2011-04-14

Future Design Software: Design Anywhere, Anytime

Mobile computing and cloud computing are big trends in computing at the moment. Mobile computing (and tablet computing) is the push for smaller devices that travel with us. Cloud computing is the push for computing to happen in large data centers connected to over the internet instead of on local machines. Graphic design has resisted these trends because it requires flexible and powerful workstations but it is undeniable that these two trends will have an impact on future design software.

There is an saying that “The best camera is the one that’s with you” (Chase Jarvis). This could also be applied to the idea that the best computing device is the one that’s with you. As mobile devices increase in capability it is inevitable that we will be doing more and more design work on them. Today, capable mobile devices can update websites, color correct photographs, edit videos and sketch concepts. While the productivity does not yet match desktop computers with more powerful processors and larger screens, it might be quicker to just do something on a mobile device in the moment than travel back to a more capable computer.

This is highlights an inherent weakness with desktop workstations – they are not easily portable and thus remain fixed in location. The trend is for people to spend less time at a personal non-portable computer and get out and about more. This means that personal computing becomes less important and mobile computing increases in importance.

Laptop computers are not really ideal. They are somewhat portable but battery charge life is still too short, the device too heavy for casual just-in-case carrying and the screen and trackpad combination not ideal for interaction. Laptops lack the always-on property of other mobile devices. Laptops will live on as slightly more portable versions of personal desktop computers but will generally lose out to other mobile devices like tablets.

At present most cloud based services work on data-storage with a web-application front end and maybe some custom software installed on local machines. In the future more applications with better interaction than current web-application silos will live in the cloud also. Computing will also be pushed into the cloud. This means that when the local device encounters a task that overwhelms it then that processing task can be seamlessly performed on the cloud. Seamless means with no user intervention required. Imagine if videos and complex 3D material rendered faster than realtime because of the economies of scale that large cloud computing datacenters can achieve.

The future will have more public kiosk computers and less laptops. When a mobile device is not enough then a designer can login to another other computer (such as a kiosk) and have their data, applications and processing power immediately available in a secure fashion. This can happen on a computer borrowed in a client company or a kiosk computer in a coffee shop/library. Desktops and laptops will become less numerous as more portable mobile devices become more prevalent and designers can rely on access to convenient access to computing kiosks.

Designers will then be freed to travel more – networking, visiting clients, getting in touch with their inspiration, discovering their target audiences. Journeys like this will enrich the design process rather than be seen as unwelcome distractions from productivity. Design might become more human again.

(Read more articles in the Future Design Software series.)