Design is Eating the World

Scott Francis
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Software is eating the world, right? 

But maybe Design is eating the world, too

The case for design eating the world is laid out in a post by Scott Belsky on Medium:

Behold the power of the “Interface Layer,” it’s not just about great design, it is about the integration of the actions that make life easier and the commoditization of the services underneath. It is more than a layer, it is a shift in the economy that is led by designers rather than cable executives, tech titans, and logistics masterminds. It is a “closed” user experience built on top of a wide open and hotly competitive ecosystem of services.

The era ahead is all about simplification and aggregation. Atomization went too far, and now the pendulum is swinging back in the direction of one-stop solutions for integrated services. The “modern web services” we’ve come to love and use in a piecemeal fashion will be stitched together and represented through superior user experiences.

It’s a fascinating question. Can a unified flow cause previously competing services to be commoditized?  Will it put the “unifier” in competition with its complements (the component services)? 

Scott gives the example of Google Maps with Uber’s service incorporated – while this seems great for Uber, will it still be great when Google Maps makes the finding and selecting of a car service or a transport option something that commoditizes the services?

“Another company I heard about is aggregating the rental listings from AirBnB, HomeAway, and others in a more seamless experience that provides price comparison and booking vacations using properties from all services.”

The challenge is that the toughest competition in tech is typically between the complements, rather than the substitutes.  The toughest competition between the Maps provider and the service providers that go into it.  Between the OS provider and the hardware providers.  Between the OS provider and app developers. It isn’t hard to see these layers in tough competition with the services that ride inside them. 

While Scott’s piece goes on to focus on the interface layer, I think the more appropriate framing is “customer experience”.  An emphasis on customer experience also puts a great emphasis on design – but not only design.  It also puts emphasis on execution – whether that execution is a piece of hardware (Apple!) or a human service (Uber!). 

An upstart will have a hard time aggregating services – the services won’t cede enough data to them to survive (see: LinkedIn APIs, Twitter, etc.).  But those with an acceptably large platform can invite other players onto the field: Google Maps invites Uber.  Apple invites Yelp.  Twitter invites Instagram (before they uninvited them). 

Scott hypothesizes that common-UI layer will replace independent services. But I think it is just as likely that those who own the “layer” (Maps, operating system, etc.) will prioritize customer experience over a more pure commoditization approach.  They’ll see the value in singling out some providers for special treatment (See: Apple vis-a-vis Twitter and Facebook in iOS – I don’t think Google+ will make the cut, nor MySpace).  Including a service has satisfaction and branding implications that controlling companies like Apple won’t find acceptable unless they meet their standards for customer experience.

Whether services are commoditized or not, make no mistake, design is eating the world.

 

 

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  • In the end, it’s about profit.
    If the superior user experience provider figures out how to be profitable themselves AND increase the profits of the service providers on which they rely, then it’s a win-win. Otherwise consumers will lose out when the front ends they love end up content free.

    • Actually the usual outcome is the experience provider takes most of the profits, and commoditizes the suppliers (services)… but the services folks can make a lot of money or grow a lot in the process…!