With 2017 coming to an end, it’s fun to take a look at how things changed this year and see what we can expect from the UI/UX design industry in 2018. In a way, a year-long stretch is too much to keep up with in terms of the ever-changing trends, hype, and technological advances enabling us to even consider perfecting user experience. The pivotal changes might happen out of the blue in design and the beauty of it is you never know what’s next. So if there is UX design in 2018, how will it be any different? Let’s see.
Is there a place for #UX design in future?
UX design was introduced as a natural progression of the intellectual framework allowing companies to build better products faster. If you can create a highly-productive environment for your own employees, you can do the same for your users. However, UX only came into play because of the void in usability and the lack of delight when using a product.
Early on, design was optional. If you could make your digital product beautiful – awesome, but the main thing – it had to work. If it was ugly… well don’t look. If it didn’t behave logically… well, learn its logic.
The shift towards understanding the significance of UX happened when someone said it’s not okay to work around, it’s not okay to compromise, and it’s not okay to settle for a weird process in favor of the outcome. Like our body rushes calcium to the fractured bone, design people jumped on that issue and took UX to the unprecedented heights. UI/UX design for apps and websites became a standalone discipline with plenty of professionals trained specifically in it. The commodity design became, as it’s often referred to, for sure won’t last. But is there anything that can last as an imprint? Progress is not a cool feature, it’s a prerequisite for a product’s life. Without progress there is stagnation. And stagnation is death.
The interface is the product for a user. The experience you have using the product is the product itself. One of the things we’re starting to get a hold of is the understanding that segmentation of design specialties is a thing of the past. A modern-day designer can do it all: design a mobile application UI, rebrand a city, build the look & feel, and the touch of the product or service.
It’s no longer about UX design for a product. It’s about product design.
Product design is inseparable from the true experience design. This is where the meaningful aspect of design comes into play All the AI interaction capabilities, voice interfaces, chatbots, and personal virtual assistants will never replace a human-to-human experience. So without further woo-woo and clickbaitesque headings, yes there is a place for UX design in 2018. And a lot of it…
The status of UX teams
Back in 2008, I used to work for a trading company that once bought a smart warehouse automation software. It worked great, did all the job and allowed the business to grow by leaps and bounds. But we had a hard time teaching employees to use it, as we had a hard time discovering new features ourselves, and we were the IT guys there!
Looking back I realize how poorly designed that piece of software was. It was what they call the “programmer’s design”. The type of design that only makes sense granting an extensive coding background knowledge. Obviously, the company that built that software didn’t even consider hiring a UX specialist to go through the complicated logic behind warehouse automation. Years later, they did hire a design agency to fix the UIs and it turned into a complete product rebuild.
For decades, designers battled against the stereotypical disdain of their work’s business value.
The rise of the UX awareness opened the eyes for a lot of business owners to what has always been there – you can benefit from the product user experience design and appeal not only visually, but financially as well.
Today, a UX designer is an integral part of a digital development team. They are no longer forced to impose the magical X on the finished product. The seat at the project table, reserved for a designer, is what ultimately led to the UX design metamorphosis requiring us to doubt the existence of UX as we knew it in 2018.
You don’t just do UX anymore. With overall design being a prerequisite, designers turn more to the specific aspects of design like:
- Product design. It’s hard to say where a product ends. Is it just the physical shell? The way the product works? The way people feel about it? Or the general knowledge of the product? Product design has no bounds, it is all the business, marketing, and development strategies taking the product to another level.
- Designing for new technologies. The power of AI in conversational interfaces has to be properly executed. VR and AR capabilities need to be implemented with an aesthetic touch from a designer’s perspective.
- Designing meaningful visuals. Better devices are capable of rendering more information, first of all visual. Animation, meaningful graphics and texts convey a message better.
Designers with business incentives will have more impact in 2018 as generating revenue remains the most important aspect. If you can contribute to the ROI rates, growth, and business strategy, the value of design capable of doing that will grow exponentially.
More stories to tell through interfaces
For years, digital design industry struggled to find optimal patterns for users to respond to immediately as they see it. The icons, the menus, all the gibberish we recognize right away does what it has to – save time and direct people wherever. However, it only takes a few bad experiences to mess up the entire layer. The challenge designers will have to accept is the creation of custom experiences while staying in the lane.
You won’t get past the 5-second mark of the initial contact a user makes with your product unless you engage them into a narration.
Narrative wireframes help give users a wholesome experience. If you are only providing fragmented services, customers will be selective. For example, people use Instagram to post pictures, but if you want to play around with funny face filters, you’ll go to your Snapchat, if you want to hit your friend up with a DM, you’ll go to your facebook messenger, and if you want to go live video, you’ll jump back to Instagram. Imagine explaining that to your dad.
As Erika Hall puts it: “Future spreads like cold butter.” Every media platform is trying to be as versatile as possible, yet only certain features go viral. We all have our custom sets of websites and apps we use daily. The real challenge is to grasp customers’ attention and not let it slip to some fad.
If the product tells a story, it’s a natural desire to finish it. Yet the end one story is the beginning of the other. Stories are the eldest and the most pristine way to share human experience. And this is where a natural disposition to the captivating experiences meets the availability the technology has given us.
