Who’s still popping champagne in celebration of the new year? We are at Worry Free Labs and its not because we are a bunch of lushes (well, not entirely!)… As we all know, 2014 was an incredibly big year for Experience Design, with the rise of some very important and monumental shifts in the industry (Adaptive Path going in-house at CapitalOne! What?!).
Now that 2015 is fully upon us we are expecting an even BIGGER year for the industry, as the tenets of Experience Design start to expand and sink into the ethos of company cultures everywhere. Without further delay, here are 5 trends (in no particular order) that we expect to grow in significance.
1.) Invisible Experiences
When the iPhone was just beginning to make smartphones a ubiquitous commodity in everyone’s pocket, app designers and developers focused on creating “sticky” experiences that would keep users engaged and compel them to return to the app. Today, however, we are beginning to see a shift in focus as UX designers begin to consider a much broader context of use for digital and connected devices… Yes, I am talking about the Internet of Things — wearable devices, smart homes, connected furniture, digital automobiles, etc. — and how users will engage with a particular service across these devices.
Jake Zukowski, Assistant Creative Director at Frog Design, coined the term “Slippy UX” to define experiences and interactions that are invisible-enough and non-distracting for users. “Slippy” experience design, compels us to design for scenarios where an app should not attract unwanted or unsafe attention to themselves, thereby actually increasing their usability and use. A successful design in this context is “slippy” because it is designed for glance-ability, and not for extended engagement.
As UX designers begin to create these “slippy” experiences for wearable devices, automobiles, and smart homes, one of our greatest challenges will be to determine what truly is just the right amount and type of information to deliver to users. Information overload is already a problem, with so many different players in the marketplace vying for a consumer’s attention. Service design will play an important part in this world, and designing for edge cases will become all the more important towards creating an incredible experience.
2.) Google’s Material Design
Material Design is a new Google design language that will “serve as a single underlying system that allows for a unified experience across [Google’s] platforms and devices.” This new design language is already being hailed as the “evolution of flat design,” and in many ways can be thought of as the intersection of where flat and skeumorphic design (the good kind of course!) come together. Google describes the “Material" metaphor as follows:
“ A material metaphor is the unifying theory of rationalized space and a system of motion. Our material is grounded in tactile reality, inspired by our study of paper and ink, yet open to imagination and magic.”
(What? Don’t worry it took me a couple of reads too… ☺)
In plain english, the principle behind material design is to create a sense of dimensionality on flat phones by pretending they are made up of paper layered behind the display. Therefore, while still largely flat in appearance, through the use of very subtle gradients, layering, and animation effects, the design is able give some real-world dimensionality to digital objects, while still achieving all the advantages of flat design — a streamlined use of screen real-estate focused on content.
Given the popularity of “Flat Design” these past couple of years, and what many in the design community feel was an “oversteering” away from skeumorphism, Google’s material design seems to strike a natural balance. In the coming year, we fully expect to see more designers following Google’s lead and re-balancing flat design with subtle details that help user’s better understand the intended interaction with an object and/or their location within a system’s information hierarchy.
Note: Personally, I do not feel this movement is all that revolutionary as a "design movement.” I would actually qualify what Google has done as “Principles for Quality Flat Design.” The good new is that this will do much good in the world by protecting us from bad design. ☺
3.) Mighty Micro-Interactions
You know how they always say, “The devil is in the details?” Well, its true. As user’s interact with more complex and connected systems across multiple devices, it is becoming increasing clear that a user’s experience with a system is defined by the sum of all its parts . Even those small “inconsequential” details, like should a menu be activated on-hover or on-click can alter a user’s perception of an app they use daily.
The importance of micro-interactions is not necessarily a novel one, and is a concept many in the enterprise software world have been aware of for some time. (Whether they actually did anything about it or not is a different story… ) The on-click vs on-hover example noted above is something that can dramatically change the perception of efficiency and usability of an enterprise system that a user must use day in and day out to get a job done. This is only now becoming a reality in the consumer world, with the rise of a ubiquitously connected user that uses technology in some capacity every moment of every day. To refrain from burning users out (similar to “slippy UX”) experience designers must consider how a user’s interactions begin to stack-up and consider subtle and unique ways to keep users engaged and delighted. — Think Facebook “Like” button vs “write a comment”.
Fierce competition in the marketplace and an increased attention and awareness of the importance of design are driving this attention to detail to new heights. Micro-interactions are as important to keeping users engaged, as they are to keeping them delighted with a product. We see micro-interactions towards increasing a user’s efficiency as a defacto standard, while micro-interactions that add delight to a system are becoming a competitive driver that fosters engagement and loyalty.
4.) UX as Business Strategy
CapitalOne acquires Adaptive Path (2014), Accenture acquires Fjord (2013), Facebook acquires Hot Studio (2013), Google acquires Mike & Maaike (2012), and most recently…. Facebook acquires Teehan+Lax (2015). Need I say more? It is increasingly clear that as companies across industries become digital businesses, design is being incorporated more into the core operation of firms. Some of these acquisition scenarios may be a pure talent grab, but the trend across industries speaks to the ever growing importance of design as a component of business strategy.
The lines between Business, Technology and Marketing Strategy are slowly beginning to blur, and it is becoming increasingly clear that the battle ground for companies has shifted towards engagement of the user across all channels, and that puts user experience at the center. Firms are realizing that in order to succeed, they must breed a culture of innovation and User Centered Design thinking within the ethos of their corporate culture. This adoption of “design thinking” across their operations is helping companies craft an overall customer experience that is tailored to their customer’s specific needs and allowing their products and services to stand out as key marketplace differentiators.
As UX continues to rise as core component of a company’s internal and external business strategy, we see firms engaging with design agencies to help them breakdown and overcome some of the internal and political barriers to success on certain projects within their pipeline. We believe this will also translate into helping these firms understand how those design thinking processes may be applied and adapted to fit within their own culture.
5.) Security & Privacy
With headlines like, “Sony hack: North Korea threatens US as row deepens” it is probably no surprise that Security and Privacy are becoming hot button topics in 2015. Issues such as the one above makes it clear that cyber-security is more than just a private and/or public sector problem, but a concern that cuts across private, public, and consumer sectors alike. Moreover, with the rise of connected devices such as wearables for health and fitness, digital wallets and other financial service oriented apps, the concern around data privacy and security from consumers and businesses alike is growing rapidly.
One of the biggest issues in handling Security and Privacy, is that an an over abundance of apps is creating an over abundance of “user accounts” spread across the web. Managing all these accounts is becoming overly-cumbersome for users, as they try to memorize 50 different passwords for 50 different apps. Streamlining this process and confirming identity online in a secure and reliable manner is one of the biggest challenges facing us today, and we expect the race to solve this problem to heat up dramatically in 2015, as corporations try to limit their liability and “share the responsibility of security with consumers.”
That being said, there are more open questions than answers in Security and Privacy, but we expect 2015 to be the year in which we try to create answers to many outstanding questions, such as:
- How can we leverage UX best practices to educate consumers to be more secure, and/or bake security into the experience of an app?
- How can we securely and reliably confirm identity of users in a manner that hackers can’t take advantage and isn’t overly cumbersome for consumers?
- What are the best methods of securing personal data and can they be automatically applied to users in a “slippery” way?
All in all, 2015 is shaping up to be a great year for not just UX design, but consumers. (It is all about you!) We will be making great strides in crafting increasingly personal and tailored experiences that users will love more for stepping out of their way when they don’t want them, than trying to badger them with constant notifications. As designers, we will be pondering the question of when an app needs to be 'of'f to enhance an experience more and more.
Please contact us to learn more.