The Fourth Industrial Revolution

Your constantly-updated definition of The Fourth Industrial Revolution and collection of videos and articles

What is The Fourth Industrial Revolution?

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), also known as Industry 4.0, is a new era of development in which digital, physical and biological systems converge, fundamentally transforming industries, economies and societies.  

The term Fourth Industrial Revolution was coined by Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF). He introduced this concept in his book, The Fourth Industrial Revolution, published in 2016. In it, he discusses how emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT) and robotics have begun to merge with the physical, digital and biological worlds and, thus, have revolutionized economies, industries and societies in the process.   

 In this video, discover how the 4IR is transforming the world: 


Show Hide video transcript
  1. Transcript loading…

The 4IR’s alternate name, Industry 4.0, is usually referred to in the context of the manufacturing and industrial sectors. This term highlights the revolution's focus on the integration of digital technologies into the heart of industry to create smart factories that embody the convergence of the physical and digital worlds. 

This revolution is distinguished by its unprecedented speed, scope and impact on human life—it offers immense opportunities for progress but also poses significant challenges, including ethical considerations and the potential for increased inequality. Klaus Schwab argues that this era is more than just a technological upgrade—it’s an opportunity to help everyone, including leaders, policymakers and people from all income groups and nations, to harness converging technologies in order to create an inclusive, human-centered future. The 4IR compels us to rethink how we create, exchange and distribute value, with particular emphasis on the need for global cooperation and inclusive policies to harness its potential for the betterment of humanity. 

The 4IR expands upon the breakthroughs of the Third Industrial Revolution, also known as the digital revolution, that occurred from the 1950s through the early 2000s. During this time, innovations like computers, diverse electronic devices, the Internet and numerous other technological advances emerged. 

Fourth Industrial Revolution: Integration of Design and Technology 

The 4IR is marked by the integration of technologies like AI, IoT, robotics and VR, which demands a holistic design approach that considers not only the form and function but also the interconnectedness and intelligence of products and systems. 

The Apple Vision Pro epitomizes the convergence of design, technology, AI and VR—it’s a significant release of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This device combines Apple's renowned design ethos with cutting-edge virtual reality capabilities to offer users immersive experiences that blur the line between the digital and physical worlds. The Vision Pro is powered by sophisticated AI to deliver personalized, intuitive interactions—it’s expected to set a new standard for how technology interfaces with human behavior.  

Watch Apple’s first announcement video for the Vision Pro: 

 As technology becomes more embedded in everyday life, design in the 4IR emphasizes user-centric solutions and personalized experiences, enabled by data analytics and machine learning. There's also a growing focus on sustainable and circular design principles driven by global challenges like climate change and resource scarcity. 

The complexity of 4IR technologies requires designers to work collaboratively across disciplines, integrating insights from engineering, biology, computer science and psychology. This interdisciplinary approach is crucial for innovation and for addressing the ethical, social and environmental implications of new technologies. 

The 4IR encourages designers to engage in speculative and critical design practices, exploring future scenarios and the societal impact of emerging technologies. This approach helps to envision potential futures and guide the development of technology in a responsible and human-centered direction. 

What Are the Key Technologies of the 4IR 

An illustration that shows the key technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning 

AI involves machines and programs capable of performing tasks that typically require human intelligence. Machine learning, a subset of AI, enables computers to learn from data and improve over time. These technologies are revolutionizing sectors by enhancing decision-making, automating tasks and creating new services and products. 

In this video, AI Product Designer Ioana Teleanu discusses AI’s impact on the world:  

Show Hide video transcript
  1. Transcript loading…

 Learn more about machine learning in this video: 

Show Hide video transcript
  1. Transcript loading…

Internet of Things (IoT) 

IoT refers to the network of physical objects embedded with sensors, software and other technologies for the purpose of connecting and exchanging data with other devices and systems over the internet. This interconnectivity enables more efficient processes and improved data analytics, which impacts everything from home automation to industrial manufacturing.  

