Advances in technology are being made at such a quick pace that it's just about impossible to keep up. It seems as though as soon as you imagine something – which may not even be invented yet – someone in the world is already working out a way to make it possible. These changes are not isolated to any one industry, and they are fundamentally shifting the way the human race interacts with its surroundings. Unsurprisingly, one arena that's seeing a huge variety of tech-driven change is home and office decor.
"Alexa, play my breakfast playlist, I'm busy scrambling some eggs"; "Hey Siri, turn my bedroom lights off – I forgot to do so before I left for the office this morning"; "Samsung, get the Family Hub fridge to order my groceries".
Accessing NLP (Natural Language Processing) technology is helping us to control our home environments in entirely new ways. Lighting, heating, home security and more are just a click, touch or voice-activated command away.
At Gitex 2018 in Dubai last October, Mui Lab even demonstrated a smart-home device that is a little different to the usual Amazon Echo or Google Home systems. It uses natural woods to offer commands and voice-activation prompts via an interactive touch panel, connecting homes with mobile network systems to activate lights or air conditioning without any actual need to engage a mobile device. The fact that we're so much more reliant on technology these days (when was the last time your smartphone was out of sight?) is also impacting on design. For example, where once we just had plug sockets, now you can find USB charge points and iPhone docks everywhere, from the bedroom and boardroom to the smallest of hotel rooms.
What's next: Soon we may be able to ask Alexa to run us a bath, or get Siri to locate a child's missing school bag, or a bunch of keys.
As technology becomes smaller, so does the amount of space it takes up in our homes. For example, television sets are increasingly slender, meaning they can be wall-mounted and disguised as artwork when not in use, or be slid away in the base board of a bed. Computers are slimmer, too, and many of us have shifted away from a traditional desktop to a smartphone, laptop or tablet. This means we don't really use desks in the same way – or indeed need dedicated home offices.
And then there's storage. You don't require as many shelf units if you do most of your reading via a Kindle and download your movies through Netflix, rather than buy DVDs. All these aspects add fuel to the minimalist fire, which has risen in popularity over recent years and is actually allowing us to more comfortably live in smaller spaces.
What's next: How about baths that fold flat against the wall or dining tables that sink into the floor when they're not in use?
The creation of exciting hybrids of pre-existing materials affords us the opportunity to design in freer and more imaginative ways. For example, where glass once offered plenty of light, but posed a challenge in terms of privacy, we now have electrochromic glass. This uses an electrical current to switch between clear, frosted and opaque, depending on the need.
Innovative tech such as 3D printing is also being employed, not only for models, but for end products including entire homes as well. Last year, a French family in Nantes became the first to move into a four-bedroom 3D-printed home, which was equipped with a living area of 165 square metres. The walls of the structure took less than two days to "build", while installing the roof, doors and windows took another four months. While this technology stills needs to be tweaked before it can go mainstream, the amount of time and money that can be saved is staggering.
On a more aesthetic note, designers have been playing with materials such as Corian (composed of acrylic polymer and alumina trihydrate), which is being employed to create futuristic-looking single-line designs that simply wouldn’t have been possible 20 years ago.
What next: Antibacterial ceramics that keep your bathroom more hygienic, mouldable metals that can be set and unset, and fabrics that actively cool the air around them.
AR and VR
The ability to step inside virtual reality has many exciting possibilities for the world of interior design. Case in point, you can now take a walk through a new apartment block before it's even built. And if you want to see how a new sofa will look in your living room before you order it, just direct your smartphone to the spot where you envisage the new item going, and augmented reality will allow you to see your potential purchase in situ. Not only does this change the way that we as individuals interact with design, but it also allows designers to push boundaries.
What next: As virtual reality gets more sophisticated, perhaps we'll be able to touch and smell the virtual world we're moving through – feel the carpeting beneath our feet or sniff a vase of flowers in a hallway that doesn't exist yet.
Technology is changing the design industry in all sorts of unexpected ways. For example, it's now super-easy to set up a website or online shop and manage payments securely over the internet. This means that more and more designers, manufacturers and retailers are harnessing those technologies to bring us their wares at a reasonable cost, giving them the chance to compete with the big-name brands.
Likewise, the plethora of social media, blogging and video-sharing sites means designers and makers can access their target audience through incredibly cost-effective marketing channels, whereas in the past they might have been unable, owing to expensive print and TV advertising.
Consumers have more power, too, as we can rely less on professionals with expensive tools to help us create our perfect home. For example, it's incredibly easy now to measure and create a floor plan of a room using an app such as TapMeasure, or employ Houzz to gather inspiration and then shop a look for a new project.
What's next: Advances in manufacturing technology may well mean that we can design and manufacture bespoke items of our own. Perhaps someone will also invent a construction method that allows everyone in the world to afford to own their own home. The possibilities are endless, and very exciting.