The days of optimizing user interface on a website and calling it a day are as archaic as door-to-door Britannica salesmen. The digital experience of the future is an omni-channel, multi-stage, behaviorally targeted, device-agnostic, user-journey-centric experience that seems part science-fiction, part psychology, and part technology.
To understand the future of digital experience, we must stay abreast of emerging patterns and learn to let go of aging paradigms that no longer make sense in today's (and tomorrow's) virtual ecosystem.
Content was king
It was Bill Gates who announced that "content is king." But that was in 1996, when Microsoft was king (and one could have looked that up in the M volume of the Britannica). Now, nearly 20 years later, it seems like everything has changed.
Some would argue that Microsoft has been dethroned by Google. To look up random facts, 250 million people use Wikipedia. And while content is still important, content alone will no longer make a king. Instead, companies will be crowned when they can present their content to the right people, at the right time, via the right medium, device, and channel.
Content is here to stay, but now, creating a piece of content is only the beginning.
1. Goodbye, multi-channel promotion
Companies following the "content is king" mantra have been milking every possible channel to promote their content. They create a white paper, then bombard social networks with links to their white paper. They hit their subscribers with an email about their white paper. They sponsor ads on relevant sites about their white paper. They blog about their white paper. Then they bombard social media with links to their blog about their white paper.
We had to know there would be an end to this madness.
Hello, omni-channel user experiences
By gathering data about how users consume a company's content, tomorrow's businesses will invest in omni-channel user experiences, which seamlessly integrate across multiple channels to engage customers. By understanding user behavior, businesses will align their content messaging, goals, and design across each channel to give users a feeling of continuity and enabling them to move naturally along their customer journeys, even if they switch between channels and devices.
"Customer engagement is the Holy Grail of marketing today, and an effective omni-channel strategy is the key to consistent and compelling engagement," said Bob Barr, global B2B commerce lead, Accenture Interactive.
2. Goodbye, multi-device optimization
It seems like it was just a couple of years ago that UX designers conquered the problem that not all users view websites on 1024 pixel screens. Adaptable width, flexible images, and media queries seemed like elegant solutions to provide a responsive experience across all devices. But today, responsive design is second-nature and can even be as easy as buying a template.
Would you believe that mobile optimization and responsive web design are no longer trending?
Hello, innovative design for engaging experiences
Let's be clear: responsive design (much akin to content) isn't going anywhere. Instead of being the rising trend it once was, it is now the norm. But like content, in and of itself, is no longer enough to engage users, neither is responsive web design.
Once we all align with a trend, its uniqueness disintegrates. Today the rising trend is towards "mobile-first" as opposed to building web sites that are mobile-friendly. Instead of focusing on optimizing a website for multiple devices, as was done in the recent past, designers are now starting to focus on how to get content across through multiple channels while keeping the messaging consistent and neutral. This pivot will lead to more engaging user experiences, no matter the device, as users are presented with the most important content depending on the device they are using.
3. Less is more and more is dead
White space, flat design, minimalistic: call it what you will, I choose to call it "the future." With the ever-increasing rate of mobile visitors and ever-decreasing attention spans - load times must be close to zero.
Writers, politicians, and philosophers all have their versions of "if I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter." Designers need a phrase like this, too, because designing less is actually much harder than designing more.
Let's take a moment to compare apples and oranges - literally.
Apple.com's beautiful, flat, streamlined, practically monochromatic "less is more" designs make users want to scroll forever:
By contrast, Orange.com's homepage is cluttered with an overwhelming number of options to click:
4. Goodbye, profile-based personalization; Hello, online personality types
Personalization that segments visitors by their profile information: age, location, gender, etc. is history. Businesses now realize that not all 30-year-old women from NYC need to be fed the same user experience. Instead, savvy businesses are analyzing the behavior of online visitors. By studying the psychology behind online behavior, businesses can customize user experiences to personality rather than profile. While no two 30-something New Yorkers may shop alike, there is a good chance that most "Wish Listers," who select items to put in an online shopping cart, and then never complete the purchase, will reclaim an abandoned cart after seeing one of their selected items go on sale.
The future of digital experience
Many elements will shape the future of digital experience; and while the proverbial crystal ball eludes me, I know this much for sure:
Digital experiences must be seamlessly integrated across multiple channels, but distinctly for each channel.
They must be designed so well that the average user will not notice the design, but will be thrilled with the experience.
They must be customized, minimalized, optimized, but most importantly, they must be tracked and proven effective.
Some images via Shutterstock