When it comes to driving business in the digital economy, few (if any) organizations are able to succeed without a keen eye towards user experience (UX).
Which is why it’s quite a bit of shock to realize that, just a decade ago, the UX space barely existed.
In fact, if you were to conduct a Google search for “user experience” between Jan.1, 2000 and Dec. 31 of 2006, most references to UX are either academic in nature, or far ahead of their time.
Of course, that all changed in 2007 with the launch of the iPhone, marking the true dawn of a digital age that would come to be heavily shaped and dominated by UX professionals.
Why bring this all up? It’s quite simple: understanding what’s coming down the pike in the ever-evolving UX space has been, and will always be, a very difficult task driven by rapid advancements in technology.
So while it may be unrealistic to predict where we’ll be in 9 months, we can build an understanding of which top trends should lead the way in 2017 by speaking to those who are immersed in the space. Onward Search sat down with some industry thought leaders, as well as some of our very own in-house experts, to identify the top UX trends for 2017.
Applying Mobile Best Practices to Desktop
This is an interesting trend that’s popped up recently. It seemed that, as mobile overtook desktop as the number one way to browse the web, more onus would be put on optimizing the mobile experience. However, quite the opposite has happened, as the focus now lies on taking the best of mobile and applying it to desktop design.
“[This is] where the world of design is shifting to make digital solutions more enjoyable and understandable for the people using them,” said Nicole Maynard, head of UX at Hyatt. “Mobile design elements and best practices will be continuing to make their way into desktop design, partially influenced by responsive web design, but also because designers are coming up with solutions for mobile that are more streamlined.”
As Maynard alludes to, we’ve already seen this trend begin to take shape. First was Google’s announcement that their Chromebook laptops would soon be seeing support for Android apps. Wired Magazine quickly followed that up with an expose on all the ways Chromebooks would revolutionize laptop design–adding accelerometers, touch screens and even fingerprint scanners as essentials of any good device. It seems that Apple took note, as they introduced their very own touchbar to their latest iteration of the Macbook.
All of this, according to Maynard, amounts to one thing, “a greater focus on simplicity and not necessarily the uniqueness of the design solution, but the value of the interaction with the content.”
Increased Focus on Ethics and Morality
The work of UX professionals today touches more lives than ever before. As such, a trend we’ve seen developing is a new awareness for how UX design not only influences user behavior but their lives as well–and as an extension, society as a whole.
“We’re starting to see more in the way of morality and ethics in design. Can design do harm to users? Do designers have an obligation to social responsibility,” asks Alicia C. Raciti, a UX research and design freelancer who frequently works with top brands. “In 2016, we saw Sara Wachter-Boettcher and Eric Meyer release their book Design for Real Life, which touches on this topic. The conversation around responsible design will continue to gain momentum as we start to see how design decisions are negatively impacting our users and society.”
It might seem a little strange for those outside of UX to understand how a UXer’s designs could really impact our behavior or well-being. But reporters at Vice were able to quickly put this in perspective in a recent video on virtual reality–the next frontier in UX.
In their report “Stepping into the Screen,” Vice notes that our brains are great at a lot of things, but the one thing it’s best at is getting confused. UX design heavily plays on the brain’s subconscious–it’s how leads are converted into customers and sales are made.
As Raciti puts it, the challenge for UX professionals becomes “the need to fully consider the immediate effects of our decisions on the users and the future impact on society.”
“… we will continue to find ourselves in the middle of, and possibly conflicted with, what our businesses want to accomplish and what is truly best for, not just our users, but society as a whole. To keep the user at the focus of user experience design, the conversation of who is our user and what is our responsibility to them will continue to grow throughout 2017.”
“The ‘UX team of one’ is a disastrous concept… Companies need to promote ‘the UX team of EVERYONE’ because everyone contributes to UX, whether they are aware of this or not.”
– Eric Reiss, CEO The FatDUX Group
Keeping Pace with the Diversification of Devices
Remember when web and mobile were the only two types of devices UX professionals needed to worry about designing for? Those were the good ‘ol days.
Today, however, that’s all changed. According to Laura Klein, Principal at Users Know, the number of devices that UX professionals can be tasked with working on has exploded over recent years.
“As designers, we’re going to have to get better at designing across many different platforms. It’s no longer just web and mobile,” Klein reiterates. “Now it’s web, mobile, wearables, IoT, cars, VR, and a dozen others I’m probably forgetting… not to mention, the services that are also a part of many product interactions.”
The largest challenge in this ever-diversifying world of gadgets, according to Klein, doesn’t lie in making an app experience valuable whether you’re accessing it from an iPhone or an Apple Watch.
“Obviously not all products need a smartwatch app or a live chat interface, but when humans interact with our products through multiple channels, we need to design them all to work together seamlessly, so that our users feel like it’s all one experience,” She said.
This means it’s no longer enough for UX professionals to think about how users are interacting with their digital products on each device, they’ll have to consider how they’re using them across multiple devices at once. It’s a trend that Maynard echoed in her comments on mobile best practices moving to desktop.
