It's Not What's Next, It's What's Now

Insights Posted on — 09.17.2015

It's Not What's Next, It's What's Now

In a digital world, people aren't ready for what's next, everyone should be focused on what's happening right now.

A colleague recently asked me what the next big thing in social media was going to be. I hesitated and responded, "In a digital world, people aren't ready for what's next, everyone should be focused on what's happening right now."

Sure, I could have told her that Beme has the potential to become the next major social platform but instead, I continued to rant about how Snapchat is in it's prime right now - killing it with live stories and their discover platform, and how Instagram has the opportunity to provide the option for deeper storytelling by implementing the carousel feature into user posts just before our parents start posting selfies.

I focused on what's happening right now. In terms of social media, users today aren't actually ready for the next big thing, they're too busy figuring out the best way to use what's available. Many brands have innovative ideas or products, but anticipate too far into the future to create a successful product.

The idea of wanting to know what's next has always existed, in fact it became popularized by Everett Rodgers in his theory, Diffusion of Innovations. This theory applies to all aspects of a brand - from their product to their designs, and the way they market and communicate their offerings. It explains why ideas catch on, how they become trends and why they deserve to die. It's a very human-centric approach to understanding how successful innovation happens. I like to look at it as a timeline - brands and products that build deeper narratives with their consumers extend their existence in such a rapidly changing world.

The Diffusion of Innovations theory proves that innovation can happen at various points of the curve, depending on a variety of factors such as timing, type of industry and of course the strength of the idea itself. In an industry where innovation is the norm, creatives and marketers are constantly expected to predict the next big thing. The problem is, the thought that innovation almost always happens before the curve is misleading. True innovations are built off of a constant progression. They’re driven by carefully observing what’s happening in the now. They’re not this single defining moment - it’s an amalgamation of already existing ideas that are brought together in perfect harmony.

The idea of Snapchat wasn't innovative during it's inception but the execution of the idea and timing of the platform in society, brought a unique and personal feeling to the app that hadn’t existed before. This inherent blend of intimacy and autonomy created the perfect framework for the next big social media platform. You see, people think innovation happens at this point; before the opportunity is seized. However, it wasn’t until Snapchat was able to bring utility to both brands and users that it really established itself as a successful app. Now, Snapchat enables brands to create curated stories with engaging branded content that feels intimate and personal. The benefit for the consumer is to provide a unique way of connecting global communities through Snapchat Discover. In this case, innovation happened at scale not at the idea, crafted together by utilizing what’s familiar.

In relation to design innovation, it’s easy to look at Apple, who is known for their successful innovations. Apple as a brand creates very similar products to their competitors, they just do it better. Apple weeds out popular trends and adopts only the ones that provide utility to each product. They’re rarely ever first to market with a new feature or new technology (before the curve) but they always find a way to create the most utility out of each one (after the curve).

In design, we often see trends rather than real innovation. Design styles like long drop shadows and parallax effects are good ideas that evolve into trends and then ossify at the innovation curve because they lack utility. Design innovations like flat design evolve out of a trend because they actually provide progression to design as a whole.

As a digital agency, we focus on providing businesses with meaningful design. We look at innovation as a byproduct of a better overall consumer experience. For example, we technically drove eCommerce design innovation for Nixon on a global scale. It was the first site to introduce swipe gestures on product cards. Our whole intention wasn't aimed at brainstorming new innovative features for an eCommerce website. It all happened because we were focused on the experience of the consumer. Our goal was to provide more utility to the user experience and help people make more educated purchase decisions by allowing them to swipe through product finishes quickly using the swipe gesture. The beauty was that the swipe gesture was familiar to the user across all devices but web, we just brought that same functionality and surfaced it on the desktop.

If we had gone into the creative brief with the intention of innovating for eCommerce, we probably wouldn’t have arrived at the current Nixon eCommerce design, and may have even created something so progressive that it might not have been successful.

As a digital design and branding agency, we focus at driving innovation at all points of the curve by focusing on building deeper, more meaningful relationships with a brands' core consumer. By looking at what’s happening now, we’re able to create a useful consumer experience that drives innovation.