Smart lighting product, Philips Hue, uses IoT technology to offer a wide range of smart bulbs, lamps, and light fixtures that can be controlled via the Philips Hue app or through integration with other smart home systems. These lights can change color, brightness, and even sync with media content for an immersive experience. See how Philips uses IoT in their product expansion, Philips Hue Secure, in this video:   


Robotics technology involves the design, construction, operation and use of robots for various tasks. With advancements in AI and machine learning, robots are becoming increasingly sophisticated, capable of performing complex tasks autonomously or augmenting human capabilities in industries like manufacturing, healthcare and services. 

 In this video, Robotic company Boston Dynamics demonstrates how their robot Atlas can aid in construction:


Blockchain is a decentralized ledger of all transactions across a network, which enables secure, transparent and tamper-proof record-keeping. While it underpins cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, its applications extend to secure transactions, smart contracts and supply chain management. 

Organizations like IBM's Food Trust network uses blockchain to trace the production, processing, and distribution of food products to enhance safety and reduce waste.   

Quantum Computing 

Quantum computing represents a significant leap forward in computing power—it uses principles of quantum mechanics to process information at speeds unattainable by traditional computers. This technology has the potential to revolutionize fields such as cryptography, drug discovery and complex system simulation. 

Google's quantum AI lab is researching how quantum computing could accelerate machine learning tasks by processing complex data more efficiently than classical computers. Learn more in this video:    

3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing 

3D printing builds objects layer by layer from digital models. This offers unprecedented flexibility in manufacturing. It enables rapid prototyping, custom manufacturing and complex designs not possible with traditional methods which impacts industries from healthcare (with prosthetics and organ printing) to aerospace and automotive. 

 In this video by Mayo Clinic, 3D printing is used to create more hygienic and effective casts and splints for a patient with fractures and other injuries:  

Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering 

Advances in biotechnology and genetic engineering have enabled us to manipulate living organisms or their components to develop or make products, which improves healthcare, agriculture and environmental sustainability. Techniques like CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing have opened new possibilities for disease treatment and precision medicine. 

Learn more about gene editing in this video by TED-Ed:


Nanotechnology manipulates matter at the atomic and molecular scale and promises significant advancements in materials science, medicine and electronics. Its applications range from more effective drug delivery systems to water treatment processes that remove contaminants at a molecular level. 

 In this video by Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology, learn how nanotechnology can be used to fight cancer:  

 Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) 

AR and VR technologies are changing the way we interact with digital environments. AR overlays digital information onto the physical world, while VR creates immersive digital environments. These technologies have applications in education, training, entertainment and beyond. 

 Learn more about VR, its history and its future in this video: 


Show Hide video transcript
  1. Transcript loading…

Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) 

CPS are integrations of computation, networking and physical processes. Embedded computers and networks monitor and control the physical processes, with feedback loops where physical processes affect computations and vice versa. This integration is foundational for smart grids, autonomous vehicle systems and smart factories. 

 In this video watch how a Tesla vehicle drives itself:   


These technologies are not only transformative in their own right, but are also interrelated. They often converge to create innovative solutions and opportunities across a variety of sectors and different levels of society and the economy. The potential of the 4IR lies in how these technologies are harnessed to drive forward human progress, address global challenges and reshape the world for the better. 

The Impact of the 4IR: Case Studies 

Environmental Protection: IoT for Monitoring and Conservation 

Rainforest Connection transforms recycled smartphones into solar-powered acoustic devices that monitor rainforest sounds. AI algorithms analyze these sounds to detect illegal logging and poaching in real time, enabling rapid response to protect wildlife and forests. This case study highlights how 4IR technologies can be creatively applied to combat environmental destruction and biodiversity loss. 

 Learn more about Rainforest Connection’s work in this video:  

Agro 4.0: More Efficient Farming 

The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (C4IR) introduced technology to small and medium farms in Colombia. The technology includes soil, water and climate sensors, as well as AI, cloud computing and drones. The project managed to reduce the farmer's costs by 30% and increase their yields by 20%.  

