The Future of Design Is Machine Learning

Great products no longer mean curvy aluminum and elegant iconography. They need magical experiences, powered by embedded software and ML.

Back in the late 1970s, celebrated father industrial design Dieter Rams was becoming increasingly concerned by the state of the world around him — “an impenetrable confusion of forms, colors, and noises” he famously said. He then asked himself an important question: is my design good? Rams decided that good design can be measured in a finite set of ten important principles: “Good design is innovative, makes a product useful, is aesthetic, makes a product understandable, unobtrusive, honest, long-lasting, is thorough down to the last detail, environmentally friendly, and last but not the least less important: good design is as little design as possible.”

Rams' philosophy turned out to be timeless, the stuff of legends. With nearly 50 years passing, he is still as relevant as ever, and it seems like everyone has caught on with his philosophy, starting with Apple, followed by Tesla, Slack, Square, Nest, Dyson, and Amazon. As famed designer Jon Ives once said about Apple’s Rams inspired design philosophy: “Design simplicity is not the absence of clutter… simplicity is describing the purpose and place of an object and product.”

But today, good design added something new:magical experiences.

With 250 billion microcontrollers in the world today, and growing, these tiny special purpose computers are running our lives. For example, a microcontroller in a Nest thermostat communicates with live weather data, indoor temperature sensors, your voice, geofencing setting, the HVAC and makes all sorts of “magical” decisions that make your life comfortable, cost-effective and effortless.

Such experiences are integral to the new world of good design. These embedded systems are everywhere, and soon, and progressively in smaller, previously “dumber” and less connected edge devices. Tiny Machine Learning, aka TinyML, is now the fastest-growing field of machine learning technologies and applications including hardware, algorithms, and software capable of performing on-device vision, audio, biomedical, data analytics and more, at an extremely low power point measured in mW or even uW. TinyML is becoming so popular that over 100 of the top leading technology companies, from Google to Microsoft, have adopted TinyML as the wave of the future.

From startups and big tech, everyone thinks that TinyML is the next UX.

There is growing momentum demonstrated by technical progress and ecosystem development. One of the leading startups that are working on helping engineers take advantage of TinyML by automating data collection, training, testing, and deployment, is Edge Impulse. Starting with embedded or IoT devices, Edge Impulse is offering developers the tools and guidance to collect data straight from edge devices, build a model that can detect “behavior”, discern right from wrong, noise from signal, so they can actually make sense of what happens in the real world, across billions of devices, in every place, and everything. By deploying the Edge Impulse model as part of everyone’s firmware, you create the biggest neural network on earth. Effectively, Edge Impulse gives brains to your previously passive devices so you can build better a product with neural personality.

Another interesting company is Syntiant, who’s building a new processor for deep learning, dramatically different from traditional computing methods. By focusing on memory access and parallel processing, their Neural Decision Processors operate at efficiency levels that are orders of magnitude higher than any other technology. The company claims its processors can make devices approximately 200x more efficient by providing 20x the throughput over current low-power MCU solutions, and subsequently, enabling larger networks at significantly lower power. The result? Voice interfaces that allow a far richer and more reliable user experience, otherwise known as “Wow” and “How did it do that?”

TinyML code will be everywhere: machine, plant, human, animal.

Good design, as it happens, now has much to do with how you design your embedded sub-system, in relation to the software interface, and the physical encasement and controls. Today and going forward, good design means good embedded technology. It is expected, desired and consumed like no other technology in the world, and it will impact everything: retail, healthcare, transportation, wellness, agriculture, fitness, and manufacturing.

Designing good products will no longer rely on smooth aluminum surfaces with elegant flat iconography and apps. Good design will mean that machines act as an extension of our brains, feelings, and emotions. Good design will continue to follow Rams’ mantra: Be innovative, useful, aesthetic, understandable, unobtrusive, honest, long-lasting, detailed, environmentally friendly, as little design as possible, and now also an extension of you.

Adam Benzion
Adam Benzion is the co-founder of Hackster.io (xCEO), a serial entrepreneur, writer, and investor.
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