NEXT’s top insights in 2020: what you cared about this year

What did you, the NEXT community, care about in 2020? Here's what the top 10 posts on the NEXT Insights blog tell us about the digital ideas that really mattered this year.

Like many people, we here at NEXT like to take a look back at what we can learn from 2020 before we plunge ahead into the new year. In particular, I like to dive into our analytics to understand what really caught your attention — our beloved NEXT community — and think about how that might influence what we write in 2021.

This year’s Top 10 by traffic shows the normal mix of evergreen insights from years past — including several from 2012 — but livened with some critical thoughts from the early days of the pandemic. If we were a news organisation, this would be troubling. But we’re not. We’re always looking to what comes next — hence the name — and the fact that so many of our older pieces are still hugely relevant even in 2020 suggests that we’re doing something right.

If there’s one clear message that emerges from these figures, it’s this: despite the disruption of the pandemic, people are still focusing on the underlying cultural shifts built on technology that will shape their business in the decade to come. That’s smart. The companies who are skating to where the puck will be are making it more likely that they are the ones that survive the storms ahead.

Let’s dive in!

10: How to be disruptive and sustainable at the same time

(Martin Recke, 2018)

We kick off 2020’s top 10 posts — with an article from 2018! Martin Recke wrote about the tension between innovation and sustainability, a theme we’ve returned to several times since, both in our Insight blog, and in speakers at the conference and on What’s NEXT?.

His central thesis — that occasional disruptive innovation, coupled with regular cycles of sustaining innovation — has proven true in the last couple of years. It’s a critical insight which too many people enamoured of the “disruption is good” mantra of Silicon Valley miss. If you want to build a great company, rather than a great IPO, read this.

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9: The Evolution of Service Design

(Marina Lenz, 2012)

The only post in our 2020 top 10 not to come from the keyboard of Messrs Recke and Tinworth was this 2012 piece by Marina Lenz exploring the roots of the Service Design movement. This is actually one of two service design-related posts from that year in the top 10. We were clearly ahead on the game on this one.

Marina was one of the NEXT team when she wrote that — and remains part of the NEXT family at our partners FAKTOR 3.

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8: What is Post Digital?

(Adam Tinworth, 2012)

This is the very first piece I wrote for NEXT, back in 2012. Post Digital was the theme of that year’s conference, and explored the condition where digital technology becomes so pervasive that the tech itself ceases to be interesting, but it’s what we do with it that matters.

That sounds like 2020, doesn’t it? It’s fascinating that what’s widely perceived as the best webcam for our time is the Logitech C920S — which is a small evolution of a model released this very year. Webcams are boring, settled tech. It’s what we do with them that matters. The Zoom age is the Post Digital age.

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7: What is Digital Service Design?

(Adam Tinworth, 2012)

2012 again. Another explainer, setting the agenda for the short run of NEXT Service Design conferences we did back in the early part of the decade. This is useful background reading for both understanding service design, but also informing the piece from Martin that sits at number 5 in our list.

But more on that shortly.

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6: What is digital humanism?

(Martin Recke, 2017)

Back to 2017 for this one. Martin reflected on the failure of the idea to take root. This is one of a number of older pieces in the top 10 that take on a whole new importance in the pandemic age. With so much of our human interaction mediated through digital technology — my eldest daughter attended a birthday party via Zoom yesterday — recentering the human in the technology is something we still haven’t completely got to grips with.

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5: Product Thinking: Why you should think in products

(Martin Recke, 2017)

Another example of evergreen insight from Mr Recke. This emerging discipline, sitting at the intersection of product management, design and engineering, would have been a fascinating prospect even in more conventional times. But in a year like this one, when results and outcomes really mattered?

Essential reading.

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4: Coronavirus: a globalisation inflection point?

(Adam Tinworth, 2020)

When we were planning out our research and writing for 2020, the intersection of globalisation and a global pandemic was not on our agenda. And yet, it’s ended up as one of the major themes of the year. In this piece from March, as lockdowns were rolling out around the world, I explored how the abrupt curtailing of physical globalisation was accelerating digital globalisation. This concept of two-speed globalisation has become ever more important as we face a locked-down beginning to 2021.

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3: A phrase you should know: ”ludic loop”

(Adam Tinworth, 2017)

Another one from the archives. Back in 2017, I wrote about ludic loops, a concept from gaming that’s been used to make social networks and other apps more addictive. Despite the pandemic, criticism and scrutiny of the social platforms has continued apace this year. If you’re not already familiar with this idea, well, now’s the time…

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2: Globalisation and the coronavirus crisis

(Martin Recke, 2020)

Given the year we’ve just had, it’s inevitable that there would be coronavirus-centric pieces near the top. And Martin’s piece from February — before the full scale of what was coming was really understood — is still a compelling read. And its central question — how will the pandemic affect the progress of globalisation — remains unanswered.

That’s one to explore in the coming years.

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1: After the smartphone? Ambient computing could be our next digital fix.

(Adam Tinworth, 2018)

Our highest traffic piece in 2020 was actually from… 2018. This is actually quite encouraging. Even in the midst of this difficult and, to use the cliché, unprecedented year, people are still looking forwards to what’s next. And that’s always what we’ve tried to help you do.

In this piece, I looked at how our computing life might start to migrate away from the phone. Some of this has certainly come true — my phone has been a lot less relevant to me through the stay-at-home days of 2020. Between my watch, my tablet and my HomePods, the phone has reverted to its traditional role of being my device for when I go out.

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And there were are. These are the posts you cared most about in 2020. See you next week for more insights into the future of business and society — some of which you might not care about until 2023 or even 2029!

However, our NEXT community understand one central truth, as these posts bear out: the businesses of the next decades are built on today’s insights. We aim to keep providing you with exactly those, both digitally and, when we can, in person again.

Check out the best performing posts from previous years:


Photo by Francesca Grima on Unsplash