 Watch the C4IR video to learn more   

Healthcare: AI-Driven Diagnostics and Personalized Medicine 

Google's DeepMind developed an artificial intelligence system that can accurately detect over 50 types of eye diseases from 3D scans. Scientists from Google's DeepMind division, University College London (UCL) and Moorfields Eye Hospital developed software through deep learning techniques that can detect numerous prevalent eye conditions from 3D scans and subsequently recommend treatment options for the patient. This technology enables early diagnosis and treatment to potentially prevent vision loss in millions of people worldwide. Not only does it improve diagnostic accuracy and patient outcomes, but it can also reduce healthcare costs.  

An animated gif showing a 3D scan part of the Google DeepMind project.

© UCL, Moorfields, DeepMind, et al, Fair Use

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

What are the Impacts of the 4IR? 

The 4IR is not just a technological revolution; it's a catalyst for comprehensive change—how we live, work and relate to one another. Here are some of the major impacts and implications of the 4IR: 

Economic Transformation 

  • Productivity and efficiency: The integration of technologies like AI, robotics and IoT significantly boosts productivity and operational efficiencies across industries. In most cases, this leads to reduced costs, improved production rates and enhanced product quality. 

  • New business models and markets: The 4IR has enabled new, innovative business models (e.g., platform-based economies like Airbnb and sharing economies like Uber) and the creation of markets that didn't exist before, particularly in the digital and service sectors. 

  • Job displacement and creation: While automation and AI have displaced many traditional jobs, particularly in manufacturing and routine white-collar tasks, they also create new jobs that require advanced digital skills and competencies in technology development, data analysis and cybersecurity. 

Societal Changes 

  • Education and skill development: There's a growing need for education systems to adapt and an emphasis on STEM education, critical thinking, creativity and lifelong learning to prepare individuals for the jobs of the future. 

  • Inequality and digital divide: The benefits of the 4IR risk being unevenly distributed, which could exacerbate income inequality and widen the digital divide between those with access to new technologies and skills and those without. 

  • Enhanced connectivity and communication: The global proliferation of the internet and mobile devices has led to unprecedented levels of connectivity to enable new forms of social interaction, collaboration and information exchange. 

Technological Advancements 

  • Accelerated innovation: The rapid pace of technological advancement in fields like biotechnology, nanotechnology and quantum computing has already begun to revolutionize healthcare, energy and other industries.  

  • Cybersecurity challenges: As more devices and systems are connected, vulnerabilities to cyber-attacks increase. Data privacy and system security are increasingly critical challenges. 

Environmental Considerations 

  • Sustainable development: Technologies emerging from the 4IR offer promising solutions to environmental challenges, including more efficient resource use, renewable energy technologies and smarter, more sustainable cities. 

  • Climate change mitigation: Advances in technology are crucial for monitoring environmental changes, improving energy efficiency and developing new methods for carbon capture and storage to combat climate change. 

Ethical and Governance Issues 

Ethical considerations: The development and application of technologies like AI and genetic engineering raise profound ethical questions about privacy, consent and the nature of human identity. 

Regulation and governance: There is an increasing need for effective governance frameworks to ensure that the development and deployment of new technologies are aligned with societal values and ethical principles. Policymakers are challenged to keep pace with technological innovation while safeguarding public interests. 

The History of the World’s Industrial Revolutions 

The 4IR is built upon the foundation laid by the three previous industrial revolutions, each marked by a significant leap in technological capabilities that transformed societies and economies. It's important to understand these precursors as they provide essential context to grasp the scale and scope of the changes the 4IR represents. 

