Think back to the last time you bought a new piece of software, a laptop, or even a dishwasher. What really sold you on the product you ended up buying?

For me, the deciding factor is often design. Of course, I pay attention to features, specs, and price. But the experience I get with a product is often more important than the underlying technology. Whether that software is intuitive and easy to use, whether I’m comfortable with the notebook’s operating system, how that dishwasher is going to look in my kitchen – those are the things that ultimately get me to push the buy button.

I think that’s true for most people. And that’s one of the reasons design has never been more important. Companies have realized that design is a competitive advantage. And that’s put designers at the center – finally. To create a great product, it’s essential to have someone who can anticipate what users need and meet those needs clearly and efficiently. That’s the designers’ role and it has put them in incredible demand. We recently surveyed hiring managers and 87 percent of them told us that finding experience designers was their top priority.

The future of design

I think design’s importance will continue to grow. But the future will bring both opportunities and challenges. Here are a few I anticipate:

Connected Creativity: As design becomes more important, more and more people want to get involved. No design will happen in a vacuum – marketers, product managers, developers and many others will want to see and comment on what designers produce. The next generation of design tools will have to make collaboration simple and seamless. Important elements of that process are housing creations in the cloud, where we can make them available to anyone who needs them, and freeing design tools from the desktop so creators can work on a tablet, a phone, or in a web browser. 

Artificial Intelligence: AI can be a controversial subject among designers. Some worry that it may reduce creativity to an algorithm. I firmly believe that no robot can ever replace a creative human. But AI can make creation easier by taking over some of the tedious, repetitive tasks that simply waste time. I’ve never met a creative who’d rather do in three hours what can be done in three minutes. AI will make that kind of time-saving possible. 

Ethical Design: Doctors have the Hippocratic Oath, often summarized as “First, do no harm.” Designers need to have an ethical North Star of their own. Among all the demands put on designs and designers, their oath needs to be, “First, think of the users.”

Augmented Reality: What the web does for us now, I believe Augmented Reality will do in the future, but in the context of our physical world rather than a screen. From how you navigate a new city or review the menu in restaurants to dating and how you get help fixing appliances in your home, AR will enrich experiences in ways we can barely imagine. However, none of this is possible without designers creating compelling three-dimensional interactive content and being able to collaborate with developers across platforms.

Voice: Voice is perhaps the most natural interface we use and it’s becoming more and more common. Smart speakers like Amazon’s Alexa will be installed in more than 70 million U.S. households by 2022, according to a Juniper Research report. For designers, creating voice experiences requires new skills that transcend the keyboard, mouse, and screen. To succeed in the future, designers will need to know how to create a voice interface that is efficient and intuitive. They’ll need a deep understanding of human communication and natural conversation flow and a sense of how to guide users when there’s no physical or visual interface.

What Adobe is doing

This is an incredibly exciting time to be leading development of the world’s most powerful design tools. The team behind Adobe Creative Cloud is working hard to evolve our products to enable designers to thrive in a future filled with interesting challenges and to encourage the next generation of design talent.

A key part of that is the continuing development of Adobe XD, which allows creatives to design and prototype new websites, mobile apps and other experiences. Because digital interfaces are so central to the way we relate to products and services, I firmly believe that XD will one day be as important a product as Photoshop.

We recently made XD free for everyone, a move that I hope will really accelerate design literacy. My hope is that free access to a powerful design tool like XD will have the same effect as the universal access to digital writing tools like Google Docs. More people will try their hands at design and build at least a basic understanding and fluency.

We’re evolving the Creative Cloud suite to anticipate what designers will need in the future. We’re building in a foundation of cloud-first creation and extending our products to work on mobile devices and in the browser so that collaboration is frictionless and creatives can work anywhere.

At Apple’s recent Worldwide Developers Conference, we debuted Project Aero, a new tool for creating Augmented Reality experiences. Through our collaboration with Apple, Pixar and other partners, Project Aero will give creative professionals the ability to create compelling AR experiences with tools like Photoshop and Adobe Dimension that they already use every day.

An important ingredient of Project Aero is Adobe Sensei, our artificial intelligence engine which in Aero helps creatives navigate the technical requirements of AR. We’re also putting Sensei to work in the rest of Creative Cloud. We believe there are lots of opportunities for Sensei to take over tedious grunt work, freeing up designers for higher level creative thinking.

Finally, we’re committed to helping develop the next generation of designers. We recently announced a licensing arrangement for schools that lowers the price for a Creative Cloud subscription to just $5 per year for K-12 students in the U.S., Europe, Japan, New Zealand, and India.

Today is a great time to be a designer and tomorrow will be even better. At Adobe, we’re committed to innovating in our core products, building new tools for new challenges, and inspiring a new generation of creative minds.