If We Can Smell the Future of UX Design
Year after year, we see changes in the way users relate to products. As UX designers, it is quite important to stay on top of those changes. When it is said that UX trends change from time-to-time, what is being referred to is that the way designers come up with products that are effective, easy to use, and delightful to interact with, do change. In essence, changing UX trends might involve emphasizing one part of the overall UX design above the other. However, most predicted UX trends are not new.
By the time you come across them, many have already gathered momentum, awaiting wide adoption.
UX design trends for 2019
Some UX design trends that gathered widespread adoption in 2019 include Device-agnostic Design, Storytelling, and 3D visualization.
Before 2019, the typical UX design was meant either for mobile or desktop – or sometimes, both. However, there are increasingly more devices with which users are interacting with products. With the rise of voice-only devices and assistants as well as wearables especially in 2019, it was just no longer enough to do design for mobile and desktop.
The device-agnostic design aims to offer a seamless experience across many devices and systems without the need for special adaptations In 2019, it became apparent that good design does not force customers to pick devices through which they get to interact with a product; rather, the quality design lets users interact with the product using any device of their choice.
In essence, good UX design should place more emphasis on the user's journey rather than on just the devices people use. Device-agnostic experiences are designed for interactions across individual technologies, and the rise of smartwatches and speakers made this concept a priority in 2019.
Device-agnostic design is adaptable and dynamic. It allows users to experience a continuous usage journey that typically will pass through different devices without significant friction. Thus users can seamlessly switch from say a laptop or smartphone to another device without experiencing any hitches or significant changes in design.
Unreal product photos
The times when classic and realistic images of products were the thing are over. The UI/UX design trend that took over is the use of surreal item photos instead of actual images.
Actually, when you display items to sell, especially when there are a lot of options, the customer browsing through the catalog gets easily bored seeing pictures of the same type of product repeatedly. However, you can spice this up by mixing actual photography with top-notch UI/UX design to create a surreal rendering of the product. And this trend did catch on in 2019.
One industry where the trend became widespread is the e-commerce space, where merchants were expected to display pictures of items they have for sale. Two firms that have adopted this trend massively are Gucci and Nike. Some sellers on Amazon also made use of this to bring some aura of difference to their products, amongst many similar products. Another domain where this trend is starting to catch on is the travel industry, where the image of a destination can be a key element to attract users.
The main idea is to daze the customers and attract their attention by showcasing interesting and unreal elements. They force potential consumers to use their imagination and stay longer on a website. This way, you can increase the average session time and possibly improve the conversion rate.
Dark Mode is another UX design trend that had been around for a while but got even greater adoption in 2019. Many designers are already opting for dark mode on their websites and apps. But with both Apple and Android introducing two types of dark mode (Force Dark Mode and System Dark Mode) and companies like Microsoft and Google releasing dark versions of their email apps, dark UI design did flourish in 2019. Other applications such as Instagram rolled out their dark mode options in 2019 as well.
The dark mode brings with it a lot of benefits. For one, there is the aesthetics; the dark mode obviously looks ultra-modern. Also, the dark mode has been noted to appear more beautiful than the light mode for many applications, at least. Furthermore, it boasts a reduction in eye strain and screen glare and this makes it an obvious preference for health-conscious mobile device users. Other benefits include the fact that it saves battery power - especially in the case of OLED and AMOLED screens.
It's not just users who are enjoying the benefits of dark mode; designers are also increasingly drawn to the mesmerizing colors, sharp lines, and clear separations that feature as part of a dark user interface.
UX design trends for 2020
Trends such as voice user interface (Voice UI) and 3D graphics, amongst others, also largely caught on in 2020.
Voice User Interface (VUI)
Although the increasing adoption of voice in overall UX design has been the trend for a while, 2020 can be described as the year of the voice UI.
Voice UI uses speech recognition to enable users to interface and interact with products using voice commands. The world is becoming increasingly fast-paced and voice technologies are poised to take over from graphical user interface in making the general user experience even more seamless. Keyboards can work for text-intensive tasks like writing a blog, but for simple tasks like searches, posting updates, and getting directions, it has been proven that people prefer to use speech.
It is believed that voice UI will be a trend that will actually last long. And facts and figures support this. For instance, all the "Big Five (5)" tech companies - that is Alphabet (Google), Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft - have heavily invested in voice technology.
It was reported that an estimated 59% of online searches in 2019 were done through voice; in some specific verticals such as food and restaurant search, the percentage of voice search was even up to 68%. Furthermore, the voice and speech interface industry is expected to reach almost $25 billion by 2025. All the above underscore the need for UI designers to incorporate voice UI in designing UX.
