As we begin a fresh, brand-spanking-new year, several UX design practices and technologies stand out as the most exciting and relevant. While they are not all necessarily bleeding edge or super trendy, these considerations are becoming more and more vital to our clients and will be at the forefront in the year to come and beyond. Here’s an overview of what we’re watching, how the UX landscape is shifting, its impact on marketing and consumer experience, and what it means to you!
What do you imagine when you think of a “designer”? Likely an artsy sort of person comes to mind, a wizard who can wave a wand and bring all the users to the yard. But I’m here to tell you - it’s not wizardry. It is, in fact, science!
Across the industry, much like scientists, designers are conducting controlled experiments and collecting data to determine the best approaches for presenting information and guiding users through interactions with digital systems. Following the latest user research is to designers what keeping up with medical journals is to doctors.
It gets even better. Professional digital strategists and data analysts can review your business and your website and make sense of all of this data for you. From competitor analyses to SEO audits, they collate numerical resources to produce a set of measurements for success, and a plan to get there. This is the mana that fuels the designer’s sorcery - and it’s really just numbers...and OK, maybe a little magic.
Evolving Navigation Patterns
Speaking of data-driven design, after extensive user testing, Spotify ditched its hamburger menu in favor of a strip of icons and titles along the bottom known as “tab bar navigation.” This is something that Facebook had already done a few years prior. Again, after extensive testing.
Spotify tested the tab bar navigation pattern to see how it impacted user engagement. They found that users with the tab bar ended up clicking 9% more in general and 30% more on actual menu items. The tests also revealed that reducing the number of options in the tab bar increased the reach of Spotify’s programmed content, the company says.
It’s certainly worth noting shifts in application design when choosing responsive website navigation patterns following a mobile-first approach. Regarding the hamburger menu, Nielsen Norman Group has found through testing that “Discoverability is cut almost in half by hiding a website’s main navigation. Also, task time is longer and perceived task difficulty increases.”
But by all means, let’s not declare hamburger menus dead and gone. Like the world’s most notorious font, Comic Sans, there are appropriate and inappropriate uses for the familiar 3-bar stack. The purpose of navigation, lest we forget, is to help a user navigate a website. It answers the questions “Where can I go?” and “What can I do?”
With data in hand and your company’s vision for the future in mind, information architecture and navigation can be crafted to prioritize key actions and content. This can still sometimes mean a hamburger menu because not all companies are Spotify. Would you like fries with that?
Hand-in-hand with data-driven UX, goes persona-driven UX. What is a persona? A persona is a made-up character synthesized from patterns observed in data collected from large numbers of users. Identifying key personas allows project teams to focus on the primary user journeys.
There is also the notion of building atypical or “Rogue Personas” which act as edge cases to help establish boundaries (in the case of the Internet Troll or Phisher), fail safes (in the case of the Bumbling Noob), and highly accessible experiences for individuals with vision, hearing, or cognitive impairments.
The data used to build personas comes from a number of sources including surveys, interviews, and analytics reports. The data is not only used to create profiles but to establish a set of goals for each persona. These goals are the stops on the user journey for which designers will build guideposts.
Once a design has been prototyped, user testing can be done with individuals who match the demography of the personas, to validate or refute the assumptions, and to gather useful feedback. At this stage of a project, it can really start to feel like a fun science experiment!
Assessing a design as it develops against the wants and needs of these meaningful archetypes is a powerful tool. Personas help us ask the right questions as we work to create user experiences and to answer those questions from the perspective of the primary personas, rather than from our own.
VUI - Voice User Interface and Accessibility
“Alexa, will I need an umbrella today?”
How many seconds would you save asking a question out loud rather than picking up a device to click or tap to get answers? Especially considering the distractions you may encounter on your device - it’s all too easy to sometimes forget why you picked it up in the first place!
The screenless user experience is on the rise. It is often more convenient for users to interact with technology hands-free, with no visuals required. Driving, cooking, hosting a party - why stop what you’re doing when you can utter a voice command or ask a question?
From Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana to Google’s Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa, VUI is on the rise. It’s not only the UI for Apple’s AirPods, Google Home, and Amazon’s Echo, but it’s even being built into devices like speakers, televisions, vacuum cleaners, and lightbulbs.
According to Gartner, by the end of 2017, room-based screenless devices will be a part of more than 10 million homes. By 2019, they predict, 20% of user interactions with smartphones will take place via Virtual Personal Assistants. By 2020, they predict, 30% of web browsing sessions will be done without a screen.
As UX designers, we are constantly challenged to develop experiences that are consistent across a great many channels and VUI is just another of those - and a very exciting one! Interacting with Alexa can feel like a science fiction film come to life!
The good news is that websites built with accessibility for the visually impaired and with Search Engine Optimization in mind are already well-placed to be highly functional when approached through VUI. And good UX is good organization, so well-designed websites will play well with Alexa and her ilk.
More Personalized Experiences
Users of Amazon or other online shopping venues have long been accustomed to product recommendations based on their shopping habits. And certainly marketers know how to target us online with advertisements based on our browsing history.
Users of Netflix and other streaming services are happy to scroll through lists of content related to what they’ve watched previously. But as a result of significant progress in AI and machine learning, a whole new level of personalization is here, creating more intimate experiences for users that build trust and secure brand loyalty.
Entire teams at Spotify focus on analyzing songs and listeners through collaborative filtering, machine learning, DSP and NLP approaches. They are constantly crawling the web for artist information, scanning each note in every one of their millions of songs for acoustic signals, and modelling their users' tastes with cluster analysis based on their historical and real-time listening patterns.
It is Spotify’s data-driven playlists that set it apart from its competitors. As of last year, they had millions more listeners than their closest competition. Of course, Pandora’s Music Genome Project has been categorizing tunes based on hundreds of unique characteristics since the early 2000’s. But Spotify wins because of how they leverage their data to generate customized playlists for each user. For example, “Your Top Songs of 2017,” which can be a very emotional (or cringe-worthy) walk down memory lane!
Personalization is going ever deeper. Netflix recently revealed that it is leveraging technology to assess not only what shows to recommend to their users, but what images to display along with those recommendations, customized to each specific user’s taste.
As personalization becomes smarter and more ubiquitous, UX professionals will be able to design websites not only with persona-based journey patterns, but websites that learn and adapt to each individual user. Algorithms will decide what content is displayed based on the unique interaction history and behavior on the site for any given visitor, allowing for a truly customized experience.
Of course, any potential privacy concerns should be anticipated and addressed at the outset in a way that is subtle but readily available. Personalization, when done well, can feel warm and “right” - it connects the user to the service on an emotional level. “They know me.” The user feels welcome and at home with the technology. Of course this is good for business, but putting that aside, creating these kind of deep, human connections is the greatest joy the UX field has to offer.
In conclusion, as a new year dawns, it’s wonderful to be a part of a world of technology that is making people’s lives better: more convenient, more connected, more accessible to all.