In our October story "A New Beginning," we toured the home of speechwriter, author, and former Dwell on Design keynote speaker Daniel Pink. Pink is a "Big Idea" kind of guy, and his work centers around teasing out which ideas, trends, and practices will shape business, technology, and politics. His books include Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us and A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. We got him on the phone from his home office in Washington, DC, to find what which ideas are going to shape the next decade of design.
10 Billion Smartphones
"This is not all that new, but I think this is something that we haven't really processed yet. Twenty-five years ago there were five billion people on the planet and no mobile phones. Now we've got seven billion people and six billion phones. Cisco has data that projects that by 2016 there will be 10 billion smartphones. That's more smartphones than people.
"Imagine everyone having a smartphone—which is actually just a pocket computer. And let's say that number is high, so only a majority of people have smartphones, that is totally transformative in terms of how people will work, live, and communicate. And it's not just segregated to the West. It's global.
"What's the upshot? The upshot is that our minds will be blown. It's going to make the rise of the Internet and the web seem kinda cool, but this is going to be really amazing. And as a design issue, by offering media, information, ideas, music, and all that through the medium of these little phones, that's going to change the grammar of design. And what will that mean for architecture? I have no fricking idea. But this has to have an effect on the physical arrangement of how people will live. I just can't wrap my mind around it. I am so dying to know what's going to happen when someone in a village in Bangladesh has more computing power that I had ever even heard of when I was in grad school."
"This one is also not that new, but we have a massive aging population in the United States, Western Europe, and Japan. We're going to have more old people in the world than the world recently had people. In the U.S. we're focused on the fiscal impact of these aging Boomers—Medicare, entitlements, Social Security, a ridiculously low retirement age.
"But what will be the nature of society and living arrangements when you have so many old people? What happens when housing becomes more multi-generational? What happens when you have to design your house not only for your mom and dad to move in, but also to accommodate your twentysomething who is moving back home?
"What do you do when the largest demographic cohort in the history of the world suddenly doesn't want to take the stairs? These are questions that again, I haven't fully wrapped my head around, but don't you think that will have some architectural implications? We're bound to see new types of living arrangements, some successor to Del Webb's Sun City. What if we see elder dorms where old people go to live communally?
"Simply put, the fact that people are living longer—possibly significantly longer—than ever is going to have some real effect on how we live. And how we live effects how we build."
"There's a famous old line that if you want to see what the next big thing will be, look at what's been failing for 30 years. After decades of spinning its wheels I think that alternative energy is finally going to pop. Will it be the next two years, the next eight years, I don't know. But soon.
"With the rise of all kinds of foreign production, solar panels, and subsidies, this thing is going to tip. After years of failure, all the trend lines are in place, and if you look at what consumers do, you'll see that people are more likely to do the environmentally responsible thing when they compare themselves with what others are doing. Smartmeters and groovy thermostats and all kinds of technology like this is making it possible."