An illustration showing all the industrial revolutions and their key technologies

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

First Industrial Revolution: Late 18th to Early 19th Century 

The first Industrial Revolution’s start and end date are widely debated, but the general consensus is that it spanned from about 1760 to 1840. It was characterized by the transition from hand production methods to machines through the use of steam power and water power. The textile industry was among the first to be transformed, with the invention of the spinning jenny and the power loom. This era saw the rise of mechanized factories, which significantly increased production capabilities and led to urbanization as people moved to cities for work. 

An old photography during the period of the 4th industrial revolution that shows a factory.

A factory from the First Industrial Revolution. The machinery harnessed steam and water power.

© National Geographic, CC BY-SA 4.0

Second Industrial Revolution: Late 19th to Early 20th Century 

This period is roughly dated between 1870 and the beginning of World War I in 1914. The Second Industrial Revolution was marked by the introduction of electricity—this transformation led to more advanced manufacturing and production technologies. The development of the assembly line, notably used by Henry Ford in the mass production of automobiles, drastically increased efficiency and made goods more accessible to the masses. This period also saw significant advancements in chemical, electrical and steel production. 

An old photograph showing a Ford Model T assembly line.

The Ford Model T assembly line circa 1913-1914. Henry Ford was one of the first to use an assembly line for mass production. When a Model T left the assembly line at Ford's Highland Park plant to be shipped by rail, it was not fully assembled. In this photograph, workers temporarily place bodies onto a chassis. At the loading dock, bodies and wheels would be removed and packed separately to conserve freight car space. Full assembly took place at branch plants closer to the vehicles' final destination.

© The Henry Ford, CC BY-SA 4.0

Third Industrial Revolution: Mid-Late 20th Century  

Also known as the Digital Revolution, this era started around the 1950s-1970s. It’s defined by the move from analog electronic and mechanical devices to digital technologies. The invention of the personal computer, the internet and information and communications technology (ICT) transformed the way people live, work and communicate. It laid the groundwork for the globalized, interconnected world of today. The Third Industrial Revolution transitioned into the Fourth Industrial Revolution around the early 21st century, so there is no definitive end date for this period.  

A photograph of Steve Jobs with the Apple II circa 1977.

Steve Jobs with the Apple II. It was released in 1977 and is an example of an early personal computer.

© Alamy, CC BY-SA 4.0

Fourth Industrial Revolution: 21st Century 

The 4IR builds on the digital revolution and is marked by a fusion of technologies that blur the lines between the physical, digital and biological. It’s characterized by breakthroughs in a range of areas including AI, robotics, the Internet of Things, genetic engineering, quantum computing and others. Unlike previous revolutions, the 4IR evolves at an exponential rate, transforming almost every industry and many aspects of human life. 

Each industrial revolution brought about drastic changes in economic structures, social systems and the global order. While the first three revolutions introduced and then expanded upon mechanization, electrification and digitization, respectively, the 4IR stands out for its potential to integrate cyber-physical systems and impact all disciplines, economies and industries on a global scale.  

How the Industrial Revolutions Have Impacted Design 

The industrial revolutions have profoundly influenced design. The technological, social and economic shifts of each era have shaped how, what and why humans design. Here's how each industrial revolution has impacted design: 

First Industrial Revolution 

Mass Production: The advent of steam-powered machinery enabled the mass production of goods, leading to product standardization. Design during this period focused on functionality and manufacturability, often at the expense of aesthetics and individuality. 

This British printed cotton textile is an example of the 1820 is an example of Regency design.

Second Industrial Revolution 

Industrial design: The introduction of assembly line manufacturing and advancements in materials and processes, such as steel production and electrical engineering, birthed the discipline of industrial design. Designers began to focus on the user experience, ergonomics and aesthetic appeal of products and thus recognized the value of design in marketing and brand differentiation. 

A Singer sewing machine circa 1880.

© Singer, Fair Use

The Singer sewing machine is a pivotal and recognizable invention from the 19th Century. Isaac Merritt Singer, an American inventor, patented the first practical sewing machine in 1851. Their machines were a combination of practical functionality with elaborate Victorian aesthetics. Its design not only made sewing more efficient and less labor-intensive but also turned the sewing machine into a desirable household item. In 1889, they released the first electric sewing machine. The Singer Company's innovations in mass production and global marketing strategies are classic examples of Second Industrial Revolution practices.  

