This post explores what a tech company means today and suggests what it might do in the future.
Tech Companies Today
I would like to start by a quote I read in an article titled ‘The era of tech companies is over.’ It states:
To stay competitive in today’s marketplaces, every company, by the current standard, could be called a tech company, which of course, is another way of saying that none of them should be.
Although a quite extreme view, it is one I agree with. Technology has become much more of a norm. This got me thinking about how or when this happened. With a large simplification, I see this transition (from the past to the future) to look something like this:
Marketing – Technology -> Design -> What’s next?
My examples think about marketing as pushing a product to you that you may not necessarily want e.g. Marlboro Cigarettes, Technology as providing a product you may want to use e.g. AOL internet and finally, Design as making you really desire a product e.g. Apple. Of course, the design has played a role in all stages, but in quite different ways. Quoting John Maeda:
Design used to be the sauce you’d reach for in the cupboard; now it’s the flour you need at the start of the recipe.
Whilst I disagree with this quote as a designer for somewhat obvious reasons: design has always been the main ‘ingredient’ to me, I do agree that the industry has perceived design as something you apply and that their perception has changed. Excellent! But now that it has changed, what is next and what role should design play?
Discussions about Google’s role
As Google prepared to remove Google Reader out of service, recent discussions about Google’s role surfaced. One article mentioned that the most interesting discussion in their opinion came from Ryan Avent, who argues that:
Google has been providing crucial public infrastructure — but doesn’t seem to have an interest in maintaining that infrastructure
People are seeing Google’s services as vital. When this happens, it clearly has moved far beyond pushing a product to you, or even welcoming you to use it. On the backend of this, at Google, it seems like someone had to take an emotional risk: a decision to cut Google Reader. It must have been stressful but important.
If Twitter or Google were to be down for a day, people would be extremely agitated. The simple reason for this is that these companies have gone beyond providing a service (which people could get elsewhere). These companies are maintaining or facilitating a very well used public infrastructure. This will only continue to happen with such innovations as Google’s self-driving car.
I would argue that Apple have also gone more in this direction. Perhaps 10 years ago, Apple would have been seen to sell high-end products to the masses, but with the introduction of different product ranges, as well as services; apps and itunes, they are becoming more of a provider of an everyday infrastructure. Simply put, to me this is the difference between ‘tech’ companies and the real or new tech companies.
The New Tech Company
In conclusion, I put forward the idea of the new tech company as one that maintains or facilitates public infrastructure. With this, ideas we’ve had on this blog such as City API or shared car use make more sense to explore as designers. We can help build and provide the tools which change and shape culture. In my view it is the designer’s role (as other discipline’s roles) to help facilitate this to the best of our capabilities.