In 2014, brands will need to be digital first -- and we need to help them change

The director of information architecture at agency Nomensa details the biggest design trend for 2014.

The shift into a new phase of 'digital' is well known to designers, technologists and most businesses. From Mobile First, to Big Data, Cloud Computing and the Internet of Things, the data carried via digital channels is more pervasive than ever. Our experience over the past year however has seen a new request emerge from organisations: 'We know we need a great website and mobile experience but how do we transform our business to put digital first?'

Many factors speak to this development: organisational maturity, the economic pressures of the last five years and increasing market saturation. More specifically, the polite hat tip to digital channels (while the main of business remains unchanged) has become insufficient for the growing volumes and efficiencies provided by digital, both internally and externally. Digital channels crucial to develop and impossible to ignore.

Joining the dots

The shift in perspective from micro to macro, from website to ecosystem, from process to people and product to service requires a rethink of the role of digital. Business is starting to see the untapped benefits it can provide. Of course 'digital' exists in many forms in companies already: databases, automated processes, telephony, intranets and customer-facing channels such as websites, apps and social media. The challenge is how to join these dots together.

Where digital first emerged within IT and then extended into marketing, it is now settling into the space of business. And you don't need to be ecommerce enabled to do business online. The growing expectation, from both staff and customers, is that business is online and digital in all respects. So while digital now warrants standing shoulder to shoulder with IT, sales or marketing as a further organisational silo, its pervasiveness cries out not to be siloed at all. Besides which, it doesn't feel like an organisational function anyway. It's a more fundamental shift: a layer running horizontally through the hierarchy, slicing across silos, and out the other side into society.

The challenge to design

If you believe, as I do, that everything is design then leaving this evolution of digital to either technologists or management consultants is more than worrying. I feel strongly that we have reached a turning point where people are looking for vastly more meaningful experiences in their personal lives as well as in their day-to-day jobs. And digital remains the upstart: the disruptor that blurs the boundaries between home and work, organisation and marketplace, inside and outside, water cooler and social network.

So the question is, how should this macro experience be designed? And by whom? How can we encourage the design to embrace more than efficiency, profitability and market dominance? It seems to me that the answer lies in human-centred design at the structural, systemic level. We need the information architects of the 2000's, the people who were joining the dots between users, the medium, programmers, marketers and business for websites; doing the same thing at the macro level where the needs of people, business and society are better balanced.

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