Top-notch design with great finishing and appeal is no longer a rarity. In fact, by 2020 it has already become the rule. Most companies now turn out products with great interfaces, and good UI has become less of a difference-maker. The job of the UX designer lies in creating an emotional connection between the product and the user.
The ability to tell a great story is critically important for the customer's positive experience. In UX design, you use storytelling throughout the design process to ensure that all work focuses on the users' needs and the value you want to give those users. Having a story throughout the design project means marketing the design at the end of the design process is also straightforward, as you already know exactly which story to tell to show how your product provides value.
Good storytelling helps create empathy and emotional connection in the user, all geared towards generating the desired conversion. Text style and its ability to appeal to customers and make them purchase things are key aspects of UI/UX design that garnered a lot of adoption in 2019. While beautiful designs can catch the user's attention, a good story engages them with the brand and highlights their importance in the overall canvas.
3D rendering and computer graphics augmentation of real footage and imagery has been around for a while but largely applied only in movie production and video game development. It was in 2020 that it really caught on with the UX world. In the past, designers generally avoided them in building web products due to the fact that they were generally slow to load and had poor performance on the web. However, in 2020, all that changed as better browsers and hardware made it possible for 3D graphics to load much easier and faster.
Three-dimensional graphics are catchy and interesting and applying them in UI designs has been shown to deliver a better user experience. There are several ways in which 3D graphics can be applied to UI designs. For instance, it can be used alongside animations and illustrations - illustrated characters that are commonly used on websites and apps can be reenacted in 3D.
3D is also applicable in typography and letter illustrations. Letters constructed of blocks and machine parts and bold colors appear more effective when they are rendered in triple dimensions. Furthermore, 3D visualization has been applied to editorial photography and real-life photoshoots to create more impactful visual effects.
Connecting the years
It is true that the UX trends that catch on, year after year, differ from one another. And many times, the prominent user experience trends of one year don't seem to always be connected to the trends that catch on in the next or subsequent years. For example, there is no obvious connection between the prevalence of dark mode and the increasing popularity of storytelling.
But there are patterns and lessons for designers to take note of. The changes from time to time, reflect more the evolving nature of technology as a whole and how users are interacting with them. If we take a cursory look at the changes in User Experience trends over the years 2018 to 2020, we notice that there is less emphasis on mere product appearance. Furthermore, we notice that two patterns stick out, namely, the rise of futuristic technology and the growing need for personalized human experiences to be imputed in product design.
The Rise of Futuristic Technology
AI, 3D, and other 'futuristic' technology have been around us for a while, but they really have not experienced everyday adoption - at least, not in User Experience. Until recently. Going forward, we will experience the application of phenomena such as AI in user experience. Voice assistants and face unlocking are just the start. Intelligent napping, smart shooting, and beautifying are poised to become widely used.
The emphasis here will be functionality and how these technologies can be imputed into product design to make the user experience much more seamless. Other technologies that may be applied to the user experience include 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT).
The Human Angle
In the past, the emphasis in UI (and of course, UX) design has been the appearance of the app or website - the physical appeal and aesthetics. But while beauty can attract users, it cannot make them stay. Statistics state that over 75 percent of users do not return to an app after 72 hours of use.
For users to stay with a product, oftentimes, they need to be connected with such a product. And the tool that makes this happen is quality content. One type of content that has been time-tested to retain users is storytelling.
The way to forecast the trends
Predicting, following, and staying up to date on UX trends is a sure way to increase business success, especially if concrete actions are taken on the insights garnered from the trends. However, we have to note that there is no clear way or method to correctly predict or forecast trends, especially in UX.
It also has to be said that studying previous trends as a way to predict future ones, is not an effective strategy. In fact, many times, it does not work. This is because many UX trends - even those that garner wide adoption in the interim - may not last. Even for the trends that stand the test of time, one cannot say for sure how they will evolve.
Is there a sure way to stay on top of things?
Absolutely. And that is to be the originator of trends! You can actually kickstart a new user experience trend, or contribute to the wide adoption of correctly unpopular ones.
And where do the ideas come from?
One way to generate ideas is to experiment often. You can modify an existing way of doing things. Furthermore, you can pay attention to others in the field. Ideas that come from fellow designers.
Another approach is to get recommendations from "outside." Essentially, this involves listening to actual users. You can do this by speaking to them directly or by studying available data. What do they want to see in products that they have not seen? Both approaches have their merits and downsides.
While the latter approach might seem like you are actually responding to the yearnings of users, it may not always be effective. For one, it can limit creativity. Also, users don't always know what they want. Sometimes, it is up to the product designer or developer to come up with something she/he thinks the users will like. For instance, no one truly yearned for the iPhone until it was released.