How do technology, business, and design interrelate in the startup and corporate ecosystems today?

👉Download the 2019 Design in Tech Report

Design is now maturing — expect some awkwardness.

  • There are three kinds of design. Classical Design, Design Thinking, and Computational Design.
  • In the last 12 months there were 19 acquisitions of creative agencies and companies.
  • The value of design is in relation to the other parts of a company’s operations.
  • Alone and isolated within a company, design is a microworld of aesthetic high-fives.
  • Scaling design at the speed of Moore’s Law is not possible. Scaling design IS possible at a slower-than-desirable velocity.
  • Inclusive design has achieved broad acceptance among designers. For non-designers, inclusive design can be a harder idea to sell.
  • There’s fear about AI’s future impact, but there’s creative hope out there too. Yes we can.

There are three kinds of design.

  1. Classical Design
  2. Design Thinking
  3. Computational Design

Computational design is impacting all other forms of design today because of the cumulative impact of Moore’s Law applied over half a century of exponential progress.

What’s a “Computational Designer”?

A computational designer has four characteristics:

  1. They understand computation. It isn’t they understand how to code. Instead, it’s the fact that they understand how computation at the scale of the Internet works and behaves. They know that there’s an invisible revolution that has taken place.
  2. They think critically about technology. Because they understand the unusual capabilities of computation to achieve unimaginable scales of operation, they are both excited about the possibilities and concerned for the future.
  3. They use all three kinds of design. Computational design in isolation from design thinking and classical design means that its organizational impact and its emotional impact will be limited. So they go out of their way to use all three forms.
  4. They are always learning the new. Each day there’s a new technology that has a 3- or 4-letter acronym to represent its awesomeness, or else it’s named after some animal or mythical beast. And instead of dismissing the new, they make the effort to be curious and learn it.

They live and breathe the ethos living in Apollinaire’s words from the Bauhaus era, “New (hu)man must have the courage to be new.”

A computational designer also knows about William J. Mitchell (1944 – 2010) — “the OG of computational design.” Bill was a classically trained architect who pioneered the intersection of design and computation in a manner and scale that is difficult to describe in just a few words. I strongly suggest that you pick up one of his many books — and I promise you won’t regret it.

The Logic of Architecture reexamines central issues of design theory in the light of recent advances in artificial intelligence, cognitive science, and the theory of computation.” —William J. Mitchell, 1990

Coming Soon: 📘 How To Speak Machine

In my new upcoming book (November 2019) I explain computation in a way that is a little different than I’ve tried to do so in the past, and then connect it to how technology-based products get made today — which helps to explain why inclusive design is so critical to consider going forward. Computation and inclusion are linked together, oddly, and importantly.

Design …

Design …
… works in a new Moore’s Law-fueled medium that is from an alien universe.
… works in an old-fashioned world that’s been excluding people for too long.
… makes big data. And that makes it need thick data to combat scaled biases.… fights big data (scaled biases) when making thick data — by going proximate.
… creates economic opportunity because it advances a valuable new kind of talent.… locates imbalances and opportunities to solve problems with those impacted.
… needs to counterbalance itself with an emotional connection (i.e. art).… enrichens the critical depth of makers, pointing them to meaningful problems.
… is the most valuable kind of design right now in the technology industry.… is the most important kind of design right now in the technology industry.

Pre-order from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound |

Separating misinformation from reality is always everyone’s job.

One implication of computation that we’re experiencing today is the fact that we can automate the production of misinformation. And this situation is likely to never go away. In fact it’s always been around, but now it’s much, much worse than anyone could have ever imagined. So we need to evolve.

Misinformation is not like a plumbing problem you fix. It is a social condition, like crime, that you must constantly monitor and adjust to.”

Tom Rosenstiel, Director of the American Press Institute (2017)

When you started out, the design and tech scene was like __.

I surveyed my monthly #DesignInTech Briefing subscribers based upon a prompt designed by Dezzie Garcia, and here are a few of my favorite picks in answer to that question:

  • An adolescent bursting with energy and struggling for orientation.
  • Strongly separated between designers and techies, it was two scenes.
  • Undefined, aimless, driven more by tech geeks who knew very little about design.
  • Insular and dismissive or those not situated in the ivory tower.
  • Something that was still being defined. It was new and “Web Design” was the hot thing.
  • Two sides with a big wall in-between.
  • Google was getting popular with its simple but easy to use interface.
  • Either bro-y or condescending.
  • “Print or Digital?” Microsoft big software, Apple was barely afloat, and Flash sites were the cutting edge.
  • Completely focused on mobile devices.
  • A talented younger sibling that was not respected.
  • Craft and hype.
  • Seen as a cure-all.

