What Matters in 2017

Huge's strategists, technologists, UX designers, and creatives weigh in on what brands really need to know to win the year.

Technology has never played a bigger part in our lives. It’s what connects us to one another. But as the recent presidential election made clear, it can also divide us. Fake news delivered by Facebook (and with the help of Vladimir Putin) helped put Donald Trump in the Oval Office. While we’ve all been trying to manage our personal gadget addictions, 2016 threw into focus brands’ responsibility to protect users (and their data) from reality-altering meddling, data theft, and the spreading of untruths. On the flip side, there’s more opportunity than ever to give users what they want: personalized experiences that add efficiency, convenience, and even fun to the everyday.

Michael Koziol, President (Atlanta)

Brands Will Pay Attention to Users in Flyover States

As the dust of the epic 2016 U.S. presidential election settles, America has a lot to reconcile. We have a fractured country with binary views of the present and future. For designers, creators, and technologists to be successful, it is key that they know the user. I predict we’ll see a mass amount of ethnographic research aimed at the so-called flyover states, Rust Belt, solid South, and other regions to get to know and understand the motivations of these fellow citizens. Only then can a designer or developer say that a product is universally user-centric.

Adam Lauria, SEO Analyst

SEO Will Be Used to Demote Fake News

At the end of 2016, it became clear that disinformation spread by unscrupulous Macedonian kids had influenced the American electorate and played a role in the election results. Facebook and Google promised to prevent fake-news sites from using their advertising networks, but the challenge now is for Google to demote fake news in its index. Google needs "search engine ethicists" to assess links for truth. What this means for SEO analysts is an even greater emphasis on content that’s factual, current, and useful for consumers. They have to start thinking about the ethical implications of manipulating the prosthetic brain most humans now share.

Thomas Prommer, Group VP, Technology

AR Will Become the New Google Hangout

In an increasingly international economy with highly distributed workforces, organizations will increase their investment in platforms like Slack, Atlassian, and Basecamp—all of which will become the new de facto workspace OS and make email obsolete. Both virtual and augmented reality hold strong promise to improve remote collaboration. Facebook recently presented a realistic simulation of its virtual board meeting using Oculus headsets; we expect AR and VR experiences to become the next wave of Google Hangout and Skype calls.

Michael Horn, Managing Director, Data Science

The U.S. Will Finally Grapple With Digital Privacy

If 2016’s epidemic of hacks, breaches, and identity theft wasn’t enough of a wake-up call, the outcome of the election may prove a tipping point for corporations wary of government interference (ours or foreign), journalists protecting sources, and citizens mindful of their civil liberties. End-to-end encryption will increasingly be the default, biometric and multi-factor security will be better understood and applied, and penalties for sloppy corporate data practices will finally get teeth due to increased state scrutiny.

Sherine Kazim, Managing Director, User Experience

Brands Will Look at Users’ Emotions

With the continuing rise of AI and screen-less environments, experience designers will need to understand the ways in which a brand can change how it sounds, feels, and behaves in response to real-time context and user emotions. The natural gateway for these types of experiences is conversational interface, but we may also see emotional design manifest in physical retail and exhibition spaces. There, companies could use facial recognition and sentiment analysis, in tandem with mapping user movements, to gauge how and when to interact with the audience, creating a more human, emotion-based connection.

Sophie Kleber, Executive Director, Product and Innovation

The Big Tech Players Will Own Conversational UIs

The proliferation of conversational UIs will slow down after the end-of-2016 hype. Why? Because it will become evident that, in our me-too efforts to create conversational UIs, we’ve been re-creating age-old tree chatbots, instead of building true intelligence. But while a bunch of amateurs will fuck it up, the big guys (Amazon, Google, Apple) will evolve it. One or two players will emerge that sell good conversational intelligence (maybe Watson, maybe Amazon), leaving that initial failure in the dust.

Emily Wengert, Group VP, User Experience

Amazon Will Usher in Frictionless Retail

Looking to retail, keep an eye on the success of Amazon Go, the store opening in Seattle that lets you walk out the door without checking out. This no-scan system seems like magic, and Amazon isn’t revealing its tricks. The reason we’re tracking? Amazon has an amazing history of translating its own products (think e-commerce and Alexa) into platforms other brands can either white label or build on. If Amazon Go works (and doesn’t infringe on shoppers’ sense of privacy), expect to see other stores clambering to implement something similar to save on staffing costs and reduce theft.

Missy Kelley, Product Design Director, Experience Design

The Public Will Demand Algorithmic Transparency

The focus on bias in data and algorithms is coming to a head: People are starting to make the connection between bias outcomes and the algorithms employed to create them. With the spotlight on tech and the election, there will be huge demand from the public sector to make transparent how these algorithms are designed and what data goes into them. Small rumblings have started among engineers like Cathy O’Neil, author of Weapons of Math Destruction. But with the election, 2017 will mean both tech suppression and tech’s rebirth into transparency.

Bernardo Rodriguez, Managing Director, Business Strategy

CMOs of Smart Brands Will Focus on Trust

As artificial intelligence gets deployed throughout enterprise, and customer interactions are shaped by anticipatory design and personalization, smart brands will recognize that intelligence must be used unselfishly. Most anticipatory solutions focus on increasing sales conversion, but limiting personalization to sales will quickly erode customer trust. To earn the permission to have frequent conversations with customers, brands should leverage AI to identify sources of customer value even if they are not tied to short-term financial outcomes.

Gregory Whitescarver, Technology Director

Designers Will Code—for Real

All the obstacles that made programming a dark art are falling away more rapidly than ever. Prettier languages like Swift for iOS and Kotlin for Android are making code easier to read, while compilers and build tools like Babel, Webpack, and Brunch make it easier to bring web designs to life. With the development lifecycle compressed so much compared to a few years ago, companies will want designers to make fewer comps and more working software.

Joe Johnston, Group UX Director

Voice Tech Will Learn to Recognize the User

We'll start to finally see the power of blending branded tone and voice with experiences. For example, the ability to change tone and voice of an app on Google Home will help users know who they're talking with and create a more personal and contextual experience. We may even see these voice experiences start to understand who's talking. For example, Alexa will know if it’s me or my nine-year-old who’s barking at it based on our unique voice signatures and sentence structures.

Gela Fridman, Managing Director, Technology

Businesses Will Apply AI to Internal Data

AI and machine learning have matured significantly and are ready for mainstream public applications. But the lack of access to data, efforts required to train the AI, and cybersecurity considerations mean it will primarily be adopted by the enterprise—for now. In 2017, companies will use AI and machine learning to automate aspects of IT, HR, and financial operations, and to empower sales organizations with real-time market intelligence. By harnessing in-house data and applying the right technologies, businesses will truly drive efficiency and growth.

Paul Burns, Managing Director (Toronto)

Brands Will Champion a Diverse Workforce

Brands will take a bolder stance on cultural diversity—not just as a pushback or antidote to Donald Trump’s rhetoric, but as a real recognition that diversity in their internal talent pool will foster better business results. We already know this to be true: Companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians. More and more, companies will realize that we are stronger from our differences and will move from talking about diversity to actually making diversity a core part of their organizational DNA.