Thinking in long time scales

I’ve been coming back to the concept of pace layering time and again, no pun intended. My daily design work is focused on revolutionizing shop management software. At Shopmonkey, I help reduce the cluttered desk of auto shops by way of a robust digital platform for managing work and communication between technicians, shop owners, and customers. As I build out solutions for an industry that relies on fossil fuels for the most part, this causes me to pause and think of how I will be designing software for the auto industry in the years to come.

All because of pace layers.

First introduced by Stewart Brand in the book, The Clock of Long Now, pace layers define the rate of change over time. It really helped me align my desire of change to an appropriate timeline for expected outcomes. For example, if I am looking to change the culture in my community, I realize that will take longer than applying a recent fashion trend to my wardrobe.

This chart reveals that, typically, nature changes over eons. Culture changes over millennia. Governance changes over centuries. Infrastructure changes over decades. Commerce changes over years. Fashion changes over days.

The order of civilization. The fast layers innovate; the slow layers stabilize. The whole combines learning with continuity.

The faster and smaller layers influence the slower and bigger layers through innovation or revolution. The slower and bigger layers maintain stability through constraint and constancy. Fast controls our attention while slow controls the power.

The purpose of layers is to absorb shock. All systems suffer from shock, and without the ability to absorb them, they can break. Fast layers can respond quickly to shock allowing the slower layers to maintain their steady cycle. For example, if a shock from Commerce bypassed the Governance and Culture layers to push Nature at a rapid pace, we would experience a loss in forests, fisheries, and aquifers. There is a healthy balance when the system works together.

The automotive industry

As a whole the automotive industry, including Shopmonkey, operates squarely in the Infrastructure layer. This means, when it comes to Shopmonkey’s objectives and goals, we should be thinking in terms of decades.

While we have seen yearly change in the automotive industry due to Fashion or Commerce, the underlaying infrastructure has remained relatively the same–vehicles are used to transport things and do so largely via fossil fuels. This, in turn, requires a repair and maintenance industry that knows how to work on combustion engines. But less than two decades into the future, I see a large shock coming our way.

There is a lot of talk about eliminating gas powered vehicles by 2035 or 2040. The Democrat party in the U.S. is looking to make this happen through governance. Car manufacturers are striving to change their infrastructure along these same lines with a goal of 2035. So in an industry that relies heavily on the current state of vehicles; combustion engines, fuel related issues, and the parts that support them, how do we prepare to absorb this shock?

Daily, I design to solve real problems that occur right now in shops around the U.S. I aim to improve their workflow and mediate the hurdles they encounter today. But within two decades this industry is going to change drastically. Gas powered vehicles are being weeded out. Sure there will be a remnant burning fuel for decades to come which will need maintenance, but we are seeing a whole new type of transportation that shifts away from how vehicles are repaired and tuned.

The shift of governance will cause the upper layers to spin faster for a time. Infrastructure is making moves to endure the shock. There is about a decade to strategize. Afterwards, we will need to define the tactics of how to meet the needs of shops and implement them. This is going to involve partnering with modernized 3rd party vendors, integrating with technology not yet developed, and supporting these shops as they transition to a new way of working.

Designing for the automotive industry

While Shopmonkey operates in the Infrastructure layer, many would suggest that design exists in the Fashion layer. Observing the rate of UI trends, I could understand this argument. But design is much deeper than terms like Retro Futurism, Neumorphism, and Maximalism. Design is about problem solving, and product design is about user-centered problem solving. At Shopmonkey we have a few product principles that keep us grounded.

  • Beautifully crafted 
  • Intuitive to use
  • Deeply integrated
  • Thoughtful innovation
  • Simplify

These principles not only help us create, but also prepare us to absorb shock. An application that is beautifully crafted will endure any pivot in the surface layer of Fashion. If it is intuitive to use, commerce and infrastructure will excel. A system that is deeply integrated should also be smartly integrated, partnering with other essential systems that will lead us into the future. With thoughtful innovation, an old culture can learn and grow to keep relevant in a changing industry. And finally, keeping this simplified will allow this industry to remain accessible by all and ease the transition.

I am excited to see what comes and confident that Shopmonkey will adapt, shift, and continue to support the people and shops that rely on us to help navigate a rapidly changing industry.