I have to admit, writing a post that claims to make accurate predictions about what anything, let alone something as rapidly innovative as web design, will be like in 20 years is probably impossible. Except, perhaps, if I limit myself to broad predictions in line with current breakthroughs that have yet to take hold on a large scale.
Which might sound like cheating, but it’s actually following a pretty well established pattern of technological innovation and adoption.
In general, new technological breakthroughs take about 20-30 years before they are broadly adopted as the new norm. Ironically it is at that point, 20-30 years later that they become widely know as “the next big thing” even though they’ve been around for quite some time in limited circles consisting of inventors, theorists, and advanced research labs like the MIT Media Lab or DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). A few good examples include: the internet itself, email, and wearable computers.
The Internet began as the ARPANET in 1969 but it wasn’t until the 1990’s(a little over 20 years later) that it became the big new thing that every business and individual was learning about and connecting to.
Similarly, the first hosted email service was MIT’s CTSS MAIL in 1965. It wasn’t until the early 1990’s that email services for the general public began to pop up and become the new standard of business and personal communication.
And finally we have wearable computers. These began with Dr. Steve Mann who was building wearable computers in the 80’s (in high school), joined the MIT Media Lab in 1991, and with new help and resources continued building the discipline until it has begun to penetrate the broader popular market with products like Google Glass and the Apple iWatch, among many others to come.
As you can see from the images above, there was a long process of iteration and refinement in wearable computers before we got to where we are today. Design of course is a huge part of this process, but in a purely aesthetic sense is not a top priority until the technology itself has proven itself.
To give a WordPress example: we’ve all seen plugins that start out functioning fine but look ugly that over time get updates to their design that make them both highly functional and quite beautiful. In this way, design is even farther behind the curve than the technology we’re adopting some 20-30 years after it was invented.
This is why in the section below, before we get into the concepts and ideas that might dominate web design in 20 years, I’d like to explore the intimate connection between web design and its dependent technology–computers.