1. Coherence, Not Consistency
Shum talked about the need for coherence, not consistency, in design. Each channel a brand builds experiences for should have a level of coherence, he said, but at the same time should take advantage of its specific features and functionalities.
Companies should be helping people move from one way of working, consuming, or engaging to new possibilities, Shum added. “And the role of the designer is designing that journey,” he said.
2. Meaningful Design
Today, companies are designing experiences and measuring success based on engagement, Shum said. “All our work is about fighting for the same individual attention,” Shum said. “So do we create more? Is more better?”
His answer: Not necessarily. “Good design is as little design as possible,” Shum said, quoting famed German industrial designer Dieter Rams. Shum’s advice for the creatives in the room: Prioritize quality over quantity. Creatives should focus on creating things that are meaningful.
3. New Tools And Tech
Technology is changing business as we know it. Shum pointed to artificial intelligence (AI) and expressed genuine awe over all of the possibilities today that weren’t available just three years ago.
Shum said he expects that AI to make the design process more data-driven, allowing designers to understand what customers are doing. The result of this data-driven ecosystem, he said, means creative will be expected to adjust in real time.
4. Human-Led Design
Shum doesn’t see technology as a threat to the creative department. “What separates us from the machine is our ability to think through the problem,” Shum said. “[Humans have] the ability to decide, and we have free will.”
Shum showed a symmetrical, static grid on the screen made of boxes as an example of the type of creative a machine is capable of creating. At one point, the boxes began to move around on the screen, and when they retook their initial positions, a blue dot appeared in place of one of them. Designers, Shum said, have to be that blue dot.
“Creativity is inserting your perspective into the work,” he said. “Be the blue dot. The creative is the soul in the machine.”
In the future, experiences that are ultimately valued will be the ones where a human is behind the work, such as in curation, Shum said. “Making that human connection will always be important and [add a] richness [to the design],” he said.
5. Design For Good
One of the best parts of being a designer—whether it’s product design or creative design—is the ability to impact the community and the world, according to Shum. Companies can bring that human element back into design by working to make lives better for those in underserved communities, he said.
Gaming, for example, has traditionally been somewhat out of reach for the disabled community, Shum said. Think of someone who has limited mobility in their hands, for example. That’s why in May, Microsoft released a new Xbox Adaptive Controller that enables all people to play its games, regardless of their abilities. The controller offers ports into which players can plug switches, buttons, pressure-sensitive tubes, and other gear to control all functionalities of a standard controller.
“It was a privilege to work on something like this and a great example of technology with a purpose and bringing the human back into design,” Shum said.
6. Creating In Collaboration
Designing and creating as a whole is no longer the work of the lone individual. In fact, Microsoft’s Research Lab often brings in designers to introduce the human element of design into the technology it’s building.
Shum also pointed to GitHub and other open-source design programs, such as Lobe, that are helping designers collaborate.
“Designing and creating was such a manual process,” Shum said. “But with digital, anyone can contribute, expand, and build on an idea.”