If only the designers behind the Takeoff Mode app at Dentsu and Firstborn had been putting their professional talents to work solving a very real problem back then. If only we’d had smartphones. If only Colt McCoy didn’t get hurt in 2010.
A simple-enough app built by guys who use their design and development skills every day could have spared me years of guilt and regret, and probably prevented quite a few gray hairs from the unavoidable flights I did have to take during my aviophobic years. Instead, I was told to close my eyes and envision an inner tube inflating and deflating along with the rhythm of my focused deep breaths. I can guarantee you that my provincial Texas imagination and its ratty, black inner tube pulsing on the edge of a community pool pale in comparison to the gorgeous app built by some of the best in the business.
So if my fear-of-flying-preventing-me-from-attending-a-football-game sob story sounded trivial, the incredible new epilepsy-sensing cap from BioSerenity is anything but. 2014 was the big coming-out party for the Internet of Things, but it was also the year that the Internet gave back. For every person like me who has something fun-threatening like aviophobia, there are dozens more who face far more real problems that haven’t seen much disruption or innovation in years.
We’re seeing tech and marketing professionals serving niches for any number of capitalistic and compassionate reasons, and the results are epic! One scroll through the Spring Projects Day page of my alma mater’s engineering school neighbor reminds me that innovation starts at a young age and offers solutions to problems I didn’t even know we had.
A common complaint about tech’s integration into our modern lifestyles is that it creates a pervasive “alone, together” problem—even as more of us pile into crammed subway cars and trendy bars, we’re further apart than ever before—because we spend more time looking at blinding little retina displays than we ever do looking at each other.
Before I lost my last stand against total tech assimilation (I owned a flip phone until October 2013), people used to call me a hypocritical Luddite for even having a Facebook. “But,” I’d protest, “I travel a lot! It lets me feel like I know what’s up with my friends in Alabama and Australia even when we don’t talk every day.” And in the Pre-WhatsApp Era, it was the cheapest way to talk to friends in other countries.
Now we have designers building virtual reality to help assuage homesickness in astronauts doing long-term stints in space stations—you know, for those times when Skyping your family at the kitchen table from the International Space Station doesn’t quite cut it. As with all things built to help assuage homesickness in astronauts doing long-term stints in space stations, it also promises to facilitate training for astronauts while they’re still on earth, as well as help prevent mental problems associated with the debilitating solitude of places people really shouldn’t be, like submarines, Antarctica, and cubicles.
Then there are the global economic powers with burgeoning tech sectors. They may be remote to us, but they’re full of people and, increasingly, smartphones and computers. Not only is it easier than ever to get a glimpse into the daily lives of people from Stillwater, Oklahoma to Delhi, India, but more people in those places and everywhere in between also now have Internet access.
Between established charitable organizations like Kiva and overseas mega-growth companies like Alibaba and SnapDeal, innovators are proving that even e-commerce is a space due for disruption. SnapDeal caught my attention because it has all the elements of a truly great start-up: growth, room for more growth, revenue, and a seriously underserved space in the market. And Alibaba made waves this year with its record-setting American-market IPO.
While both companies might be for-profit at a scale we’ve never seen before, they’ve also brought a viable cyber marketplace to buyers and sellers who have never had access to one before. Tech is bringing the free market to places that previously suffered massive inequality between regions and social classes.
What started as a personal reflection on one of my life’s few regrets that could’ve been prevented with a simple iPhone app quickly turned into a reflection on the year in tech, design, and marketing. It’s exciting to see so many people doing such amazing things with the same tools we work with every day, and I’m confident that this momentum will carry us into 2015 as we develop great emotional content and world-changing apps and wearables.
From small design shops to engineering schools to entrepreneurs who have hit the big time (and everything in between), there’s never been a better time to be in our business. So here’s to a new year filled with less fear and homesickness and more innovative solutions to real problems.
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Inner Tubes Photo Source: Flickr