Here’s our take on looking at the past, understanding the present, and anticipating what the future holds for UX in 2016.
#1 Our Fascination with Pixels is Almost Over
It might be that 2015 was the year you finally added the buzzword “UX” to your Linkedin profile — but were still spending most of your time pushing pixels on a screen. If that’s the case, your Photoshop days may be over soon. That’s not to say interfaces are going to die, but our role as UX Designers will be to less focused on interface design over time. And here are a couple reasons why designers all over the world are saying that.
Everything looks the same
We’re designing for a browsers and operating systems that have a well-established visual language and pretty solid interaction design patterns. Also, the increasingly popular Flat Design aesthetic is making everything look the same. Well, maybe that’s okay.
Interaction patterns are robust enough
You don’t need to reinvent the wheel when designing a door handle; two or three types of handles may be enough to cover all the possible use cases. Innovation just for innovation’s sake, like trying to create a completely disruptive navigation system for your website or app, might bring you some usability problems in the long term. The question becomes: what exactly is the user need you’re trying to solve by introducing a new interaction pattern? Robust and comprehensive interaction design pattern libraries are gradually letting us focus our time on what really matters for the user: getting things done in an easy and familiar way.
The end of apps as we know them
Apps are not necessarily your user’s final destination anymore; they’re just an engine that translates raw data into actionable information. Some users might still occasionally open that beautifully-designed weather app to check the forecast, but the most useful thing the app can do is to send users a notification 15 minutes before it rains — reminding them to bring their umbrella as they leave. Yes, a notification. Mobile OS features such as the ability to take action right from the notification center on iOS or Google Now on Tap on Android are going to make people need to see an app’s UIless and less over time.
New interactions don’t always require new screens
Artificial intelligence is becoming more and more popular in 2016. Smart algorithms such as Facebook M are soon going to respond to your texts within the Facebook Messenger app UI, and third-party services and companies will be able to get things done for you without the need of a proprietary user interface. Needless to say, someone still needs to “design” the logic and script of those conversations, and to build the artificial intelligence behind the product.
The interface of the future might not always be made of pixels.
#2 The Gold Rush for the Right Prototyping Tool
A couple years ago, designers all over the world started to realize the importance of prototyping while creating digital products. The old model of handing off static boards to developers was setting designers up for failure. Prototyping tools have since then become an important piece of what we do — allowing us to document multiple states of a single screen, including animations, transitions and micro interactions that were hard to represent through static documentation.
Naturally, companies that paid attention to that trend have started to build prototyping tools that would solve for that; and today we’re seeing a plethora of those tools coming to life, week after week. InVision, Marvel, Principle, Atomic, Sketch, Axure, Adobe Comet, you name it — they are essentially trying to solve the same problem through different perspectives.
Still, there isn’t a single prototyping tool to rule them all.
What does the future hold? For how long are we going to see new prototyping tools being launched on a weekly basis, and how much time are we willing to spend learning how to operate these new solutions? Tools are quickly outnumbering designers — which will soon impede the design industry ecosystem from scaling.
We are hopeful that the prototyping tools of 2016 will empower us to do some platform-agnostic thinking, without having to sit in front of a computer screen for hours to get things done. Even better: that we’ll soon start seeing new tools come up that are focused on other aspects of the UX work — besides just wireframing and prototyping.
Food for thought: are we focusing too much of our efforts on our software skills — and forgetting to look at the human ones?
2015 was a good year, wasn’t it?
#3 Designing Around Time
Not long ago, having an Information Architect in your team was essential to be able to solve for the complexity and volume of information available on websites and apps out there. Digital interfaces (and the designers behind them) were fighting against clutter; all information “needed” to be visible at the same time, and everything was important.
But how do we prioritize what is really important for the user? How do we create navigational systems that will help users find the information they are looking for?
Fast forward a couple years and we’re now designing around time: from having all the information available at any time (e.g. Amazon.com homepage) to having just the right amount of information available at the exactly right time users need it:
1. “Set pick up location” button before requesting an Uber
2. “ETA” information while you wait for your driver
3. “Rate your driver” UI once the ride is over
People want to do one thing at a time, and they want to be guided through the flow as opposed to being prompted with multiple decision points at every step.
With devices and sensors getting smarter and more precise, the user experiences of 2016 are going to be even more linear — and our work even more focused around a specific moment in time and space. People are getting used to the convenience and simplicity of linear experiences. Sitemaps are becoming taller and narrower — and documentation is revolving around a user journey that goes way beyond just pixels and screens.
Exciting times for interaction designers in 2016.
#4 UX: the Whole and the Role
What a great time to be a UX designer. We can finally see UX designers being given higher degrees of responsibility within more and more types of organizations. User experience is not a differentiator anymore; it’s a necessity. This means companies of all shapes and sizes will soon have at least one professional in charge of overseeing the user experience of its products and services.
Yet, there’s some debate around the role and job description of UX professionals. Now that we have realized everyone in the team has an impact in the overall user experience of a product, we are starting to add “UX” to everyone’s job titles: UX engineer, UI/UX Designer, UX Architect, UX Front-end Engineer.
The concept of being “a UX Designer” is becoming so pervasive it will soon disappear.
If everyone shares both the power and the responsibility for great user experiences, what is the role UX designers should play within their teams in 2016?
Our biggest challenge ahead is to make sure that everyone on the team, from product managers to customer support, understands their role in improving the user’s experience and how crucial that is for the business. UX professionals need to step in and play a more central role in coordinating all the collective effort, while collaborating with their peers.
On the other side, as we demystify what used to be a hard-to-grasp concept (“UX”), we can narrow our focus and start bringing more specialized roles in the team — such as content strategists, UX researchers, usability specialists and interaction designers.