An advertisement for the Singer 99k-13, the first electric sewing machine released in 1889.

© Singer, Fair Use

Third Industrial Revolution 

Digital design: The Digital Revolution introduced computers and digital technology which revolutionized the way designers work. Computer-Aided Design (CAD) and other digital tools enabled more complex and precise designs to foster innovation in product development, architecture and graphic design. The rise of the internet also opened new avenues for digital and web design and emphasized user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) design. 

Milton Glaser's "I Love NY" logo was designed in 1977 for a New York State advertising campaign—it’s one of the most iconic works in graphic design. With its simple yet impactful composition, the American Typewriter font paired with a heart symbol replacing the word "love", Glaser's design captured the essence of New York City's resilience and appeal during a time of economic hardship and social unrest. This logo revitalized New York's image and showcased the power of graphic design in shaping public perception and fostering a sense of community and pride. Although the Digital Revolution was in its nascent stage, the impact of evolving technologies on design practices was becoming increasingly apparent.

© Milton Glaser, Fair Use

Learn More About the Fourth Industrial Revolution 

Read Klaus Schwab’s book The Fourth Industrial Revolution

Visit the World Economic Forum’s Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.  

Read McKinsey and Company’s piece, What are Industry 4.0, the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and 4IR? 

Read about the World Economic Forum’s various 4IR projects

Check out National Geographic’s collection on the Industrial Revolution.  ​​​​

Questions about The Fourth Industrial Revolution

How are emerging technologies like AI and IoT changing the design industry?

Emerging technologies such as AI and IoT are fundamentally transforming the design industry through the introduction of new capabilities for automation, personalization and connectivity. AI is being leveraged to automate routine design tasks, generate innovative design options and provide data-driven insights that can enhance efficiency and creativity. For example, Autodesk's Dreamcatcher is an AI-based generative design system that enables designers to input design goals along with parameters such as materials, manufacturing methods and cost constraints. The system then explores all the possible permutations of a solution and quickly generates design alternatives. IoT, on the other hand, integrates physical objects with sensors and software to allow designers to create interconnected products that can communicate with each other and with users in real-time. A notable example is the Philips Hue lighting system, which allows users to control light settings from their mobile devices, creating personalized environments.  

 Learn more about how AI is changing design and the world in this video with AI Product Designer, Ioana Teleanu:  

Show Hide video transcript
  1. Transcript loading…

What skills are essential for designers to thrive in the 4IR?

In the 4IR, essential skills for designers extend beyond traditional design competencies to include digital literacy, an understanding of emerging technologies and the ability to work with data. Proficiency in tools and platforms that leverage AI, IoT, VR/AR and 3D printing has become increasingly important. For instance, designers must be adept at using AI for user experience personalization and predictive analytics, as seen in platforms like Adobe Sensei, which helps automate and enhance creative tasks. Additionally, critical thinking, creativity and problem-solving remain foundational and enable designers to devise innovative solutions to complex problems. Collaboration skills are also vital, as the multidisciplinary nature of 4IR projects often requires working closely with engineers, data scientists and other specialists. The ability to continuously learn and adapt is crucial, given the rapid pace of technological change.  

 Learn more about essential skills for the 4IR in our courses AI for Designers, UX Design for Virtual Reality and UX Design for Augmented Reality.

How does 4IR affect UX and UI design practices? 

The 4IR has significantly impacted UX and UI design practices by pushing the boundaries of customization, interactivity and user engagement. With the integration of technologies such as AI, IoT, VR and AR, designers are now able to create more personalized and immersive experiences. AI and machine learning offer the ability to analyze user data in real-time which enables the creation of interfaces that adapt to user behaviors and preferences. For example, Spotify uses machine learning to tailor music recommendations to individual tastes to enhance the user experience through personalization. 

