt or Volvo’s mobility brand ‘M’ already allow users to drive a car of their choice for a defined time period, with just the swipe of a finger. Despite the convenience that today’s MaaS services offer, they lack the possibility to travel without paying attention to the road combined with a truly personal experience. Autonomous transport is the key to ‘levelling up’ today’s MaaS experiences.

The world is making progress in this area. More than 80 companies – including giants like Uber – are currently testing over 1400 self-driving vehicles across the United States. In the town of Neuhausen am Rheinfall, Switzerland you can already take a ride in an autonomous bus. Recently acquired by Amazon, start-up Zoox is busy working on an autonomous urban pod, which will allow users to personalise their experience during a shared ride by adjusting the air or music to their liking. This is just a sample of the personalisation possibilities that autonomous vehicles could bring.

The Renault Morphoz concept car envisions how the car form, space and functionality may transform to better suit our needs. I see an opportunity to embed more of these techologies into shared autonomous vehicles, bringing more personalisation and unifying the production process while reaching a wide audience.

A great example of deeper personalization in ‘private shared’ rides is Seymourpowell’s modular Quarter Car concept, which can transform from a co-working space to a private leisure area. Passengers can use their time on the road for entertainment, work or socialising. Digital services like Netflix, online gaming platforms or info-tainment will be obvious elements to build into our future journeys. The possibilities go far beyond the digital world, too: Aprilli’s Autonomous Travel Suite suggests that our car transport and hospitality sectors will merge, offering passengers the comfort of a hotel room on the road, with complementary services like food delivery on-the-go.

It’s hard to predict exactly when fully autonomous vehicles will appear on our streets en masse. Policy regulations across the world need to be unified and despite the expansion of 5G, data infrastructure is still a serious issue. People will have to build trust in robo chauffeurs, too. Designers across many disciplines will have to take up this exciting challenge to ensure that the future of transport feels seamless, but familiar. In the end, everybody likes technology but nobody likes the complexity that comes with it, which remains a critical challenge for the industry.

The era of passengers is ahead of us. It’s time to think of the possibilities it could bring to your business, be it through embedding your services or products into the passenger experience or implementing autonomous technologies themselves into your operations.

Food From Thin Air: FoodTech trends for a healthier planet 

Tech trend by Anna Schuck, Strategic Design Consultant at Qindle.

Anna Shuck, Strategic Design Consultant at Qindle

Food is interwoven with so many dimensions of our lives – it’s personal, social and deeply cultural. However, it’s also well known that our food system is on a collision course with our planetin part due to resource-intensive animal agriculture. Plant-based meat and dairy alternatives are flooding markets to serve a growing segment of ‘flexitarian’ consumers who, like me, are trying (and sometimes failing) to eat their way to a better worldWhat does the future hold for this foodtech trend? Will turning up to a barbecue with bean ‘sausages’ remain distinctly uncool, or become the norm? 

The success of startups in this sector suggests the market for meat and dairy alternatives is growing rapidly, with no signs of slowing. Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat products are flying off the shelves: Burger King foot traffic spiked 17% upon launch of the Impossible Whopper in a set of test locations. Meanwhile, Swedish company Havre Global – the parent of popular plant milk brand Oatly – has just cut a deal with Starbucks coffee, and is reportedly eyeing a $10B valuation in its U.S. IPO. Globally, European consumers are leading demand, with North America in hot pursuit. 

In coming years, we’ll see these startups develop innovative base ingredients for our food, potentially abandoning ‘plant-based’ materials to disconnect food production from agriculture altogether. For example, Finnish startup Solar Foods and U.S. company Air Protein use electricity to produce edible protein from carbon dioxide. Closer to today’s animal reality, lab-grown meats are another interesting prospect: though more sustainable, their use of animal stem cells will remain controversial for the near future. Dutch company Mosa Meat is leading in this space. The future won’t all be about startups, either – FMCG multinationals will make thoughtful acquisitions and R&D investments to gain credible share of this trend. 

There will be bumps in the road, though. FoodTech companies offering plant-based alternatives need to drive down their cost base to be more price-competitive with their animal-based counterparts (though this will come with time, and scale). Second, despite having a long history in Asia, there are still mixed perceptions of mock meat in the region. Western companies entering the region will need to tailor their entry plans, campaigns and even products to suit the varying tastes of sub-regions across the continent. Finally, this market can expect continued resistance from traditional animal agricultural industries – but there is hope that consumer demand will prevail. 

All consumer companies will be wise to review their product propositions to make sure they are prepared for the rise in conscious consumerism, in the realm of food and beyond. Incorporating more sustainable practices into society is the only way forward, and both companies and consumers must take responsibility for the shift. Is there scope for new, more sustainable product development? Or could this trend present an investment or acquisition opportunity? In the meantime, you’ll find me shelling out my life savings on imitation burgers – our planet is worth it. 

AR is here to stay

Tech trend by Lian van Meerendonk, Strategic Design Consultant at Qindle.

Lian van Meerendonk, Strategic Design Consultant at Qindle

Augmented reality showed unprecedented growth in 2020, with new and exciting applications coming to the foreAnd this is only the start: the worldwide market is forecast to increase dramatically in the next few years (CAGR of 43.8% from 2021 to 2028*). It’s clear that AR can no longer be left out of our future vision.  

Enhancing the physical world using digital tools is interesting from both a B2C and B2B perspective. The increased commercial use of AR technology is backed by the general acceptance of digital interaction, especially since Covid-19 has accelerated the adoption of immersive technologies among consumers and professionals. 

AR has the potential to bring value to a very broad set of industries, including retail, automotive, healthcare and travel; it has grown well beyond the confines of the entertainment industry. In retail, mainstream brands such as Sephora and Warby Parker offer virtual try-ons, which has the potential to become an industry standard. In this case, AR is expected to bring a next level of digital consumer experience and minimise returned productIn addition, AR advertisements are growing rapidly. Interactive and lifelike, this technology enables marketeers to create more emotional and personal connections with their audience. We can expect this new type of brand experiences to appear both inside and outside our homes; Apple recently announced it would add AR content to Apple TV+ this year. 

However, the opportunities go further than the consumer business. AR can also facilitate better remote customer service, enabling eyes on location, offering tailor-made help on the spot. Porsche connects their HQ tech with technical experts in the field using AR, reducing repair times by 40%, confirming AR can also contribute to the bottom line. 

We will see this technology take its place in the world of autonomous driving (e.g. Nissan Invisible-to-Visible technology) to make driving more comfortable, safe and exciting. In healthcare, AR enables doctors to assist remotely, or work more effectivelyFor example, AccuVein reveals where a patient’s veins are located, making a ‘correct first stick’ 3.5x more likely. 

I believe we’re on the brink of understanding what AR can bring to an even wider range of industriesWith the rise of complementary technologies like artificial intelligence, 5G and LiDAR, the outlook for more immersive AR experiences can only be exciting 

The technology itself is advanced and ready for widespread use, however the accompanying hardware needs to catch up. Whether it will be the Apple Glass or Mojo Lens that successfully takes AR mainstreamthe hardware will need to be instantly present and unobtrusive to allow us to experience our new phygital world without friction. 

My piece of advice, AR will soon be embedded into our daily lives. Embrace the technology and explore how it could benefit your business, be it through improving customer experience, building your brand or increasing operational excellence. 

 *market size to reach USD 340.16 billion in 2028 /