In this article written by Scott Faranello, author of the book Practical UX Design, as UX has come a long way since the early days of the Internet and it’s still evolving. UX may be more popular today than ever, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfected. There are still many unknowns in our field and we are still a long way off from any kind of universal understanding of what UX is, its value and its importance. There are many “truths” about UX – many of which was presented in this book – but with each new project and each new experience it becomes clear that the practice of UX is evolving and must continue to do so in order to make what we do even easier to understand. Them more popular something becomes the more those outside of the practice become interested. This is both a great thing and a bad thing. Good because it becomes better understand and accepted and bad because it can also become a “shiny object” that companies suddenly feel they must have without having any idea what it is and what it means to incorporate it into their culture.
(For more resources related to this topic, see here.)
Learning the fundamentals, as presented in this book, is the first step. Following that, staying abreast of what’s new will keep you moving forward and relevant as a practitioner. There is a classic movie called Glengarry Glen Ross in which the phrase Always Be Closing (ABC) came to define the practice of selling and salesmanship. Well, UX has a phrase as well, one I call ABL or Always Be Learning. Trends may come and go but learning is life long. As for trends, I recommend doing a Google search at the beginning and end of each year where you type: “UX Trends” followed by the upcoming year. If you haven’t done so do it for this year and make it a habit to do that going forward. You will find plenty of information about what coming and also what’s passed to see how much of it actually came true. Look at UX tends as more than predictions though. Trends in UX often become so because of what has already been happening, but starting to appear more often. Read about them, share them with your colleagues, notice them and seek them out in other’s work. Where some things like patterns and IA might be universal, the way we approach them can evolve.
For example, here are some common areas of UX that while fundamental in our understanding of the practice are ever changing:
- Presentation of Design
- Uniformity of design
- UX’s Role in Design
- Advancement in Technologies
- Generational Changes and Expectations
Presentation of design
Today there are two ways to present design in terms of UX: Visibly and Invisibly.
- Visible design: Visible design is what we know and see when we go online and look at our phones, our watches and anything else that requires our attention to interactive screens using typical design elements (Colors, fonts, patterns, and so on.)
- Invisible design: Invisible design doesn’t require an interface in the traditional sense. We still need to interact, but none of the typical design elements are necessary. All that’s needed is an ability to read and to follow very easy instructions.
For example: https://digit.co/
Digit is an application that automatically saves the user money by transferring small amounts, or whatever Digit deems “safe” to transfer without the user even noticing. It does this by tracking the users spending habits and then every few days transferring small amounts ($5 up to $50) into a Digit account where it sits until the user is ready to transfer it back to their account to spend on whatever they choose. There is no fee to use Digit. To understand how it makes money, please read about it on their website. The point is, the “interface” of digit is text on the users' phone.
Invisible design is a “conversation” between itself and the user that works seamlessly and without the need for a traditional app or screen and it’s becoming more real every day. Invisible design is less about the app and more about what the app provides to the user without the user having to do anything except receive the message. Recall Dieter Rams’ Ten Principles of Design from Chapter 4 when he pointed out that good design is unobtrusive; good design does not distract or rely on the user stopping to figure it out; good design just works. This is true of all good design, both visible and invisible, but while some require an interface to engage and interact, truly invisible design does not.
Some additional examples of invisible design:
- Automated airline text messages for flight delays
- Weather alerts
- Auto updates of apps on any device
- Knock (which is something you need to see to understand and even then, but it’s intriguing: http://www.knocktounlock.com/).
- Internet of Things (IoT)
Invisible design is still is still evolving. Will it one day overtake traditional apps or has it already?
Uniformity of design
Ask designers today what they think of the state of design and you will get varied answers. One that seems to be getting louder is the notion that design is losing its identity. Google articles with titles such as “Where Has All The Soul Gone”; “Fall of the Designer”; “Why Web Design Is Dead”, “The End of Design As We Know It” and you will find arguments about how templates have taken over. Sites like WordPress, Drupal and others like Medium that allow content to be created by the user and seen my millions without any of the heavy lifting of web design, has created, in some eyes, a world of bland design where creativity suffers, patterns have matured and where “up and running” has become more important than what we are actually running with.
There may be something to the argument, but I will leave it to you to decide.
UX’s Role in Design
As UX becomes more prevalent and as companies become more aware of it there is a risk of UX becoming less of a stand-alone discipline and more of something that everyone just does. A similar thing happened with Customer Experience, or UX, where now companies just consider themselves “customer centric” even if they aren’t and where the mantra is “Customer First”, even though that might not be the case in reality. Mantras are easy; living up to them at a high level is something else.
As a result of these changes, UX as a practice has to clarify itself and its value more than ever. Where once just being good at design and making wireframes were a priority, today these are skills that even developers can lay claim to. To remain relevant means being able to address the more challenging concepts and activities that many may not be able to grasp or have the time to focus on, like ethnography, human factors and on going, in-depth research around usability, user needs and analyzing usage patterns and analytics as they relate to productivity. While these may not be solely within the UX domain, they are areas of focus that many companies are not spending enough time on, to their detriment. They are, however, areas that UX can easily focus on and in so doing close a widening gap that benefits everyone involved.
Advancement in Technologies
As technology becomes easier to use, it usually requires greater complexity to make that happen. As a result, UX practitioners need to be more aware of and on top of the latest trends as well as increasing their understanding of the technologies underlying them. This is not to suggest that UX practitioners become programmers or even a strong understanding of how to code. What is suggested is that UX practitioners become more aware of how technology is becoming more integral and intertwined into the everyday. For example, we will continue to hear about the Internet of Things (IoT) for some time, at least in the near future and probably longer. The more invisible the user experience becomes and the more untethered we become from standalone devices the more important it is going to be for UX practitioners to think more conceptually and more creatively to see how seemingly disparate objects and ideas can go together to make something entirely new.
Some examples of IoT technology:
- Prescription refill and regimen reminders (glowcaps.com)
- Remote biometric readers to track a patients’ heart rate, blood pressure, safe activity levels, etc. (preventicesolutions.com)
- Controlling the home from afar with smart outlets that can be used to turn appliances and thermostats on and off (nest.com, belkin.com)
- Smart trash cans (bigbelly.com)
- Efficient “smart” street light systems (Echelon)
The list literally goes on and on because there really is no end to what technology can provide to almost anything and all of it will require user engagement in one way or another. Knowing what, where, when and how these changes will take place and how they will affect the end user is our role and our responsibility as UX practitioners to get right the first time.
Generational Changes and Expectations
Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, Millenials, Gen Z. With each passing year and decade it gets harder and harder to know what the next generation will expect and demand from technology. One thing is for sure, they will expect things to work without question and without the need to stop and thin about it. Every company will require meeting such demands over at least the next decade and anyone not thinking about this and the workforce requirements to meet these demands is going to disappear. Even today we see it happening as institutions like WalMart fall to Amazon, Taxi’s to Uber, TV networks to Netflix, and who knows what else. Trends may come and go, but change, whether we are ready for it or not is going to happen faster than we’ve ever experienced it. Will you be ready?
In this article we looked at Tools and Trends and the importance of staying engaged and attuned to how the field of UX is evolving. In addition, choosing the tools available to make our jobs easier should be based on your needs and the needs of your team, however, when it comes to standard tools like ethnography, empathy and journey maps and usability studies there is less to debate and more to learn in terms of using these tools to get the most from your customers/users in terms of understanding and need.
Resources for Article:
- Performance by Design[article]
- Unity 3.x Scripting-Character Controller versus Rigidbody[article]
- Using Specular in Unity[article]