Maynard notes that, as far as multiple devices are concerned, one trend to keep in mind for UX designers is “a stronger integration between mobile, social and e-commerce, especially with the use of Messenger and bots.”
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Creating a UX Team of Everyone
As more and more businesses look to UX professionals to answer some pressing needs, a common misconception has permeated organizations that’s not only hurting UX professionals but hurting their work as well.
It’s time to break the myth of the “UX team of one,” a term coined by Leah Buley in her book by the same name.
In it, Buley describes this term as such, “A UX team of one is someone who works in a situation where they are the key person driving a user-centered design philosophy.”
However, while her work was meant to help the “UX team of one” do more with less, it instead gave organizations the idea that they only need one UX professional to handle all of their user-centric work.
“The ‘UX team of one’ is a disastrous concept,” said CEO of The FatDUX Group Eric Reiss. “Companies need to promote ‘the UX team of EVERYONE’ because everyone contributes to UX, whether they are aware of this or not.”
This has been a common pain point for UX professionals for years now. Those who don’t understand UX often think it amounts to little more than buttons on a screen. But UX design is, and has always been, much more.
Although UX has always existed – since the dawn of time – and will continue to exist, I fear that the term is being taken advantage of and may be replaced by a sexier buzzword. This would be very, very sad. The concept of UX is vitally important – and is often the only thing that differentiates products and services in a “me too” world.
And you can see Reiss’s thoughts echoed throughout the web. As UX Movement contributor Joe Natoli wrote just last year, when it comes to UX design, “it’s not about what you do, but how you think.”
So UX is misunderstood–that’s been well established–but where do we go from here? Insights from Alissa Briggs, Head of Design at PlanGrid, point us in one direction.
“Expect to see an even greater convergence between design and other aspects of the business, from strategy to sales,” she said.
In 2017, then, we can expect to see UX professionals taking on a more cross-functional role within their organizations–with leading businesses building larger UX teams and creating organizational buy-in.
Solving Systemic Complexity
“Keep it simple.” It’s a good idea, but, in at least one sense, has been poorly executed and may now stifle UX.
“For years we’ve had a myopic view of “simple” design – applying it to individual apps and devices,” said Jeff Chausse, Principal UX Designer at Forrester. “But this has only moved complexity elsewhere, burdening users with the challenge of managing hundreds of apps and dozens of devices, and with a constant stream of disruptive notifications.”
Chausse is right. According to independent research by Global Web Index, the average consumer owns 3.64 digital devices–this includes everything from wearables and smartphones to tablets and laptops.
And that number only covers the devices we own. When you add in work devices and those which fall under the Internet of Things, that “stream of notifications” Chausse is talking about quickly becomes a waterfall.
In part, Chausse says, this problem can be solved by AI-driven chat bots like Google Assistant, Siri, Cortana or Alexa (ironically, each comes with its own device).
“But, we must focus on ways to modularize our services,” he says, “moving core functionality away from dedicated apps, and into tools people already use.”
Social media, for example, has served as a means of aggregating news from multiple organizations into one endless stream. And, according to Chausse, we’re seeing it in many other places as well.
“Major platform providers are beginning to enable this transition with extension interfaces in popular apps like Apple Maps,” he said. “As users migrate to services which ‘run in the background’ and minimize interruptions, interface design will become more focused on intuitive setup and configuration interfaces, with intermediary services like IFTTT and Thington becoming trusted partners to users.”
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Embracing T-Shape Design
As you can see, there’s a lot going on in UX today, and even more to look forward to. Which further reinforces the idea that not one UXer can’t do it all.
But that doesn’t mean hiring authorities are going to prioritize niche skills–or at least not only niche skills.
“We are seeing more and more requests (basically, most requests) for T-Shaped Designers,” said Leanne Owens, Senior Vice President of Client Strategy at Onward Search. “These are the mid-level career designers that are neither specialist nor generalist.”
According to Owens, T-Shaped Designers have the “responsive UX design chops,” that top brands, businesses and digital agencies look for, “and just enough of an understanding of how the rest of a design-build works to drive solution driven design forward within a team environment.”
And that’s the key. As Reiss mentioned above, the idea of a UX team of one is disastrous–and as technologies get more advanced and complex this will only further be the case. T-Shaped Designers, provide UX Teams with the agility and experience they need to create useful and valuable experiences, but to also push the boundaries in new environments like VR and AR.
From streamlining the desktop experience to T-Shaped Designers, these trends will be a driving force for innovation in the year ahead.And while these may only provide a snapshot of what’s to come in 2017, it’s important to understand how these–and other emerging trends–can affect your business in the year ahead.
Onward Search helps leading companies, start-ups and digital agencies connect to top UX talent capable of executing against these strategies and more. Contact our team if you would like to chat about these UX trends for 2017 or are looking for UX talent for your organization.