#5 Companies are the New Bloggers
You click on a link to an interesting UX article and soon realize it was written by… a company. Gradually, names as Peter Morville, Jeff Sauro and Don Norman start being replaced by other names that are as familiar: InVision, UXPin, Adobe.
In 2015, the most shared pieces of content about UX have been created by a company and published on a corporate blog.
This is great — don’t get us wrong. The attention and traction that the topic “UX” is getting among businesses and designers is definitely great news for those of us who pay the rent with UX. And there isn’t a more effective way to sell UX work than talking about it.
While it can be hard for a UX designer to talk about a case study (because it’s rarely a one-man job), these companies are in a great position to do so. They are more directly responsible for successful project outcomes — and they have been involved every step of the way.
The downside? Well, there’s a reason companies are writing about such a specific topic. They want clicks, they want to build SEO, they want to be positioned as thought leaders in UX, prototyping and design. The result is an increasing number of articles with a high incidence of buzzwords, links to free e-books and click-bait headlines that will help those companies generate traffic to their sites.
So here’s our advice for 2016: every time you land on one of those articles, keep in mind they might be trying to sell you something. Which may or may not be bad; but just keep that in mind. The question then becomes: are the design associations and authors going to invest the time and effort to publish more content in 2016 and help shape a more impartial knowledge base for the future of UX?
#6 Content Strategy as the New Information Architecture
Ten years ago, companies wanted and needed to have their own website. A really robust one, with tons of information; a hub for everything related to their brand. And of course, those websites needed to be organized in a way that would make sense for its users.
Fast forward a couple years and now companies own a number of different websites, microsites, mobile apps, social profiles, blogs, channels, intranets and internal sites, slack groups (and the list continues to grow). Content flows through all these channels every single day, and someone needed to take the role of making sense out of it all. Of why, how and where things are published, and of how that all ladders up to a larger content strategy.
This trend is not new, and did not happen all of a sudden. But as it turns out, 2015 was the year where Content Strategy (and obviously the content strategist) was finally incorporated on a large scale within the design process, in various types of organizations. To our own benefit.
is 2016 the year you’ll finally update your portfolio?
#7 The Internet of People, Not Things
Smartwatches. Tons of them. Everywhere. If only we had more than two wrists…
2015 was all about smartwatches and we will probably keep hearing about them for a while. But what is the problem they are trying to solve?
We don’t need more things and objects to carry around. We need to make what we already use, smarter. Rather than make our lives easier, smartwatches try to combine too many actions into too small a space — sacrificing usability for novelty. How can we make objects more meaningful for people, focused on their real needs? That’s what Nest is working on. That’s the goal of the new Google OnHub router. They are all solving issues people already have and leveraging objects people have already accepted to own — rather than trying to force new behaviors and hardware down their throat.
The Internet of Things has continued to grow incredibly fast in 2015. But after the first round of hype around connected devices, companies are now realizing there’s a certain pace in which people are willing to accept cultural and individual behavior shifts — and that understanding that pace might be crucial for the success of a new product.
Before we start building a new consumer-facing internet of trinkets and tchotchkes, how about bringing the internet to the things people already care about?
#8 Slack is making us talk again
In 2015, we’ve seen the rise of UX-focused slack teams. Once more, designers from all over the world are gathering around online channels to discuss different topics from #usability to #jobs, or simply to #hangout with think-alike designers.
The truth is that online forums have been around for a while: from email lists, to Facebook posts, to Linkedin groups. However, unlike its predecessors, Slack has new elements that can make it more than just a temporary wave:
• Channels help you filter out the noise by organizing the conversation and allowing to join only the ones you want (user research, books or even jobs).
• The fact Slack is a live chat encourages community managers to explore new engagement mechanics for how these conversations unfold (e.g. Ask Me Anything/AMA sessions with big names in the field).
• Since Slack started out as a tool focused on work and productivity, the user’s behavior inside its channels tends to be centered around professional discussions. Except for a few GIFs here and there, not a lot of distractions.
We’re yet to see how long the hype around Slack will last (and how long it will take them to fix some of the basic usability issues users are seeing). It’s up to us to make sure that the discussions we’re having are translated into actionable changes in the UX field. Look out for more relevant and frequent conversations in a #channel near you next year.
#9 From Pixels to People
The biggest challenge of designing successful digital products today relies on having a deep understanding of the user’s context, wants and needs. Adding new features to a product is becoming increasingly easier from a technological perspective, but doing so without proper research could mean making false assumptions about what people really care about.
This eventually injures a company’s sales and brand perception…
Given that we’re spending less time pixel pushing, (“our fascination for pixels is almost over”, remember?) let’s use this as an opportunity to stay ahead of the game and focus on the other side of UX that we often neglect:User Research Methods. After all, it’s useless to try to find the best design pattern for your product, if the feature you’re building does not solve a legitimate, research-proven user need.
The same way we have seen a revolution in prototyping tools over the last years to support our interaction design processes, let’s hope that a new generation of user testing tools will make research methods more accessible and further integrated into the design process — no matter what the company’s size and budget is.
We’re optimistic 2016 will finally be the year when we shift our attention from pixels to people.
#10 Our highlights from 2015
Project of the year
The United States design standards
Product of the year
Uber, for the tailor-made ux for different markets
Portfolio of the year
Buzzword of the year
Machine Learning, the new Artificial Intelligence
Most clicked link
Why are Apple’s products so confusing?, by Don Norman
Blog of the year
A list apart, for its consistency and high-level quality standards
Tool of the year
Talk of the year
Leah Buley: The Modern UX Organization
Book of the year
Intertwingled, by Peter Morville