 In addition, VR and AR technologies are redefining user interactions with digital products by offering immersive experiences that were previously not possible. AR apps like IKEA Place allow users to visualize furniture in their homes before making a purchase, merging digital and physical realities to improve decision-making and satisfaction. These advancements demand that UX/UI designers not only focus on traditional design principles but also on understanding and leveraging these emerging technologies to create seamless, intuitive and engaging user experiences. The emphasis on user-centered design has never been more critical as designers strive to ensure that technological advancements enhance rather than complicate the user experience. 

 Learn more about UX and UI Design for AR, VR and XR in our courses UX Design for Virtual Reality and UX Design for Augmented Reality, as well as our Master Classes How To Craft Immersive Experiences in XR and How to Innovate with XR.

In what ways are virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) transforming product design?

Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR/AR) are transforming product design by enabling designers to create immersive and interactive prototypes which enhances the design process, user testing and user engagement. This capability is invaluable for industries such as automotive and architecture, where designers and engineers can virtually walk through a building or experience a car's interior before any physical prototype is built. For example, Ford uses VR to simulate car designs to allow for rapid iteration and testing of ergonomic and aesthetic features without the need for physical models. 

AR, on the other hand, overlays digital information onto the real world to enhance a user's perception of reality. This technology is particularly transformative in retail and interior design, as seen in. IKEA's AR app, IKEA Place. 

VR and AR technologies offer powerful tools for designers to not only improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the design process but also to create products and experiences that are more aligned with user needs and expectations. These technologies facilitate a more iterative design process, where feedback can be gathered and implemented quickly and lead to higher-quality and more user-friendly products. 

Learn more about UX Design for VR and AR in our courses UX Design for Virtual Reality and UX Design for Augmented Reality.

What are the most influential books on the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF) coined the term term the Fourth Industrial Revolution. He introduced this concept in his 2016 book of the same name. It remains the most influential book on the topic.   

Schwab, K. (2016). The Fourth Industrial Revolution. Portfolio. 

What role does data analytics play in design during the 4IR?

In the 4IR, data analytics plays a crucial role in design—it empowers designers with insights that drive more informed, user-centric decisions. Through the analysis of large datasets, designers can uncover patterns, trends and user behaviors that inform every stage of the design process, from conceptualization to final product development. This data-driven approach enables the creation of products and services that truly meet user needs and preferences. 

For example, in UX/UI design, data analytics can optimize user interfaces based on actual user interaction data and lead to more intuitive and effective designs. Companies like Netflix use data analytics to tailor content and recommendations to individual users, which enhances user experience. In product design, data analytics can inform feature development, usability improvements and even predict future trends, to ensure products remain relevant and competitive.  

Additionally, in the context of sustainable design, data analytics can identify areas where resources can be optimized or reduced, contributing to more environmentally friendly design solutions. Overall, data analytics bridges the gap between user expectations and design outcomes, making it an indispensable tool in the 4IR design toolkit. 

Learn more about data-driven design in our course Data-Driven Design: Quantitative Research for UX

How can designers leverage machine learning and AI in their work?

Designers can leverage machine learning (ML) and AI in their work to enhance creativity, efficiency and user experience. One primary way is through the automation of routine tasks such as data analysis, which allows designers to focus more on the creative aspects of their projects. For example, Adobe Sensei, Adobe's AI and ML technology, automates complex processes like image editing and pattern recognition, to speed up the design workflow. 

Additionally, ML and AI can generate design alternatives and suggest improvements by learning from vast datasets of design elements and user interactions. This capability supports designers in exploring a wider range of options and making informed decisions based on predicted user preferences and behaviors. 

AI can also personalize user experiences in real-time by adapting interfaces, content and recommendations to individual user needs. Streaming services like Netflix and Spotify use AI to analyze viewing or listening habits, respectively, to deliver highly personalized content recommendations, to improve user satisfaction. 

