After 20 years, the Y2K era is back. COVID-aside, we’ve watched as techno-optimism, ranging from the Metaverse to NFTs, has been off the charts. Countless millionaires have been minted overnight in cryptocurrency and algorithmically generated art.
But we’re here to splash a bit of cold water on the hype cycle going into 2022, with topics ranging from the blockchain to the hybrid workplace to “sustainable” DTC companies. And we enlisted a team of thoughtful designers to question the status quo of the contemporary hype cycle.
An overhyped trend can be something so sweet that it leaves a sour taste in your mouth, or so in the spotlight that it leaves more important topics in the shadows. “Overhype” might mean something that’s profitable, sure. But it still falls short of its sanctimonious positioning or actual ability to impact and improve our world.
Without further ado, here are the most overhyped trends of 2022.
We, like so many others, have been pursuing concepts around the Metaverse for years. While AR and VR have long been assumed by the industry to be the natural follow-up to the mobile phone, there is an ominous arrogance to the idea that one company can swoop in and anoint themselves “the Metaverse.” Do we not remember AOL? No single party, nor any one platform, will represent what the internet has to offer. Nor will any one modality or interface come to dominate our experience.
The Facebook version of Metaverse hype is based on a self-serving premise that people will choose to, or even have the option to, escape the “real world” in order to interact in a synthetic one (and sponsored by . . . ). This ignores where things are already headed. What computing has already done for us is add to our existing environment.
In most situations, we don’t want to go into our computers, but rather, we want computers to work in our world, where life happens: at the dinner table, on the train, hanging out with friends, etc. Besides the continued hype around augmented reality, the mobile phone has had the practical effect of bringing all of what computing offers into our literal hands. Wearable mobile computing, and perhaps one day, mixed reality will allow us that value, heads up and hands-free. And, like its predecessors, it will profoundly change how people behave. Whatever the interface, the future of computing is not escape. It is about us, and the amplifying force it has on our own abilities, in the world we already live in.
—Mark Rolston, founder and chief creative, and Jared Ficklin, chief creative technologist, argodesign
Catering to Gen Z and Millennials
The soft, friendly design aesthetics targeted to millennials have been just begging to be disrupted for some time. They had a good run: Think large, flat planes of “millennial pink” and other neutral and pastel shades, Instagram-friendly photography, illustrations with quirky characters, and fonts that have a distinctly retro feel. Most DTC brands that pop up on our Facebook feeds employ many of these techniques, and mainstream brands have started to shift in this direction to help convey an authenticity that’s crucial with this audience. But, as they say, all things must pass. So, cue up Gen Z design, right? Not so fast.
Design trends aimed at Gen Z will be in full effect in 2022, characterized by a bolder (hello, neon), more experimental, and empowering look and feel. Marketing consensus claims that Gen Z has a shorter attention span than Millennials—8 seconds versus 12, according to some!—and they’re the first generation to have spent their entire lives online. They’re looking for fluidity across gender and other norms, for personalization in branding, and for easy-to-use, digestible online experiences that earn their loyalty.
See the problem? A generation that doesn’t want to be pinned down, doesn’t want to be pinned down. The individuality this self-reliant generation demands requires a whole new level of flexibility. They’re a moving target, and most brands will inevitably fall several steps behind. As always, it’s better for brands to just be themselves, to let their own freak flags fly.
—Kevin Grady, senior partner of design, Lippincott
You may not know the name Mike Winkelmann, but you’ve likely heard of Beeple—his digital artist pseudonym. Back in March, an NFT of his artwork sold for $69 million—thrusting Beeple and Non-Fungible Tokens into the cultural zeitgeist while spawning a rap-style explainer video on SNL. Since then, NFTs have seen explosive-trading volume, generating over $10 billion in Q3, and hordes of brands and public figures vying for a slice of the early adopter hype. But cutting through that hype, Forrester found in October that 45% of U.S. online adults have never heard of NFTs. And 28% indicated they still don’t understand what NFTs are. And for those who do? Well, they’re mostly male crypto-adept collectors. One in five online male adults in the U.S. indicated they already own at least one NFT versus just 7% of U.S. online female adults.
The ever-growing bandwagon of branded NFT stunts rides ahead of consumer demand and may also be tainting public sentiment towards NFTs. A mere 12% of U.S. online adults would like to see more brands release NFTs as giveaways, according to Forrester. One could argue that NFTs have already jumped the shark with attention-grabbing stunts from particular brands and public figures. But NFTs are only at their experimental, nascent stage. Long-term value must eclipse short-term greed. Brands that want to move beyond superficial PR stunts in the NFT space should offer utility as a value exchange, generate demand through scarcity and access, and cocreate as part of the open NFT community.
Ultimately, the testing and learning happening today with NFTs sets up the long-term roadmap of the Metaverse, where NFTs will hold greater context when it comes to digital ownership. That, however, is years away.
—Mike Proulx, VP and research director, Forrester
The Cult of Efficiency
One of the hallmarks of our obsession with efficiency is the idea that the better we can get at analyzing trends and predicting the future, the more efficient—and therefore successful—we will become. For most of human existence, little changed. It was much easier to predict the future because it wasn’t that different from our past and present. Over the last few decades, the pace of change increased dramatically but still followed logical trajectories. However, our future has never been so opaque, and our relentless focus on the power of prediction and the cult of efficiency, in all of its forms, has created an extremely fragile system that can easily fall apart in times of great stress—like now.