If you adopt a narrative approach to UI design, all you need to start is a text editor. Some time ago, I’ve published my thoughts on UX writing as fairly new and uncharted part of UI/UX design. Even though the practice of user-oriented texts in interfaces has always been there, it had never been addressed as a standalone discipline. We sometimes call it “word design” and it’s either a skillset a versatile designer has to acquire or a job for a writer who’s into the design.
Versioning and design workflow management
Designers don’t like to inherit other’s work with an objective to finish/revamp/rethink it. What developers do on daily basis is heavily frowned upon in the world of design. Let alone, you assign a team of designers to work on one feature. If we are talking about a solid time-tested team, it is likely to succeed. Unfortunately, this is not where we are most of the time.
Job fluctuations, freelancers, different outlooks certainly do not contribute to a shared mindset.
In 2017, we’ve witnessed the rise of design version control tools like Abstract, Kactus, plant for Sketch, etc. Those who already use it report a significant boost in productivity through better workflow management. Once we designed the UX of our own space, we started building a better experience. Four eyes, indeed, see more than two and what was already being done in informal conversation and water cooler meetings can now become a genuine framework.
Being able to collaborate in real time without a concern of disrupting someone’s part is a huge acceleration possibility for in-house and remote design teams. It’s not only about assembling the same layout from two separate ends, it’s something bigger than that. From the capabilities of knowledge distribution to faster product development, and to better quality products.
If designers continue to make impact on the business side of things in 2018, we’ll see the more pragmatic and precise approach to dealing with the artistic part of a project.
Design to augment the moment
If there’s one thing that can keep up with the rhythm of the platforms and features thrown at us every day through our devices is the intolerance level to anything being “off”. When we first started using the high-speed internet, there was immediately no way back.
There’s no classics to these things, there is no excuse for a slower processor or a weak camera.
Same applies to the products itself, if you overcommit to preparation, you might get carried away from the moment of relevance. If your product does not provide an actual and immediate value, it will pass by and end up forgotten.
Once the threshold for a useful feature gets stepped over by a competition, there is no way you can neglect it. However, in order to make a social media app stand out, it has to be fresh in some way or another. This one is for designers. Can you make your dating app any different in style and UX from the ones that are already out there?
Unorthodox input and sensory feedback
Although voice input has been around for quite some time, it never really got ahead of the traditional ways to enter data. In 2018 it has all the chances to succeed, as this year’s advances in AI integration, NLP, and voice recognition made it possible to have long, non-linear, and rather entertaining conversations with virtual assistants. Siri, Alexa, Cortana, Alisa, these are the top products pushing the industry towards voice interfaces and another level of task management.
As designers, our task will be to build better interaction frameworks for natural language, so that users won’t have to adapt the way they enter queries.
The more speech specifics we collect and teach the bots to decipher meaning from, the more robust will be the functionality of the assistant. This is where user experience design will meat psychology and writing. All in favor of a better business strategy and competitive edge, which are impossible today unless providing the true and original value.
The more capable becomes the technology, the more people start thinking of ways to escape it. Push notifications are dying off to allow us to get back to our lives and only pay attention to what’s going on when we need to.
Being constantly on our phones is not cool anymore, but how do you get off your phone when it has space in every single aspect of your life?
One of the ways to get off our phones it is to let the device interact with us via our senses.
We have five of them and only use 2. Think of the opportunities for designers once we embrace the technological plea to all our senses.
Design in the age of no net neutrality?
On December 14, 2017, The FCC voted to remove the Title II regulation rules guaranteeing net neutrality. The rules prevented internet providers from blocking and throttling traffic and offering paid fast lanes. Now, providers can block, throttle, and prioritize content if they wish to. The only rule is that they have to publicly state that they’re going to do it.
The reasonable question is “what now?” We are accustomed to thinking that the internet is as wild as it is honest in terms of revealing the true colors of any brand. It is ruthless sometimes, but isn’t this the type of brutal honesty we feel inside every time we reflect on controversial things we do? If you are honestly working your guts off to become a specialist, no one will take it from you and bleep you out. If you are a designer, you solve problems and you are getting paid for it. Now, the internet honesty will face the hardest test in its existence.
What does it mean for UX? It will run on fumes for some time just because this entity has grown so much being contributed by some of the brightest and most talented professionals the industry has ever produced. But eventually, money will compromise freedom of choice.
It’s already a struggle for smaller and new companies to enter the big league, but if they are good and persistent, they’ll have their chance. Well, now the chance might never come because their voice might get muted by someone financially capable of doing that.
In Portugal, there are no net neutrality rules and this is what it might look like if internet providers already charge for social media. Where does the money go? Do indie apps designers and developers get a chunk of that? I doubt they do.
The purest direct channel you could contact and engage users from is slipping away.
They are building a wall between you and your customer and it’s up to them to decide whether the experience you provide jeopardizes someone’s interests.
From there on, it gathers like a snowball: where do users get information from? Where do YOU get your information from? Will it be considered ethical to buy providers’ patronage in addition to good services? Or can you just do okay services and buy the shit out of that patronage?
We are entering dark times, my friends, but what we’ve built is worth fighting for. For 2018 not to become the doomsday of UX, we have to defend our craft and our customers’ rights to receive unbiased reference and honest service.