2014's Technology Trends
What's on the cutting edge of decoration and Internet technology, and how it can help you sellJanuary 2014 By Michael Cornnell
Technology. As Homer Simpson would say, "The cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems."
It can be strange to think about how much our work lives hinge on technology. A crashed computer, a lost smartphone, a hacked website—all can derail your business for days, if not longer. These are problems that no one ever had to worry about 50, or even 20, years ago, but it's equally true that businesses 20 years ago didn't have the technological opportunities we have today.
Augmented reality, e-commerce, digital printing—there is plenty of new technology for 2014 that can take your business to the next level.
Augmented reality (AR) is the slightly clumsy name for materials that have been digitally augmented to display interactive material when scanned by the camera of a smartphone or tablet. The interactive material will appear on the device's screen, giving users an interactive experience complete with new features such as video, slideshows or web links. The "materials" augmented can be anything from logos to magazine pages to outdoor landmarks such as the Brooklyn Bridge.
To see these features, users must first download the app used to create the AR enhancements and follow instructions. To view this month's augmented cover of Print+Promo, for instance, just download and use the Layar app, a popular AR application used for magazines (see page 3 for instructions).
AR is essentially photo-recognition technology tied to an interactive web interface. Those who wish to create AR pieces will usually do so through the app's desktop website. There they can upload photographs or PDFs of material they wish to augment, then assign the features they would like to appear on the user's screen, as well as view usage and download statistics.
Statistics and Trends
• CNBC cited a recent Juniper Research report that projected AR apps will earn more than $300 million in 2013, and that by 2017, the apps will be downloaded at a rate of 2.5 billion per year.
• Pew Research reported that, for the first time, the number of Americans who own cell phones is over 90 percent, reaching 91 percent in May 2013. Of those 91 percent, 61 percent claimed to own a smartphone, meaning 56 percent of the American population owns a smartphone. Note that these statistics do not include tablets, most of which are also able to interact with AR features.
• Esquire Magazine was one of the first major print publications to add AR, releasing its first AR issue in late 2009. Since then, many large consumer publications have added AR features, including Inc. Magazine, Publishers Weekly and even Marvel Comics.
• AR is part of the functionality of Google's smartglasses called "Google Glass." The technology is used for making real-life storefronts scannable so users can access Yelp reviews and other data.
Uses for Your Business
Besides enhancing your print advertising, there are other ways AR can benefit your business. Direct mail and other marketing pieces are the obvious choice to use AR to promote your business (or a client's for that matter), but the technology can be used for hard goods as well. For example, a client can receive a discount on an order if it agrees to place on the bottom of all its cups stickers that say, "Want to use this cup to promote your own business? Scan me with the [AR app of your company's choice] to order!"
Meanwhile, Techcrunch recently reported that technology to make serial numbers scannable is underway, for the purpose of offering repairmen video tutorials for repairing complex systems. This scannability could be applied to promotional products that require assembly (say, a trade show booth), or could be used via a simple, small engraving that reads "Scan me with the [AR app of your company's choice] to order more" on the bottom of your products.
The AR features can link to more than just web stores, however. Video content that provides marketing ideas or instruction for the product is another option, as are social networking features. If your company was hired to print a guidebook for a local parade, sports event or other large public gathering, you could augment the guidebook so it displayed a live Twitter feed of everyone talking about the event as it happens.
AR might be the hot new way to drive people to your website in 2014, which raises the question: When's the last time you redesigned your website?
Could any 2014 technology or design trends be applied to your site to make it faster, easier to navigate, or just plain nicer to look at?
Statistics and Trends
• Larger (and more diverse) fonts. A recent Forbes article, "Designing a Website for 2014," noted that because computer screens keep getting larger and increasing in resolution, the standard 12-point font is starting to look small and thin to users across the board. As a result, many sites are starting to up their font sizes. Similarly, The Next Web reported in its "10 Web Design Trends You Can Expect to See in 2014" article that websites are utilizing fonts outside the standard Helvetica and Times sets in order to stand out and show a bit more personality.
• Responsive mobile. In the same article, Forbes also reported that many sites are ditching segregated mobile and desktop sites, opting instead to have a single site that is "mobile responsive," meaning it intelligently adjusts its layout depending on the device being used to view it.
• Dropping unreal stock photography. Website provider and hosting service Wix cited "unreal stock photography" as one trend it would like to see the Internet drop in 2014. Unreal stock photography, it claimed, is the kind of goofy-yet-pristine stock photo that is so wooden and unreal it isolates users from your brand, because it is unrelatable, bland and weird.
• Flat design. Leave it to Apple to start the biggest web design trend of 2014. Since the company's iOS 7 upgrade abandoned high-detail, gradient-and-drop-shadow-heavy designs on mobile icons for simpler, flat designs, the whole Internet seems to be following suit. Nearly every article about the coming year's web design trends reported on spread of flat design, from other company's apps, to website design, to how Microsoft (technically) made the shift first.
Uses for Your Business
There isn't much consensus about how often you should redesign your website. Most experts suggest periodically evaluating your website's effectiveness (e.g., "Is it fast enough?" and "Does it match my current branding?") independent of the site's age. If you find you're getting negative answers for many of your website efficiency questions, a redesign may be in order. That said, both a too-dated look or a site that's unresponsive and glitchy with mobile devices could certainly be cause for a redesign, depending on the needs and habits of your customers.