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With so much headline grabbing from self-driving cars and sleek virtual-reality headsets, robots, drones and the internet of things, it's easy to equate "innovation" with technology-led advancements. These are important developments pushing us into the future, but it is important -- in the midst of these flashy and exciting products -- to not overlook the smaller, incremental changes that advance and improve existing technology, products, services and brands. Often, thoughtful design is the discipline driving these instances of incremental innovation.
Every product, service and experience we encounter in the world is designed, and as such, design influences the way we live -- our behaviors are products of our products. Design can encourage healthy (or unhealthy) habits, foster sustainable lifestyles (or not), and make us feel happy (or frustrated). Thoughtful design takes this important influence into account, and thoughtful designers carefully consider the implications on consumers' behavior and habits when they craft brands, objects and interfaces.
Thoughtful design is certainly not a new notion. But consciousness among innovators and brands about design's potential as a tool for optimization and innovation seems to be on the rise. Three trends in thoughtful design highlight areas for future innovation and suggest how products and services in other industries might be improved in the near term.
Behavior patterns can be encouraged by the simple combining of existing products or elements. The smart phone is a prime example of this, combining multiple communication types into one device, and ultimately shifting our communication habits and preferences drastically.
In 2015, we saw São Paulo publisher L&PM's Ticket Books embedded with an RFID card readable by metro ticket scanners, and preloaded with ten free metro trips. The marriage of two separate products, a book and a metro ticket, fused their respective actions of reading and commuting into one. The pocket book initiative was immensely popular and most importantly, helped consumers make their commute more productive.
Similarly, the Baubax travel jacket (which made history as the most-funded clothing project in crowdfunding history) combines fifteen features into one product, including a travel pillow, eye mask and pen. By merging so many functions into one, the jacket streamlines unnecessary baggage and reduces the risk of forgetting those travel essentials.
Flexibility in products not only enables the user to customize it to fit his or her more specific needs, but it can also help users make more sustainable decisions. Take Because International's Growing Shoes. These adjustable shoes eliminate the need for new shoes as the child grows -- a particularly significant advancement for impoverished families. Or the Growth Planter, which transforms in size as needed, ultimately requiring fewer plant transplants.
Elimination of pain points
Some of the best innovations make pain points at least a bit less painful. For example, when budgeting tool Mint launched a decade ago, its differentiating factor was ease of use, with a better algorithm for automated categorization than competitors had, and streamlined account linking -- two functions that frustrated users of competing products.
Last year, we saw Google's Inbox become available to the masses. It was created, like several other new email platforms, to solve the problem of email overload and the stress-inducing goal of inbox zero. The genius of Inbox is the switch from categorizing emails as read and unread to marking them as "done." "Done" emails are neatly removed from the inbox, in one fell swoop if desired, leaving behind only those emails that require action. This simple interaction change makes it easier for users to eliminate emails that don't need to be read, but also don't need to sit in an inbox. What remains is a tidy to-do list of just the emails that really do require action or follow up.
By no means a comprehensive list, combination, flexibility and elimination of pain points are three design-led approaches to innovation. Through tactics such as these, thoughtful design can make the world a better place to live, and help consumers live happier, healthier lives.