Amy Webb, founder of the Future Today Institute, offers her insights on how technology will affect the creative workplace.

Each year, The Creative Group and AIGA team up to find out what trends will impact creative teams for the Creative Team of the Future. As part of the latest research, we surveyed more than 800 creative professionals and interviewed industry veterans at leading organizations.

We also consulted Amy Webb, author of the book The Signals Are Talking and founder of the Future Today Institute, a leading firm that researches near-future and long-term trends in technology. Webb’s research focuses on how technology will transform the way we live, work and govern.

TCG: How do you think the workplace of the future will be different from that of today?

Amy Webb: I think we’re at the dawn of what I call the Industrial Evolution, in which we will evolve from mechanized manufacturing to widespread automated transactions and services. Former DARPA project manager Gill Pratt describes it as a modern Cambrian Explosion, which was a brief moment in time about 540 million years ago when our predecessors went through a rapid period of evolution. Part of that evolution included our eyesight, which made the evolution into more complex and intelligent life forms possible. Pratt argues that advancements in deep learning, neural networks, AI and cloud robotics — in which every robot learns from the experiences of all robots, which leads to rapid growth of robot competence, particularly as the number of robots grows — could usher in a period of rapid advancement, after which our life on Earth might look very different.

What digital trends or innovations do you see impacting the creative profession?

As with every field, technology is both super-charging our abilities and disrupting our workplaces. Our research shows that within the next few years, there will be a number of tools available that automate the design process. This includes messaging (predictive analytics that help identify what design and messaging are most likely to accomplish a set goal) and automation (algorithms that make the best possible selections from design exemplars).

What emerging technologies should be on designers’ radars?

Much of our future will be automated, which is a tremendous opportunity for designers. We will be scanning our phones and our faces; we’ll be engaging in more and more digital financial transactions. Just think of all the information that will need to be conveyed and the vital role design will play. Designers should plan ahead for how to organize this impending onslaught of information, how to communicate it effectively and — perhaps most important — how to demystify the technology we’ll be surrounded by soon.

It would also be wise for designers to think holistically, since our interactions will soon be omnidirectional. For example, we will be surrounded by machines that we talk to, and those machines will have names and personas. For as long as we’ve had computers, humans have felt the need to anthropomorphize them — so what will they look like? How can designers make them more relatable, especially to baby boomers?

What disruptive forces threaten the creative industry?

Automation, as it is for every industry, is similarly a threat for the creative industry. As algorithms become more capable of designing everything using our data, exemplars and parameters, they will necessarily threaten those whose job it has always been to think creatively.

What creative roles will be most in demand?

I haven’t seen these job titles yet, but here’s some of what I anticipate:

  • automation experience designer
  • human-machine persona designer
  • augmented reality designer
  • metaverse UX designer
  • real-time 3D designer
  • neural virtual experience designer
  • wearables (tattooables, injectables, earables) designer
  • avatar designer
  • human tissue and organ designer
  • drone experience designer
  • gesture control designer
  • chief experience officer
  • chief design officer

From your vantage point, what technical and soft skills will creative managers be looking for in new employees or hoping to develop in current staff? Do you see creative professionals of the future having to broaden their skill set to become “hybrid professionals” in order to remain marketable?

This is a question that comes up in every profession, and it doesn't have a clear answer. In journalism, many are asking whether or not reporters should also know how to write code. Should lawyers have a deep understanding of metadata? Should graphic designers be expected to know JavaScript? Very few people are professional polymaths.

Developing a strong set of design skills isn’t necessarily at odds with being a solid coder, but design and code are two different disciplines that take time to master. My assumption is that managers will prefer applicants who can do both.

Here’s good advice for everyone: While you don’t need to master HTML5, for example, it would be wise for everyone in the creative field to have enough knowledge of the technical lexicon to be able to have an informed conversation. Technology will continue to intersect with design. Those in creative fields need to be conversant in both design and technology, even if they aren’t experts.