Additionally, designers can use AI for more accurate user testing and feedback gathering. Tools powered by AI can simulate how users interact with designs to provide valuable insights without the need for extensive user testing sessions. 

Learn more about AI and ML, especially in the context of design, in our course AI for Designers

Watch the trailer here:  

Show Hide video transcript
  1. Transcript loading…

What are the ethical considerations for designers in the 4IR? 

In the Fourth Industrial Revolution, designers face several ethical considerations that stem from the increased use of emerging technologies like AI, IoT and big data analytics. Key ethical considerations include: 

  • Privacy and data protection: With the extensive collection and analysis of user data, designers must ensure they respect user privacy and comply with data protection laws. This involves designing systems that are secure by default and transparent about how user data is collected, used and stored. 

  • Bias and fairness: AI and machine learning algorithms can inadvertently perpetuate biases present in their training data, leading to unfair or discriminatory outcomes. Designers must strive to use diverse datasets and regularly audit algorithms to minimize bias. 

  • Accessibility and inclusiveness: The 4IR offers opportunities to make designs more accessible to a wider audience, including people with disabilities. Designers have a responsibility to ensure their products and services are inclusive, providing equal access and opportunities for everyone. 

  • Sustainability: With the growing concern over environmental issues, designers must consider the ecological impact of their designs. This includes choosing sustainable materials, designing for energy efficiency and considering the entire lifecycle of products to minimize waste. 

  • Accountability and transparency: As AI systems become more autonomous, designers must ensure that these systems are transparent in their decision-making processes and that there are mechanisms in place for accountability, especially in critical applications like healthcare or autonomous vehicles. 

  • User autonomy and manipulation: Designers need to be mindful of not creating manipulative designs that exploit user psychology for profit, such as dark patterns that trick users into making decisions against their interests. 

An example of ethical design in practice is the development of AI in healthcare, where designers and developers are working to ensure systems are transparent, explainable and free from bias to recognize the critical impact these systems have on patient care and outcomes. Ethical considerations in the 4IR are complex and evolving, requiring designers to stay informed and engaged with the latest developments in technology ethics. 

Learn more about the ethics and transparency in AI in the article AI Challenges and How You Can Overcome Them: How to Design for Trust.  

How is the role of human-centered design evolving with 4IR technologies?

The role of human-centered design (HCD) is evolving significantly with the advent of the 4IR technologies, such as AI, IoT, VR/AR and big data analytics. HCD's core principle is to design with a deep focus on the needs, wants and limitations of end-users. That remains intact, but the scope and impact of this approach have expanded dramatically. 

In the 4IR, HCD is not just about products and services that are easy and intuitive to use; it's increasingly about how designers can leverage technology to make life better, work more productive and societies more inclusive. For example, AI and machine learning are being used to create more personalized experiences in everything from healthcare apps that provide tailored health advice, to educational platforms that adapt to the learning pace of individual students. 

In addition, HCD in the 4IR means designing for ethics and sustainability—to consider not just the immediate impact of a design on users, but also its long-term effects on society and the environment. This includes using IoT to create smart cities that enhance the quality of life, employing VR to train medical professionals without the need for physical resources and applying big data analytics to tackle complex social issues like poverty and climate change.  

Learn more about HCD in our Master Class Human-Centered Design for AI and our article Human-Centered Design: How to Focus on People When You Solve Complex Global Challenges

What is the impact of 4IR on sustainable and inclusive design?  

The Fourth Industrial Revolution has had a profound impact on sustainable and inclusive design—it’s offered new opportunities and challenges to create solutions that are environmentally friendly and accessible to all. The integration of technologies such as AI, IoT, VR/AR and big data analytics into the design process enables more informed decision-making, which leads to designs that can better address environmental concerns and social inequalities. 

