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SXSW future trends report: the end of seasons and smartphones

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It’s now springtime (yes really). The SS18 campaign images have started to litter our feeds with vintage florals, raw fabrics and fields of wheat. Meanwhile the “Beast from the East” reared its icy head and turned the UK into Narnia, forcing us all back into clothes more suited to the slopes.
 
At SXSW, WGSN predicted the end of seasons. Driven by our frequency to travel, rather than the weather, brands need to forget SS/AW and design items that will adapt to changing environments. Alexander Wang was the latest in a long line of designers to abandon the traditional seasonal fashion calendar. “This new cadence will allow us to speak to our global customer in different conversations that are not limited to just fashion week twice a year,” said Wang. Let’s face it, Gucci’s latest accessory, your own severed head as a clutch bag, is a winner in all seasons.
 
The perpetual race to fashion week has filtered down to the high street, driving a desire for fast fashion and fuelling an industry that consumes a quarter of the world’s annual carbon. We know ethical alternatives are out there, but where? New players to the market such as Done Good are helping shoppers to find sustainable substitutes online, and there are some pretty awesome brands growing in this space. Don’t worry, couture is not going away – the opposite in fact, it plays into the same artisan trend for products made by real people, choosing craftsmanship over mass-production, all-natural over genetically-modified.
 
“We live a designed life, the quality of our life is the quality of the design,” said Bruce Mau acclaimed designer and conceptual philosopher. He was at SXSW to share how great design not only beautifies the world, but improves the way we live. It’s his belief the 20th century won’t be remembered for technical innovation or conflict, but as the year that all of life, including the natural world, was seen as a practical objective, a design problem. And it’s true, everything is designed, even conservation. Once the brief changes from “all mankind” to “all life” we know we’re heading in the right direction.
 
Where do the machines fit into this? If we’re designing for the future, man won’t be coming alone. We’re already attached to our phone, watch, ear buds and fitness tracker. In The World Unplugged Project, investigators at the University of Maryland reported that one in three people admitted they’d rather give up sex than their smartphones. Yet the Future Today Institute’s Tech Trends Report, which launched at SXSW, declared the beginning of the end of the smartphone. Unfortunately this doesn’t mean we’ll be having more sex. Instead our eyes will be diverted from the screen as we chat to our digital assistants using conversational interfaces.
 
Who knew our voices were so unique? A voiceprint can determine what room you’re in, how many people you are with and what material the walls are made from. It can also divulge an individual’s health, age and mental health. But what is the responsibility that comes with having all this information? Facebook, for example, created a compassion team where professional first responders work alongside AI on wellness checks. They’ve even reported to have prevented suicides. Mental illness is a growing issue often compounded by social media. If we are designing for people with mental illness, we are designing for the mental wellness of everybody.
 
Our unique identity is not just found in our voice, it’s in our face too. Deep perceptual face mapping can help machines identify individual characteristics under the skin. In China it’s already possible to pay for food simply by smiling at a machine. Talking and smiling are both part of a trend to be much more present in the real-world. A trend that supports augmented reality’s slow and steady growth and will see it creeping up on the much talked about virtual reality, as we seek to combine our digital and physical worlds.
 
What is the future of a designed life? Taking everything I learnt at SXSW I want to share two scenarios. We’ll start with the worst.
 
Catastrophically, we don’t understand how decisions are being made. AI takes over our workforce and we don’t have a back-up. We don’t plan. There’s overpopulation. The wealthy get better treatment and there’s no privacy for the poor. Oh and the nanobots inside us get to decide who lives and who dies.
 
Optimistically, all companies are working together, we’re all wearing wearables and looking into each other’s eyes. It’s the end of social isolation. There’s total transparency in all actions, people understand how decisions are made and trust is restored. We’re living longer, there are no hospital waiting rooms and doctors and robots work together to monitor our health.
 
Creative people, we have the opportunity to make the future “all life” centric. Now is the chance to make the future we want to live in by taking action on the trends in the present.

Kara Melchers is Creativebrief’s Bite editor.