Even though it is August, it is good to know what trends have developed and are developing in 2015. And today, your online user experience (UX) is your brand.
When your customers experience your brand online, do they see you as efficient, helpful and smart? Or do they see you as cluttered, difficult to navigate and dated?
These questions are quite simple, yet incredibly important as time spent online increases, so do the UX sophistication and expectation levels of your customers. Gone are the days when the set-it-and-forget-it website would suffice. Creating and maintaining a compelling user experience that drives your company's business goals is a continuous, active challenge.
The good news is that UX tech and design has not only kept pace with consumers' expectations, the current crop of tools and techniques are forming the foundations for dramatically new opportunities to connect with customers and generate measurable positive results.
That's probably why 84% of companies surveyed in 2014 say executives are fully committed to their company's customer experience goals and are expected to increase their focus on customer experience measurements and metrics.
#7 Material Design
Straight out of the Google user experience labs, Material Design is the search giant's attempt to develop a set of graphic and usability standards that can work across device sizes (phones, tablets, desktops and wearables) and input methods (keyboard and mouse, touch, voice, or gesture).
It's a fairly comprehensive set of rules and considerations that, if followed, should keep even the clumsiest of UX designers on a path to clean design and simplified usability. Further, it represents the final nail in the coffin for skeuomorphism, the design philosophy that tries to make screens look like physical objects we are all familiar with, e.g.: a calendar interface that looks like a physical planner/portfolio, all the way down to the spiral binding.
For a complete overview of the Material Design philosophy, Google has a thorough outline, here:
#6 Invisible UX
When we say things like, "invisible UX," you'd have every right to think it's a term created by the tailors in "The Emperor's New Clothes." But thankfully, the underlying principle is simple-users should never notice your design. Every control and interaction should simply support their efforts to accomplish whatever it is they are trying to accomplish. In reality, that concept means a couple of things.
First, the user should be presented with only as much interface as make sense (no more, no less) in the context of who and where they are and what they are trying to accomplish. Second it means that the interface will adapt based on those same contextual parameters we described in the previous point. It may be easier to talk about it using contrasting UI approaches. Take, for example the difference between Microsoft Word, "toolbars" and "ribbons."
Vintage Microsoft Word with toolbars
The 1990s-era toolbar UI tried to make common functions more readily available by substituting menu choices with clickable icons. To have every possible function you may want to use available, you'd have to load up your screen with a number of dedicated toolbars.
When Microsoft updated the controls to their ribbon UI in 2007, things improved dramatically. The controls displayed were updated dynamically as different content types were selected, e.g. text, pictures or tables.
Microsoft Word 2011 with ribbon
As helpful as invisible UX philosophy was on desktop, it is an order of magnitude more important for mobile devices. Whether it's an adaptive or responsive web site or a native app, limited screen real estate requires a more invisible UX.
Perhaps the best example of this trend is Pinterest. The entire UI was built around cards. Twitter switched to a card style delivery in 2012.
Cards are a response to the rise of personalization and aggregation of content on the net. They are a way to normalize the display of small chunks of content of varying types aggregated from a variety of sources. It's not a new idea.
Cards have existed in the physical world as long as we've been drawing pictures or writing text. But now, we can virtually sort, sift, stack, fold, flip, search and collect an infinite number of them, easily.
Google Now, the intelligent information aggregator built into android phones and wearables, uses a card-based UX to allow for seamless display of a large variety of information types. So, why is this UX paradigm trending up? Pinterest leveraged the inherent uniformity of the format to deliver a UX with an elevated aesthetic that created market value above and beyond that of its sourced third-party content.
We all want what we want, when we want it, how we want it. And we expect our online and digital experiences to deliver personalized experiences. Users don't differentiate that expectation based on whether you're Facebook or an industrial supplier of widgets.
Winning sites will be those that can recognize their users and provide them a fully curated and dynamic experience based on whatever information the user has provided (name, location, demographics, preferences, etc.) or was inferred by their behaviors (predictive analytics, presenting or suggesting related/similar content, etc.).
It's no longer enough to let users understand what level of data privacy you offer. Increasingly, users are demanding control over that privacy. Further, watch for more and more insurance carriers to require higher levels of back-end data security, e.g.: encryption of user data and hashing of all account and password information.
#2 Smart Watches
Once again, Apple upends a category on release day. With an estimated 2mm watches pre-ordered on release day, the company sold more wearables than the rest of the industry had in the previous two years. Some analysts are predicting 20mm Apple watches will be sold in 2015. We will all have to watch (pardon the pun) this market and decide whether our brand experiences should extend to the wrist.
AR (Augmented Reality) and VR (Virtual Reality) are often (and incorrectly) used interchangeably. Augmented reality is the effect of adding a layer of information over the existing real world around you.
The best (worst?) example of this was the now-discontinued Google Glass. But AR technology is developing quickly. Microsoft Holo Lens or the Google-backed Magic Leap offer glimpses into the future. Virtual reality, as demonstrated by the Facebook-owned Oculus Rift, creates an immersive, self-contained substitute for reality.
Much closer to being market-ready, this technology is already being explored by more progressive companies like Marriott, who use it to create virtual tours of destinations for guests and meeting and event planners.