The intersection of business, technology, and design is a busy place these days. As slew of exciting new technologies finally come of age, it is hard to imagine an industry or organization that will be spared from disruption. While in many instances the technology that will drive this change already exists, design will play a huge role in humanizing and making real the potential, providing the final push into our everyday lives.

We are also seeing the rise of design in a less tangible but perhaps even more impactful way: as a methodology and a mindset well suited to our era of relentless change. Here are nine trends you can expect to really take off in 2017, from experts at SAP’s Design Services.

There can be no doubt that design and design thinking are buzz words — but that doesn’t mean they are fads. Over the last few years, design has started playing a bigger role within organizations. Not only is having well-designed solutions to meet increasingly high standards recognized as vital, but organizations are starting to reinvent and entirely reorient themselves around core design principles. When done right, design and design thinking are about more than making pretty things; they are about knowing what your clients need (even when they don’t realize they need it), and understanding how to consistently deliver innovative solutions. For many companies, this requires big changes at an organizational level. It’s something we are going to see a lot more of going forward.

2017 will be the year when the line between our bodies and our technology truly blurs — and its all driven by design. Just ask the people working at the Swedish co-working space, Epicenter, where microchips implanted just under the skin are helping swipe people into the building, set the alarm system, engage with loyalty points and gain entry to the local gym. Until now, these capabilities were fantasy. But the technology is here, and the possibilities are endless. From military, to healthcare, to athletics, to the factory floor, it’s hard to image an industry where wearables or implantable technology won’t be disruptive. Oh, and don’t forget about the immense power that will come with collecting data from these technologies. 

The provocatively named Industry 4.0 “revolution” has emerged over the last few years and promises to transform existing machines for a smarter, more connected future. This digitization of the manufacturing sector is talked about as the 4th major upheaval in modern manufacturing, and it has the potential to re-shape both how factories work and how things are made. But the big leap innovations will occur in 2017, when trends in manufacturing technologies — such as cyber-physical systems, the Internet of Things, and cloud computing — and design will result in the proliferation of so-called “smart factories.”

Serving shareholders was a key business driver in the 20th century, and responding to an increasingly aware consumer has become imperative for businesses in the 21st century. However, 2017 will be the year that employees realize their own power to shape and design corporate culture. In past months, we have already witnessed how internal pressure at Facebook caused a rapid shift in how the company deals with fake news. We’ve also seen individual employees organizing industry-wide pledges at tech companies. This is just the tip of the iceberg, however. Employees will join consumers in demanding higher standards for social, political, and environmental responsibility. What used to be the purview of clearly-defined CSR departments will become an integral part of how business are able to run, attract, and retain talent, as well as a defining factor in the success of their digital transformation journeys.

While truly driverless cars are still a few years away from appearing in big numbers on the consumer market, pilot programs of self-driving cars and autopilot/advanced safety features will hit the streets in force in 2017. It will also be the year of the self-driving truck, which will enter the market sooner than autonomous consumer vehicles due to the technical challenges of city driving and tighter regulations. Autonomous trucks will start making an impact on retail and delivery markets. For companies like SAP in the B2B software industry, these market changes present a huge opportunity for fleet management and scheduling. Autonomous vehicles are shifting the market towards ‘car as a service’ (CaaS), which means not only bringing innovation to our daily commute, but also to car ownership, delivery and city planning. All of this requires smart design.

Governments have faced difficulty adapting to a digital world. In general, innovation has been a strictly private-sector affair for quite some time. There is growing awareness, however, of design-led innovation as an important component to good governance and thriving democracies in our modern era. Look no further than South Korea, where SAP is helping bring design thinking into the country to spur innovation in both private and public sectors. The US government has also started a Digital Service arm to serve as “a startup at the White House that pairs the country’s top technology talent with the best public servants, to improve the usefulness and reliability of the country’s most important digital services.” Expect to see more going forward. Learn more about the work SAP has done in the public sector.

Following numerous failures and a long incubation period, Virtual Reality (VR) has finally transcended the CAVE and moved away from the research lab. In 2017, the VR market will continue to grow with an increase in higher quality content and developer support, along with hardware maturity. Large investments by the film industry are positioning VR as a core home entertainment platform for powerful storytelling and immersive simulation. VR’s close relative, Augmented Reality (AR), provides a mixed reality experience similar to Dennō Coil, with overlaid and integrated information on reality. AR will be a game changer, as in 2017 it is expected to finally creep into the mainstream with a new Microsoft HoloLens and the possible launch of Magic Leap. AR has the potential to affect just about every industry imaginable — from medical to military to industrial applications.

Since the beginning of computing, we have used our eyes and fingers to interact with technology — whether that be a desktop, laptop, or smartphone. Those days are quickly coming to an end. With the rise of truly comprehensive and effective voice-enabled user interfaces like Siri, Alexa, and SAP’s own Co-Pilot, we will be increasingly using our voices to perform actions — even in the workplace. While the technology to do so already exists, the trick will be to find the right use cases and to design experiences that take full advantage of the nascent technology. Like all brand-new technology, design will be instrumental in transforming the potential of voice-enabled user interfaces into something powerful and tangible.

Design that leverages behavioral science will become a major focus in 2017. Over the past few years, we’ve observed a growing interest in clever behavioral “nudges” to modify user behavior. But, many have failed to find a sustainable formula to motivate users (think about all those wearables that end up buried in a drawer). This will change in the near future as new products and services marry design, data, and behavioral science feedback loops, which tap into well-documented research that supports an accurate diagnosis of users’ inherent biases. While a more pessimistic view might presume this will lead to dark patterns, designers with an understanding of time inconsistency, hyperbolic discounting, or optimism bias will be equipped to help people save money for retirement, consume less energy, eat healthy, lose weight, and even remember to vote.

Thanks to Sarah Fathallah, Beatrice Oh, Esther Wolff, and Madelyn Andree.

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