AKQA predicts how tech could influence design this year, across gaming, travel and more
With insights from across the AKQA team, we explore how new technology could enhance creative projects in the year ahead, and how it might affect five industries across health and wellbeing, to gaming, travel, automotive and luxury.
It’s Nice That’s 2024 Forward Thinking series is supported by AKQA, the globally renowned design and innovation company. AKQA is at the forefront of creative technologies, telling unforgettable narratives across service, experience and product design that capture the imagination.
We’ve entered into a new phase of creativity. Since the arrival of AI, the mixed reality, bitcoin and everything else, the creative industry – and world at large – has seen a dramatic shift. From easier processes to innovations that defy pre-existing boundaries, technology has enabled designers, makers and artists to reach new heights in their creations. But as the old saying goes, it’s now all about quality rather than quantity. No longer are we using tech for the sake of tech; instead, it’s being used to elevate the user experience, reach younger generations, improve mental health, and a whole lot more.
AKQA, an agency that centres its ethos on crafting immersive, user-centric experiences, has been leading the way when it comes to using technology in a pioneering and authentically beneficial way. Now celebrating its 30-year anniversary, the team have garnered a vast portfolio filled with work across the industries from luxury and automotive to gaming, travel and health, each of which merges technology with compelling narratives to forge meaningful brand-to-consumer connections. Below, we’ve called in some help from the AKQA team to understand how new technologies are changing these industries, and how designers can implement these tools in the future.
Blockchain is reinventing trust in the luxury sector
The luxury industry is undergoing a metamorphosis, driven by innovation, craftsmanship and an unwavering commitment to quality. Romain Lartigue, managing director of AKQA, highlights how blockchain technology has been a key driver of this shift, a method that’s used to record transactions that cannot be changed or hacked. More specifically, he mentions the power of the AURA blockchain consortium – a non-profit association established in 2021 by LVMH, Mercedes-Benz, OTB Group, Prada Group and Cartier with an aim for addressing the challenges of authenticity, sustainability and sourcing via blockchain. “The key underlying innovation is product traceability,” he says. “In short, once purchased, products can be certified in the blockchain, as a proof of ownership authenticity and many other things.”
“Once purchased, products can be certified in the blockchain, as a proof of ownership authenticity and many other things.”Romain Lartigue
This new technology opens up a pool of possibilities for brands. If a consumer purchases a second hand designer bag, for example, no longer do they need to be concerned about whether or not it’s a fake or if they’ll lose ownership. Having worked with several luxury brands on the market including Louis Vuitton and Loro Piana, AKQA has noticed that it extends beyond product traceability; blockchain is a narrative tool that fosters personal storytelling. By leveraging the technology as a certification tool, luxury brands can establish an unassailable bridge of trust with consumers, which will inadvertently affect the buying experience in the future. “By owning traceability we could bet that these leading brands will be able to reclaim and own directly the secondhand market which is projected to increase in the opening year,” says Romain. “What in the past has been a missed opportunity (and a missed profit) will potentially become a new line of business.”
“Ultimately, the future of gaming isn’t just about new technologies or platforms – it's about people.”Ed Davis
Gen Z is influencing the gaming industry
“The most important change coming to gaming isn’t VR, AR, Web3, the Metaverse, generative AI, subscription services, or anything like that,” says Ed Davis, director of client services at AKQA. “It’s a demographic shift representing a seachange in the relationship between games and their audiences.”
According to Ed, the gaming industry is undergoing a transformation when it comes to the demographics. Gen Z, which represents almost a third of the global population, views the concept of a ‘gamer’ as an outdated stereotype. As a central part of the Gen Z identity, 95 per cent of this generation play video games to some degree, while 87 per cent play video games weekly or more often. Gaming is not just a hobby; it is central to Gen Z's identity, influencing their socialisation and self-expression. In fact, according to Ed, 57 per cent of Gen Z report that they feel more free to express themselves in games in comparison to real life.
As this generation grows up in age and influence, gaming will become a vital source for popular culture. Brands entering the gaming space must navigate the intricacies of the gaming community, respecting its values and contributing positively to its ecosystem. Brands are therefore urged not just to tap into this audience but to authentically engage with gaming culture. To do so, it requires a long-term commitment to test, engage and innovate with communities. “The future of gaming is intrinsically tied to the rise of Gen Z and their unique relationship with this medium,” says Ed. “Brands that can successfully engage with this audience in a meaningful way stand to benefit from deep connections with a highly engaged, loyal and influential consumer base. Ultimately, the future of gaming isn't just about new technologies or platforms – it's about people. And for brands willing to embrace this change, it’s GGWP [Good Game, Well Played].”
“The brands with a value set which resonate with the cultural needs of the audience will be the ones winning the share of wallets to come.”Miriam Plon Sauer
Brand experience is at the core of the automotive industry
In 1970, vehicle production outgrew population growth by a ratio of 2:1. And now, with many of the world’s largest manufacturers facing difficulties due to a microprocessor shortage, the tables have been turned. Looking ahead to 2030, managing partner Ron Peterson and Miriam Plon Sauer, executive strategy director at AKQA, say that the population is up by 13 per cent and car production is down 29 per cent. Attention needs to be paid to the influx of vehicle demand and, to combat this, it will be less about the technological advancements and more about how the brand connects with customers. “The future of automotive is not technology, it’s brand experience,” says Ron.