We’ve seen that it only takes a small divergence from our collective predictions to destroy the very systems that we built based upon them. Look at our “efficient” supply chain woes as just one example. During past recessions and crises, manufacturers were left with surpluses of items that they simply couldn’t sell. Consequently, over the last decade, there has been a concerted effort to minimize inventory stockpiling in favor of just-in-time supply networks that use predictive analytics to produce, ship, and stock the exact amount of product to meet consumer demand. This strategy protects manufacturers and keeps costs low for consumers. But it only took some small unexpected increases in purchase volume, coupled with a global pandemic, of course, to disrupt the entire supply chain virtually overnight.
Remember the scarcity of toilet paper and disinfectant in early 2020? Nearly two years later, we’re still trying to catch up with demand, which, among other problems, is contributing to elevated levels of inflation, according to the Federal Reserve, as well as shortages of semiconductor chips, construction materials, foam, pet food, cream cheese, and even individual Heinz Ketchup packets. Derek Thompson of The Atlantic calls it the “Everything Shortage.” So what can be done? In the future, the organizations that set up systems to address multiple contingencies, that prioritize agility, adaptability, and resiliency over efficiency will be the only ones left standing.
—Jason Schlossberg, a managing director, Huge
VR and AR are still struggling to find mass interest after a global pandemic locked every person in their home, depriving them of travel or exploration, keeping them from human contact. People with the means to pay $300 for a headset had more motivation than ever to strap a hunk of tech onto their face.
And yet in 2020, the Nintendo Switch, a videogame platform half a decade old, outsold VR headsets nearly 3:1. The sales of VR content represented .5% of all videogame sales—less than a rounding error.
Many months into the pandemic, my 14-year-old was finally motivated to try on an Oculus headset. At first, he proclaimed it the future and fought his sister off (not virtually) to keep from sharing. Then after an hour or so of playing, he almost threw up, and went to bed early with a migraine.
I’ve heard a lot of crazy conspiracy theories on the genesis of the pandemic, so here’s another that is definitely fictional, yet plausible-feeling: what if Mark Zuckerberg and Palmer Luckey, having tried everything to advance their billions in investment, decided to lock all of humanity in their respective houses for two years? I’d watch that show.
VR and AR will certainly be a marginal part of our future, but please—let’s make this the last overhyped news cycle for VR technology and content, and admit that it’s the last big thing that never was . . . not the next.
—Jake Barton, principal, Local Projects
DTC and “Sustainability”
The promise of “direct-to-consumer” can quickly become a trap. As designers in the age of climate crisis, we are in constant conflict. We cannot ignore that our skill set directly translates into more stuff; but if the last century has taught us anything, it’s that humanity’s insatiable quest for convenience threatens to unravel us.
We order bottles of organic soap, wrapped in plastic. We ship packages filled with air for TikTok-worthy unboxings that last seconds before being tossed in the trash. We subscribe to a toothbrush promising intelligent top-ups, which breaks and floods our cabinet with endless refills—their marketing telling us that we now need their useless chewing gum dispenser, too. Boxes, wrappers, tape, labels, stickers, polystyrene, bubble wrap. Every day. To billions of doorsteps. It’s time to stop and think before getting lured by the next shiny object in our cart.
We need to educate. Life Cycle Analysis should be mandatory and as transparent as nutrition is on food labels. We need to reduce. We must create products with less screens, less parts, and less packaging that travel less distances. They should be fixable, and use materials that can be reused or regenerated. We need to be accountable. Products should not be made to bolster brands.
And, no, producing products ethically is not cheap. The cost of rising sea levels, drought, and catastrophic weather is not cheap. The daily loss of habitat and species is not cheap. So why should your razor be?
—Nichole Rouillac, founder and creative director, Level
I want to add “remote work” and “hybrid work” to my list of trigger words.
It’s not that I don’t believe in the importance and relevance of getting remote and hybrid work “right” in a world grappling with the realities of COVID-19. It’s not that I don’t believe that remote work and hybrid work are the future of work. It’s that I believe we’ve been focusing and over-indexing on the wrong aspect of the future of work. The future of work isn’t remote or hybrid workplace experiences.
The future of work is trauma-informed workplace—and that “trauma-informed” piece is key.
Trauma—any event or experience that leads to emotional, physical, spiritual, or psychological harm, distress, or impairment—is what’s plaguing the workplace, and organizations have failed to adequately address and offer support to their employees and the organizational trauma that ensues in meaningful ways. A trauma-informed workplace seeks to minimize and limit the harm of trauma at an organizational level.
As the world continues to reel from the havoc and devastation of COVID-19, and as employee resignation rates climb to an all-time high, organizations are falling short as they implement initiatives and strategies around employee well-being, prioritizing speed over what their employees actually need. We saw companies publicly applaud themselves for giving employees a week off to deal with burnout, despite evidence and research that suggests a week off was essentially ineffective. In a 2018 American Psychological Association survey, more than two-thirds of the 1,500 respondents reported how the mental benefits of vacation had disappeared within a few days of returning to the office.
2020 made a lot of people look at their current workplaces and realize they deserved something that’s been overdue: better.
For remote and hybrid work to become better, organizations need to understand that trauma is not just an individual issue, it’s an organizational one.
For remote and hybrid work to become better, organizations need to hold their leaders and employees accountable for how they impact company culture; inclusive behaviors and self-awareness need to be treated as performance issues that impact the business, not personality issues that eventually end up being ignored.
For remote and hybrid work to become better, organizations need to resist the temptation to place the leadership burden on volunteer-led grassroots initiatives around well-being—[organizations need to] invest in outside support and expertise trauma-informed and equity-centered practices.
The future of work is trauma-informed workplaces, and it’s time to give ourselves permission to prioritize the needs of the humanity of the workforce. Here’s to only settling for more.
—Vivianne Castillo, founder and equitable culture & innovation consultant, HmntyCntrd