You can pre-order How To Speak Machine: Laws of Design for a Computational Age from IndieBound to support independent book stores, or Barnes & Noble as a non-Amazon alternative, or Amazon because 80% of us tend to choose this route.

Design in Tech Reports now cover the past five years.


The 2018 Report saw the growth of inclusive design expand from the edges into the center of conversations in the technology industry. Microsoft’s pioneering work in inclusive design as led by Kat Holmes started to be picked up by non-designers and business leaders. At the same time, Artificial Intelligence’s implications to design became evident with new advancements in machine learning that were both exciting and frightening.


The 2017 Report framed computational design as a key driver of accelerated growth, with inclusive cultures @work as vital for tech businesses hoping to lead in design. We saw the emergence of new tools and creative communities as producing increased value, and inclusive design had just started to arrive in the zeitgeist of the product landscape. Adopting an inclusive design approach expands a tech product’s total addressable market. The tipping point for inclusive design begins to tip.


The 2016 Report showed peak growth in interest by venture capital firms in design, and highlight significant growth in the acquisition of design agencies by consulting firms like McKinsey & Co and Accenture. Google emerged as a new leader in design. There are 3 kinds of design: Classical Design, Design Thinking, and Computational Design. The most business value is being driven by the latter two kinds of design.


The 2015 Report explained design’s rise in value to tech as due to mobile devices and the mass-consumerization of computing. We moved from “tech-led” to “experience-led” digital products as services on smartphones took over and gave access to everyone. Designing for mobile brought new experience constraints compared with the desktop, and made designers’ skills invaluable as the pathway to non-techy consumers.

You can learn more about the Design in Tech Report at https://DesignInTech.Report.

👉Download the 2019 Design in Tech Report

There were 19 new acquisitions noted in the last 12 months.

Since 2004 over 100 design-related companies have been acquired, with > 60% of them acquired since 2015.

  1. Citizen acquired by EY
  2. Brandfirst acquired by Deloitte
  3. Moment acquired by Verizon
  4. Tonic Design acquired by Printfly
    Tonic is a regional example of the phenomenon played out four years ago in Silicon Valley.
  5. W12 acquired by Tata Consulting
  6. General Assembly acquired by Adecco
  7. Designation acquired by WeWork
    WeWork acquires a for-profit design education school and Adecco acquires a coding and UX school as unexpected outliers.
  8. Sayspring acquired by Adobe
  9. Wake acquired by InVision
  10. FRWD acquired by Bain & Co
    Bain is an example of the private equity space’s interest in creative capabilities.
  11. designaffairs acquired by Accenture
  12. Adaptive Lab acquired by Capgemini
  13. Universal Design Studioacquired by AKQA
  14. Map Project Office acquired by AKQA
  15. CHIEF acquired by ByteCubed
    ByteCubed is an example of a regional IT consulting firm adding to its creative capabilities.
  16. We are Vista acquired by ICF
  17. Argo Design acquired by DXC Technology
  18. Kolle Rebbe acquired by Accenture
  19. Periscope acquired by Quad/Graphics
    Quad/Graphics is an example of a printing company seeking to integrate creative capabilities.

Are there more opportunities for creatives to own their work?

2016 State Of The Digital Nation is a masterpiece by Jules Ehrhardt that laid out the many disruptions occurring in the creative industry in intensely thoughtful detail. Read the 2018 version for the “Empire Strikes Back” effect.

Barter Types of Creative Capital

  • Equity
  • Equity plus cash (to cover cost)
  • Royalties
  • Profit Share

Creative Capital’s Benefits

  • Buyers
    • Hedge risk
    • Faster route to product
    • Faster route to market
    • Tap into outside resources
    • Avoid VC route
    • Stealth
  • Sellers
    • Opportunity to capture upside of the value your work creates
    • An emerging industry model for the creative class
    • Diversify revenue model
    • Capture high growth asset opportunity

Firms that engage in creative capital trading are outside the usual venture ecosystem like:

Law/ Cooley, Gunderson, Marketing and PR/ WEST, Tusk, Derris, Man Made Music, Branding/ Gin Lane (Pattern Brand), Red Antler, Partners & Spade, Product/ FKTRY, BASIC, Smart Design, Work&Co, Fuseproject, ustwo, Dynamo Partners, IDEO, Ministry Of Programming, FROG, R/GA, Pivot Ventures, Argo Design, Thinktiv, Full Stack, Prehype, Bullish, Prota Ventures, Runyon, Sweet Studio.

