2017 Digital Trends: What You Need To Know This Year

We asked our technologists, strategists, designers, and ex-politicos to predict what the year has in store for marketers. The democratization of AI, a return to anti-design, civility through marketing—these are some of the 2017 digital trends that brands and nonprofits can feel good about getting behind:

Designers will stop preaching to the choir.
Designing for an audience of designers has come to a fiery end with the success of the “Make America Great Again” trucker hat. The design community is about to start questioning our thinking about what “effective” design really is—and that means considering all users and moving away from “over-designed” solutions. This could mean a return to anti-Design and Dada; and Bloomberg BusinessWeek Design Conference is ahead of the curve.

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Advertisers (and nonprofits) will go live.
Where promotion of live was limited to pre- or post-broadcast, Facebook is now testing real-time ads for live videos. Serving an ad that promotes a product congruently with a live broadcast about that product could be an e-commerce game changer. Brands and influencers will be able to show consumers—instead of tell them about—the benefits of a product, theoretically leading to increased sales and two-way communication. Nonprofits should also embrace the opportunity to make deeper connections and let supporters see their work in real time.

We’ll break the rhythm of site-in-a-box design.
Templated designs give everyone an easy way to make something that’s functional and not ugly, but it also means a lot of the sites you visit these days are starting to blur together. One big image or ambient video header with big type over it, three touts of things to explore below, and so on. The internet is ripe for innovation here, and we’ll start seeing new grids, more dramatic typographic hierarchies, non-rectangular headers, motion, new mobile interactions, etc.

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The democratization of artificial intelligence will drive new interaction models.
With the launch of AI-as-a-service offerings from Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, we’re going to see a lot more voice-enabled, lifelike, interactive applications: Amazon built on its Alexa and machine learning services with Lex, which can understand and interpret speech much like Alexa; Rekognition, which discerns objects and people from images and enables rich image-search experiences; and Polly, a lifelike text-to-speech service. Together these services, along with similar offerings like the Google Speech API and Microsoft Cognitive Services, allow developers to build highly interactive and intelligent products without deep expertise in AI.

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Designers will be at the forefront of the fight for greater diversity and inclusion.
In our new political reality, the design community is questioning its role in the siloing, ignorance, and discrimination that’s happening online. It’s time for designers to become hyper-focused and aware of their responsibility in the space. By designing tools that protect against inherent bias (see how Airbnb tackled this), proactively choosing diverse photos, and ceasing to design clickbait, we can start designing things that give people the true information they need.

We’ll keep saying it until it happens: the “millennial” term needs to go.
But beyond that, we need to start getting out of the demographic mindset as a strict way to target; think behaviorally. For a lot of brands, you shouldn’t care if your customer is a 22-year-old man in Florida or a 65-year-old woman in Nevada. If you are interested in buying a product or supporting an organization, we want it to speak to you. If you’re only thinking of your audience as demographics, you’re only talking about a portion of your audience. Perhaps it’s the majority, but it’s still not complete. Think of it as a coalition. And then you can start segmenting within.

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Being a purpose-driven brand will no longer be optional.
We started to see a proliferation of big brands taking a stance in 2016—from Patagonia donating its Black Friday sales to environmental causes, to Teen Vogue unapologetically taking a political stance, to Ben & Jerry’s statement in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, to Amazon’s partnership with Goodwill. In 2017, we believe this will continue to take shape and start to become more of a pre-requisite to win the hearts of consumers.

We’ll enter the age of the townhall.
We want to end on a positive note. During his farewell address, President Obama posed a potent challenge: “If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, try talking with one of them in real life.” We’d like to predict (and work towards!) the decline of social media trolling and the rise of IRL discussions. Brands, nonprofits, and community leaders can bring this prediction to life by convening more townhall discussions, rallying people of different backgrounds around a worthy cause, and fostering friendly conversation both online and off—think creative uses of live video that can transform one-sided conversations from the comment box to real-time dialogue.

President Obama