Fall means that software conference season is in full swing and that I’m on the road more than I’m off it. This week was an interesting one, as I found myself pinballing from one end of my coverage to the other.

On Monday I spent some time at IBM’s Agile Engineering Summit in D.C. Attendees there were about as deep into the embedded and IoT world as you get. They make everything from missiles, to cars, to machines that go “bing.” At top of mind for these makers are challenges in integrating the work of software and hardware teams, digital twins, over-the-air updates, and how to mesh physical things managed with PLM systems with digital assets managed in ALM systems. Scaling agility is a big concern, as is doing it in a way that satisfies their governance and compliance regimes.

A late-night Monday flight later, and I’m in L.A. at Adobe MAX, catching up on the world of creatives. New versions of Photoshop and advanced concepts such as Aero and Gemini and a heavy helping of what’s new with Adobe XD. I’ve been coming to MAX since the days of ColdFusion, Flash, and Flex — and over the years steadily watched the developer presence wane and enterprise content recede as more and more of Adobe’s enterprise focus shifted to marketers and the Experience Cloud. Last year I cut my MAX time down to a quick day-trip, as I figured there was little for me here from a developer perspective any more.

This year, I’m glad I came. Other than getting to spend some quality time with our own CX team, I’m leaving with the conviction that there are new connections forming between these two ends of my coverage. And while some of those connections may take a few years to fully form, they have the potential to be generational. Together, I see them tightly binding the future of makers and marketers. Here’s how:

  • Convergence of xR and IoT. Augmented reality and IoT both traverse the boundaries between physical and digital making. We already see many cases where XR technology is getting deployed in an industrial context, whether it’s assembling durable goods, troubleshooting those devices in operation, or designing the next generation of smart products. But today the data exchanged in XR environments and IoT integrations is nonstandard and nonlinked. For digital twins to become fully realized, this needs to change. Maybe USDZ is a good starting point to describe the visual characteristics of a digital twin and place it in a visual space, but there are many other aspects of physical objects that go far beyond its current capabilities — behavior, history, and state are all things that developers will want in the future world of extended reality.
  • A stronger connection between design and development makers. Many developers view design as a black box (or a black art). Maybe designers view system architecture the same way. But occasionally we rally around shared understanding. In my early days as a developer, it was the CUA guidelines — they helped us understand how to build useful GUI experiences in an efficient way. As the convergence I describe above occurs, we’re going to need a new design system that allows designers and developers to express how customers interact with an extended world of smart products, connected to AI algorithms, with multimodal inputs and output. I might use my voice to interact one second, then switch to eye-tracking when I get into a crowded elevator, then touch interaction when I sit on my sofa. I’ll expect my intent to be understood regardless of the input mode and the system to respond to real-world events or digital events. I just hope the design systems that emerge make it easy for developers to integrate with all the existing systems of record that companies store information in today.
  • Makers and marketers converge around products and experiences. Let’s be honest: For years in the development community, we tried to minimize the time we spent with customers instead of coding. Our job was “done on check-in” of our code. IT organizations, aligned by role, reinforced our separation from customers, and product managers buffered us from customer engagement and criticism. Even if we got lucky and built some great software, we didn’t know how to build awareness of it, price it, sell it, and build on it. The move toward cross-functional, colocated teams strikes at this separation of makers and marketers. Product-centric design is a good start, but rapid customer feedback via prototypes and interactive design takes things a step further. Adobe XD (and other tools) are useful in this context, and the result pushes teams beyond codified Agile practices that reduce the frequency of direct developer-customer engagement.

I usually try not to get too far over my skis when it comes to thinking about “what’s next,” as developers need to be pragmatic and tactical to deliver the “how” of an experience (especially when your front-end frameworks seem to change every six months). But occasionally it’s fun to think about how a generational shift might unfold, especially with connection points that come out of left field. I’ll be thinking more about the shared future of makers and marketers as I plan my future research projects.