Gigantic shifts aside, it’s easy to get distracted by our tools …

“Based on this year’s responses, these represent the most commonly used tools in each category. Sketch is still on top, but digging deeper into the data you’ll find some movement in several of these categories—like Figma climbing within the top 5 in almost every single category.”

UX Tools 2018

Key takeaways from the survey

“Figma, which was low on the list in 2017, emerges as the most exciting tool of 2019.”

“InVision Studio remains near the top, indicating that many respondents have yet to try it—or are still waiting for future development.”

“Respondents always seem to keep Framer on their bucket list of design tools.“

You can pre-order How To Speak Machine: Laws of Design for a Computational Age from IndieBound to support independent book stores, or Barnes & Noble as a non-Amazon alternative, or Amazon because 80% of us tend to choose this route.

The best tools enable scaling of design, here’s my picks.

FigmaEasy collaboration makes Figma a non-brainer.

Framer It’s amazing, and Framer‘s marketplace is fire.

Whimsical Wireframes are made super easy with Whimsical.

Amplitude The product analytics toolkit in Amplitude is wide and deep.

Sketch.Systems Sketch a complex product behavior in symbolically.

Adobe XD The Voice Prototyping module in Adobe XD is a welcome part of a modern toolkit.

Treejack Information architecture validators like Treejack make me happy.

Vue Evan You and team have outdone themselves with Vueas a movement.

TensorFlow.js Using TensorFlowalways makes me think, “OMG this is free?”

Siri Shortcut @lukew’s got an interesting point about how Siri Shortcut lets you make working meta-apps.

The design tool with the greatest impact right now? Material.

When I first encountered Material Design, I misunderstood it as a visual language or as a code-as-components system. Today I see it as the critical link between computational design, design thinking, and classical design because it fluently bridges the three areas in a way that go beyond just “what it looks like.” For example, their use of a set of limited, discrete “dp units” for layer priorities to make it possible for designers and develops to communicate more precisely between each other. And also their approach to how state (a computer science construct) needs to be managed and mapped to some interactive/visual representation to convey state most accurately.

“Material Design is a visual language that synthesizes the classic principles of good design with the innovation of technology and science.”

Material System

“Material Design defines the qualities that can be expressed by UI regions, surfaces, and components.”

Material Foundation

“Usability and platform guidance describe how to make sure your app is usable for all users.”

Material Guidelines

Closing Advice: Study the funding world closely to get X-ray vision.

I believe it’s important for all “makers” (i.e. developers and designers) to stay close to the investing universe — because it enables them to see the larger happenings afoot that they might easily miss.

Internet Trends 2018 by Mary Meeker 📺

via TechCrunch:

“Internet adoption: As of 2018, half the world population, or about 3.6 billion people, will be on the internet.”

“Mobile usage: While smartphone shipments are flat and internet user growth is slowing, U.S. adults are spending more time online thanks to mobile, clocking 5.9 hours per day in 2017 versus 5.6 hours in 2016.”

“Ecommerce vs Brick & Mortar: Ecommerce growth quickens as now 13% of all retail purchases happen online and parcel shipments are rising swiftly, signaling big opportunities for new shopping apps.”

The End of the Beginning by Benedict Evans 📺


“Close to three quarters of all the adults on earth now have a smartphone, and most of the rest will get one in the next few years.”

“Ecommerce is still only a small fraction of retail spending, and many other areas that will be transformed by software and the internet in the next decade or two have barely been touched. Global retail is perhaps $25 trillion dollars, after all.”

“We began with models that presumed low internet penetration, low speeds, little consumer readiness and little capital. Now all of those are inverted.”

My takeaway from Meeker’s report and Evans’ recent thinking is that although the global economic outlook doesn’t seem so good, we should all take note that there’s still a great deal of room for growth in the e-commerce arena in the US/Canada/LatAm and European universe because there’s payments/commerce player at the scale of WeChat, Alibaba, TenCent, like there already is in China.

👉Download the 2019 Design in Tech Report

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Published by John Maeda

I'm a learner.

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1 Comment

  1. we are so addicted to digital screen these days.. and as soon as technology is getting better.. we’ve become more digital.. Today even the advertisement are happening on digital or out of home screens .. there are no banners or posters now.. everything is happening digitally.

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