In terms of sustainability, 4IR technologies allow for the optimization of resources and energy efficiency in product design and manufacturing processes. For example, AI can be used to analyze and predict patterns in energy consumption, which leads to the development of smarter, more energy-efficient buildings. Similarly, 3D printing technology enables the production of components with minimal waste and the use of sustainable materials further reduces the environmental footprint of manufactured goods. 

From an inclusivity perspective, 4IR technologies are breaking down barriers for people with disabilities and those in marginalized communities. For instance, AI-powered assistive devices can improve the quality of life for people with visual or auditory impairments, while AR and VR technologies offer new ways to experience content and services for those who may be physically unable to access them in traditional ways. 

Moreover, big data analytics play a crucial role in identifying and addressing gaps in accessibility and inclusivity and enable designers to create products and services that cater to a wider range of needs and preferences. This data-driven approach ensures that design decisions are based on real-world insights for more effective and impactful solutions. 

Learn more about sustainable design in our piece What is Sustainable Design? Take our course Design for Better World with Don Norman for an in-depth learning experience. 

Literature on The Fourth Industrial Revolution

Here’s the entire UX literature on The Fourth Industrial Revolution by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Learn more about The Fourth Industrial Revolution

Take a deep dive into The Fourth Industrial Revolution with our course Design for a Better World with Don Norman .

“Because everyone designs, we are all designers, so it is up to all of us to change the world. However, those of us who are professional designers have an even greater responsibility, for professional designers have the training and the knowledge to have a major impact on the lives of people and therefore on the earth.”

— Don Norman, Design for a Better World

Our world is full of complex socio-technical problems:

  • Unsustainable and wasteful practices that cause extreme climate changes such as floods and droughts.

  • Wars that worsen hunger and poverty.

  • Pandemics that disrupt entire economies and cripple healthcare.

  • Widespread misinformation that undermines education.

All these problems are massive and interconnected. They seem daunting, but as you'll see in this course, we can overcome them.

Design for a Better World with Don Norman is taught by cognitive psychologist and computer scientist Don Norman. Widely regarded as the father (and even the grandfather) of user experience, he is the former VP of the Advanced Technology Group at Apple and co-founder of the Nielsen Norman Group.

Don Norman has constantly advocated the role of design. His book “The Design of Everyday Things” is a masterful introduction to the importance of design in everyday objects. Over the years, his conviction in the larger role of design and designers to solve complex socio-technical problems has only increased.

This course is based on his latest book “Design for a Better World,” released in March 2023. Don Norman urges designers to think about the whole of humanity, not just individual people or small groups.

In lesson 1, you'll learn about the importance of meaningful measurements. Everything around us is artificial, and so are the metrics we use. Don Norman challenges traditional numerical metrics since they do not capture the complexity of human life and the environment. He advocates for alternative measurements alongside traditional ones to truly understand the complete picture.

In lesson 2, you'll learn about and explore multiple examples of sustainability and circular design in practice. In lesson 3, you'll dive into humanity-centered design and learn how to apply incremental modular design to large and complex socio-technical problems.

In lesson 4, you'll discover how designers can facilitate behavior-change, which is crucial to address the world's most significant issues. Finally, in the last lesson, you'll learn how designers can contribute to designing a better world on a practical level and the role of artificial intelligence in the future of design.

Throughout the course, you'll get practical tips to apply in real-life projects. In the "Build Your Case Study" project, you'll step into the field and seek examples of organizations and people who already practice the philosophy and methods you’ll learn in this course.

You'll get step-by-step guidelines to help you identify which organizations and projects genuinely change the world and which are superficial. Most importantly, you'll understand what gaps currently exist and will be able to recommend better ways to implement projects. You will build on your case study in each lesson, so once you have completed the course, you will have an in-depth piece for your portfolio.

All open-source articles on The Fourth Industrial Revolution

Please check the value and try again.

Open Access—Link to us!

We believe in Open Access and the democratization of knowledge. Unfortunately, world-class educational materials such as this page are normally hidden behind paywalls or in expensive textbooks.

If you want this to change, , link to us, or join us to help us democratize design knowledge!