As such, values over volume, attention to detail and the transformation of electric cars characterise the three major trends set for the next few years. “The brands with a value set which resonate with the cultural needs of the audience will be the ones winning the share of wallets to come,” says Miriam. For example, AKQA partnered with Volvo on the launch of its EX30 vehicle, the latest SUV from the brand. Deemed as a “small car with a big impact”, Miriam cites this project as a success story; Volvo renewed its mission to focus on safety and protecting the planet, and the annual sales increased by 45 per cent over the past decade. “Tapping into the macro-trend of small living allowed Volvo to have value-based conversations with their customers and connect with them on an emotional level,” says Miriam. “But more importantly the concept of a small car with a big impact guided the entire ecosystem and experience.”
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AKQA: Volvo Cars, EX30 The Unboxing (Copyright © Volvo Cars, 2023)
“Artificial Intelligence, combined with ambient computing, allows for devices with virtually no interface, thus removing digital barriers and allowing a greater mindfulness.”Emma Riley
AI is providing an immersion back in life itself
Emma Riley, strategy director at AKQA Bloom, explains how it’s been a busy year for both the health and wellness sector and, equally, AI. So much so that nine out of 10 Americans are practising self care, and there’s been a noticeable rise in millennials and Gen Z prioritising this industry – plant-based diets, ‘everything showers’ and 10-step skin routines are just a few examples. Similarly, it has been quite the year for AI. With more than 2,000 AI companies operating in the AI space, one can’t help but wonder how this innovation will impact the mental health of the individual, and the health of society at large. “Artificial Intelligence, similar to health and wellness, is piquing the interest of younger consumers,” she says. “With a combined spending power in the trillions of dollars and growing, they will be critical audiences to consider for the success of any AI powered device being sold to the masses. It is thus similarly important that the mental health of the individual and a younger generation can be considered as well.”
Like the gaming industry, it appears that the younger generation are having more influence than ever. Combining AI with health and wellness, notably mental health, will be an effective route to reach this audience. AKQA Bloom has worked with Imran Chaudhri and Bethany Bongiorno on a campaign for the Humane AI Pin – a wearable AI-powered device that aims to encourage less screen time, improve mental health, mood, sleep cycles and eyesight, and immerse the wearer back into life itself. “The average human spends over seven hours a day on a screen. Now, we no longer have to. Artificial Intelligence can allow for a greater user experience with the one thing that matters the most: life. Artificial Intelligence, combined with ambient computing, allows for devices with virtually no interface, thus removing digital barriers and allowing a greater mindfulness. We know that over the years to come, many personal devices leveraging AI will be brought to market. We also now know that with a little effort, this new, rapidly evolving technology can be used for good: for the health and wellness of oneself and the world within which we live.”
Personalisation is recovering the travel industry
The travel industry took a large hit during the pandemic, and its effects are still rippling through to today. In efforts to restore the sector, Roman Ptakowski, managing partner at AKQA, explains how brands are focusing more on personalisation. “From creating onboard airline experiences where the seatback screen knows who you are, your preferences and what movie you need to finish from your last flight to pervasive wifi experiences that remember who you are no matter what hotel location you are in, removing the friction from ‘dumb’ experiences that do not recognise a traveller is job number one.”
“From creating onboard airline experiences where the seatback screen knows who you are, your preferences and what movie you need to finish from your last flight [...] removing the friction from ‘dumb’ experiences that do not recognise a traveller is job number one.”Roman Ptakowski
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AKQA: Eurostar, Odyssey (Copyright © Eurostar, 2017)
Additionally, there’s been a large shift towards more digital interactions, as seen in Eurostar Odyssey, an on-board virtual reality experience designed for the rail service by the AKQA team. Once travellers place on the headset, they embark on a journey deep into the sea – the roof of the train transforms into a glass ceiling, revealing the an underwater world. Another example can be seen within the customer service space. For instance, AI is being used as a co-pilot on planes, and travel brands are incorporating self-service approaches to help resolve issues in real-time. Roman explains how this is of particular interest to the Gen-Z traveller, who prefers a more customised approach rather than having to call in and go through multiple avenues to change a flight time. Flexibility and a focus on sustainability is driving the digital transformation. “The brands that will focus on these overarching experience needs will earn a larger share of travellers’ wallets and drive the industry drastically forward in the coming years,” says Roman.
Above all, AKQA foresees a future where technology not only enhances but seamlessly integrates with human experiences, driving innovation and redefining industry landscapes across these five key industries (and more). And in the years to come, it seems that Gen Z will be having an increasing impact on all of these sectors, so understanding how this generation works and what their needs are couldn’t be more important.
About the Author
Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she was interim online editor in 2022/2023 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima.