Responsive design was always a trend and content is still king. This has been floating around for a while now, and in this article we are not going to discuss the obvious. But instead, we are going to talk about the new innovations in design that have had a considerable impact in UX this year. Here are our top five picks of the year so far:
1- Anticipatory Design
For developers, UX focuses on a single purpose – to produce products that enable end users to make fast decisions with the least mental effort. Google Now, for example, presents users with information based on their search histories. What is different regarding the trends this year?
During the past year, developers are leaning on making anticipatory design more intelligent by reducing human choice from the overall equation. Decision fatigue has always been a part of UI and designers are trying to reduce it by making user experience more personalized. This is achieved by integrating AI mechanics (like machine learning software which enables programs to learn without having to program them every time) as a part of the design process.
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Consider Google Assistant in the Allo app that implements a deeper level of machine learning than its predecessor Google Now. The latter allowed users to search the web and access their personal accounts without picking up their phones – but it did not exactly get to know users on a deeper level which limited its anticipatory functionality. Google Assistant on the other hand, implements machine learning to “learn” about a user’s personality by having a two way conversation with them (based on their personalities and tastes) and anticipates their needs better. According to Google, the more anyone uses it, the smarter it gets which goes on to show that development trends are starting to lean towards systems that are capable of changing user experience based on user’s themselves.
2 – Smarter Prototyping
Designers consider mockups as important parts of web or app design. They determine user experience and design workflows. But a mock up has its limits. To bring a mockup to its final form, designers, developers and clients need to be in constant communication. Back and forth is required for clarification for design details between developers, and stakeholders – a highly inefficient process. Plus, while static pages showed what an interface will look like, they do not show how it would work. User experience was left to a client’s imagination and the end result was usually far from expected.
To help clients visualize user experience better, developers now use smarter prototyping tools. Unlike static documents, interactive prototyping tools allow developers to test animations and other functionalities that were hard to represent to clients with static documents alone.
Such an example is InVision, a design collaboration platform that allows designers to showcase their work as clickable interactive prototypes complete with graphics and animations. Moreover, a tool like this allows designers to showcase the user journey very much near to the final product, and expedite the development process.
3 – Micro UX
User journey maps allow developers to visualize different user interactions, possible functionalities and to enhance user experience as a whole. To make UX more unique for users, developers now focus on minute details in the user journey. Google calls these details “micro moments” for defining customer intent as they reach for their phone to act for an immediate need. For brands, the trend this year is to enhance these micro moments to improve user experience instead of only focusing on user journeys as a whole. Of course, to cater to these needs, developers have to work towards user experience at a micro level as well.
Known as micro UX, the concept is a small element in a product’s design meant for a single task with the aim to make the experience unique or sticky for particular types of users. For example, Slack recognizes that a user might not bother to remember a new password (during a password reset), so it gives them an option to receive a magic email that can sign them in instead. Another example is zooming on a product’s image when hovered at an online clothing store like American Apparel, which allows users to see an enlarged version of clothes on display by hovering the mouse over it to view its minute details.
Another popular trend in micro UX is the advent of slippy UX in UI design. Coined by Jake Zukowski, slippy UX is the value gained from information that is easily digestible at a glance. Call it a smaller version of sticky UX, which instead of keeping users engaged with both UI and content focuses on giving users value within micro interactions within the same experience. A real world example of this value can be your car’s dashboard designed for glanceability so that you can focus on the road. With the recent boom in wearables, like Apple Watch 2 which also focuses on physical interactions (like wrist flicks to activate the watch interface), it seems that the trend is primed to chart new territories in coming years.
4 – Designing UX for Real Time Moments
Statistics predict that customer experience will be considered as a key brand differentiator by 2020. Currently, 65% of customer experience regarding digital media time is dominated by mobile usage. And since users have their smartphones with them all the time, designing user experiences around for real time moments is a natural course of action for developers this year. How is the design community catering to this demand?
Making information available to users at any time is a popular trend. But a more recent trend is to make valuable information available to mobile users when they need it the most, or more specifically, at the exact time they need it.
Consider UX in apps like Uber which prompts riders to set their pickup location first before they choose a driver; a smart move by designers considering that driver location is also an important consideration for users. Once a driver is confirmed, the time before arrival is filled with in-app ETA information that lets customers monitor driver progress while they wait. A more recent update of the app’s “Where to?” learns from user routines and allows the app to tailor routes (provide shortcuts etc) according to journeys that riders have taken before.
5 – Flat 2.0
If the trends mentioned above teach us anything, it is that user experience depends on how clearly data is presented to users. This is why flat design is seeing a comeback in recent years with Flat 2.0 leading the way. Flat 2.0 solves the limits of skeuomorphic design which relied on heavy graphics to make items resemble their real world counterparts but was a poor fit for mobile UIs that limits pixel density.
Flat 2.0 brings the best of both worlds to UX design while acknowledging shortcomings in each. It makes items look real by making them look a little less flat than flat design’s original iteration while satisfying pixel limitations and adding value at the same time. Flat 2.0 is basically flat but it adds a little more realism by using subtle 3D elements (like highlights and shadows) in a design. This solves two things:
- It allows developers to define clickable elements without relying on heavier graphics
- It makes users interpret visual hierarchy in flat design
Google’s new design language, Material Design, is a prime example of Flat 2.0 done right. It makes subtle use of the z-axis for layering and uses visual clues like shadow effects to identify interactive elements. Think of a “+” icon in an app that uses Material Design principles. The presence of the z-axis elevates the icon and shadow effects define it as a clickable item.
Judging from these trends, there is no doubt that designers and developers prioritized UX this year. Breakthroughs like smarter prototyping tools allow developers to keep clients in the loop which results in more personalized user experience. Moreover, new innovations on older concepts like micro UX, anticipatory and flat design are still in their infancy but their potential in refining UX in coming years is nothing but exciting.
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