A Conversation with Brad Kreit, Institute For The Future

Following FUSE 2015, we caught up with our inspiring keynote speaker Brad Kreit, Futurist at Institute for The Future to talk about the state of design, how it’s changed, and where it’s going next.

Here’s what Kreit had to say:

IIR: What is your “muse” or what inspires you in your work?

Kreit: At Institute for the Future, our mandate is to look out 10 years to explore and make sense of what the world could look like. To do this, I’m always looking for a couple of things: The first is to look for what we call signals - early indicators that can come be anything from a new product or startup company to something you saw a friend or family member do. What I’m looking for is something that gives me pause, that causes me to take a step back and pay attention - and from there, I ask myself, why? What’s exciting about this?

The second thing I’m always looking for is combinations - one of the core ideas that we use to guide our long term forecasts is that some of the most unexpected but important disruptions will be driven by combinations of factors, including technologies, social factors and other innovations. For instance, wearable computing becomes much more interesting when we begin to think about it in relationship to the Internet of Things — and the ways that connecting our bodies to our homes or offices has the potential to change things both positively and negatively.

IIR: What is the best design you’ve seen this year? Why?

Kreit: I’m really captivated by the work of David Rose at MIT who just wrote a great book called “Enchanted Objects.” His basic argument is that the technologies underpinning the Internet of Things are enabling us to, in effect, rethink the design of everyday things and give them the ability to help us navigate the world in a smarter way. He has developed products such as a smart umbrella that will light up to alert you if there’s a forecast for rain - as a reminder to take the umbrella with you to work. That’s the total of the umbrella’s “smartness” - it just does this one thing. This kind of thinking is a big opportunity for designers - to enable everyday things to help guide us through the day.

IIR: What are ways a design can emotionally connect with its audience?

Kreit: As a general rule, be respectful of people’s attention and use that attention wisely - and be helpful.

Here’s an example of one of my favorite designs: When I was in college, I worked in a print shop where, among other things, I had to precisely cut inch-thick business cards and the like using an industrial paper cutter. To make the paper cutter work, you had to press two buttons that we’re about shoulder width apart…the reason being that the natural human instinct is to adjust the paper at the last minute to make sure you get the cut right which is, unfortunately, how you lose fingers. Putting those two buttons shoulder width apart did far more for my safety than a dozen signs about proper use of a paper cutter. It made it easy to keep my fingers.

IIR: How has design changed in the last 5 years?

Kreit: I think we’ve seen much more simplicity to designs, which is great. If there’s been one negative is that we are doing too much through touch screens. For instance, touch screens in cars may seem impressive or high tech, but they don’t make much sense. You have to look away from the road because you no longer have the feedback loop of a knob or button. My hope is that in the next few years, we’ll start to see designs that appeal to a wider variety of our senses.

IIR: Gamification is shaping our interactions with everyday experiences, from education to retail. How has gamification affected you?

Kreit: We’ve used gaming extensively in our work at Institute for the Future. In recent years, we’ve developed a method called “participatory foresight” - using a platform we’ve developed to engage thousands of people in exploring urgent futures issues that leverages game mechanics to encourage people to set aside some of their hesitations about making statements about the future and enables them feel free and open to imagine and explore.

IIR: We live in an always-on “now” society where the priorities of this moment seem to be everything. What does this emphasis on immediacy mean to marketing and design?

Kreit: One of our core arguments is that you should have great clarity on your long term goal and great flexibility on how you get there. From a marketing standpoint, this principle in relation to the move to an always-on world means a couple of things. First, you need to be able to engage with people wherever they are - because there isn’t one moment of truth, there are ubiquitous moments of truth. Any moment has the potential to be a moment of interaction, but very few brands are effectively positioned for this.

So you need to be able to engage people wherever they are. But, this is where you need both clarity and flexibility. You have to be consistent across every touchpoint, yet manage to engage people on their own terms in very personalized ways. What marketers need to do - and this is much easier said than done - is find ways to engage with people that are empowering and genuinely valuable for the end user. Otherwise, there are just too many other competing factors trying to get our attention. 


About the Author: Amanda Ciccatelli, Social Media Strategist at IIR USA, has a background in digital and print journalism, covering a variety of topics in business strategy, marketing, and technology. Amanda is the Editor at Large for several of IIR’s blogs including Next Big Design, STEAM Accelerator. Front End of Innovation and The Market Research Event,. She previously worked at Technology Marketing Corporation as a Web Editor where she covered breaking news and feature stories in the technology industry. She can be reached at aciccatelli@iirusa.com. Follow her at @AmandaCicc.

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