How to Design a Product Ahead of Its Time

Taking a “futuring” approach, our expert predicts how AI will reshape UI — and the people who use it.

Written by Mike Hyzy
Published on Feb. 23, 2024
How to Design a Product Ahead of Its Time
Image: Shutterstock / Built In
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Like most things in technology, artificial intelligence turns design processes and norms on its head. With the recent launch of Apple’s Vision Pro, we are on the verge of an era where the boundaries between the digital and physical worlds are increasingly augmented, and the field of user interface design is right in the middle of this transformation. 

There will be a deepening symbiosis with artificial intelligence. AI is reshaping how designers conceptualize, create and refine user experiences. Drawing insights from the Institute for the Future, Edward Cornish’s “futuring” methodologies and recently released features in Adobe’s Creative Cloud, this article explores the trajectory of user interface design.

What Is Futuring?

According to futurist Edward Cornish, futuring is the act of exploring the future. It’s a way to understand trends, recognize opportunities and manage risk. You can apply futuring techniques to decision-making and goal setting processes to prepare for possible developments in life and in business.

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Embrace the Explorer’s Spirit in Design

Adopting the spirit of an explorer in UI design fosters a mindset of curiosity and adaptability, enabling designers to innovate and create forward-thinking and user-centric solutions. The approach means being inherently curious, relentlessly pursuing new knowledge and being adaptable in the face of the unknown.

The lack of perfect information does not deter explorers; instead, they forge ahead, using their insights to make informed decisions. Explorers prepare for the unexpected and are always ready to pivot or adapt their strategies based on discoveries. This adventurous attitude encourages designers to dream big, to envision products that not only solve today’s challenges but also anticipate future needs — not just reacting to current trends but crafting more relevant and resilient digital products.


Use AI to Expedite Mundane Tasks

Integrating AI into user interface design heralds a new age of efficiency. Adobe’s advancements in design software, powered by machine learning, underscore this shift. Tools such as auto selection, content-aware fill and their image generation platform, Firefly, are revolutionizing tasks that once consumed hours of conscientious work.

These AI-driven capabilities can expedite the design process and open new avenues for creative exploration, allowing designers to experiment with ideas at an unprecedented pace. We still need to champion quality in our work, however, and use AI for the mundane so we can spend more time on the creative aspects of design.


Stay Informed and Fearless

AI’s role extends beyond mere efficiency; it also has value in the creative process. Generative AI, for instance, allows designers to conjure images from simple text prompts, facilitating rapid creation.

Consider when your product manager has a half-baked idea and wants a prototype design yesterday. Bam! Image generated. Or how would that dog’s adorable face look layered into this email template? Boom! Conceptualized.

As generative AI reshapes the landscape of digital design, approach this technology with an informed perspective. Concerns about originality and authenticity in the age of AI-generated content are valid, but let’s take some time to think about the best solutions instead of going with knee-jerk reactions.

The digital design community is already developing tools and protocols to distinguish AI-generated work from human-created content. Designers are implementing checks and balances, such as digital watermarking and AI detection algorithms, to maintain integrity and attribution in design work.

Instead of fearing generative AI, designers should view it as a powerful tool for experimentation and innovation that can augment and expand human creativity rather than replace it.


Use Foresight and Futuring

The practice of foresight and futuring offers valuable methodologies for designers aiming to create products that stand the test of time. By systematically analyzing trends, envisioning future scenarios and engaging in visionary thinking, designers can anticipate shifts in user behavior, technological advancements and societal needs.

This forward-thinking approach is essential in a field where a product’s development cycle can span months or even years. Designing for the future means thinking two to three years ahead, ensuring that when you finally bring a product to market, it meets current demands and addresses emerging trends and user needs.

To take the most advantage of foresight in design, practitioners can employ a variety of techniques.

  • Scanning the horizon: By continuously monitoring technological, economic, social, political and environmental trends, designers can identify early signals of change that could impact their work.
  • Scenario planning: Creating detailed narratives about possible futures helps designers explore how different trends might converge, offering insights into how products can remain relevant in various future contexts.
  • Visioning: Developing a clear, compelling vision of the future enables designers to align their projects with long-term goals, ensuring their work contributes to a desirable future.


Offer Solutions Users Don’t Know They Need

The ability to design products ahead of their time is a distinctive characteristic of visionary designers. The approach requires a deep understanding of current user needs, technological capabilities and an imaginative quantum leap into the future. By applying the techniques of foresight and futuring, designers can create products that resonate with users on a deeper level, offering solutions that people may not have even realized they needed.

This approach also demands a willingness to take risks and embrace failure as a part of the innovation process. Just as explorers of the past ventured into unknown territories without a guarantee of success, today’s designers must be willing to experiment with new concepts, learn from their adventures and continuously refine their visions for the future.

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The Future Is a Design Challenge Worth Embracing

The intersection of user interface design with AI presents an unparalleled opportunity for innovation and creativity. By exemplifying the spirit of an explorer, harnessing the power of generative AI responsibly and utilizing foresight and futuring techniques, designers can create digital experiences that meet the needs of today’s users tomorrow.

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