As the internet continues its migration to handheld devices, user experience will increasingly play a central role in enterprise strategy.
As we look at digital trends in the year ahead, it is clear that user experience will play a more prominent and central role in defining digital as a business objective. Online interactions are being designed to deliver a simpler, more intuitive and delightful experience for the user. Given the rapid growth advancement of technologies and techniques available to interact with society, user experience must be implemented strategically to ensure the information is presented in the best possible manner regardless of the medium. Below are some of the biggest, and impactful rising trends in user experience that we can expect to see in 2017.
Conversational User Interface
Chatbots, digital assistants and voice-controlled applications are bringing a new form of communication and messaging, helping to move to a new conversational form of interaction and improving overall usability. This responsive user interface (UI) offers a better customer experience and increases efficiencies by making chat available 24/7, and it saves money for organizations by reducing the number of trained customer service representatives. Platforms and bot interfaces such as Slackbot work to perfect automated response to user inquiries, increasing warmth and comfort level for the user. When devices reliably understand spoken words, there will be less need to learn a new interface to interact with every new device.
Voice Recognition Gaining Ground
MIT Technology Review notes that Chinese search engine Baidu has advanced voice recognition to the point that many smartphone users in that nation are entirely dispensing with manual clicks and swipes. They simply speak their commands and successfully complete their searches, even in noisy urban environments. Baidu’s pioneering work in this realm is likely to advance the technology of voice recognition around the world. Although the current systems are far from perfect (e.g. Apple’s Siri, Amazon Alexa, Google Now), thanks to great advances made in machine learning voice control and voice recognition is becoming more of a benefit than a nuisance.
Opening Government Doors
Governments are turning to chatbots to free human employees from performing repetitive, easy to complete, informational tasks and also to give their constituents greater access to services, as well as to better allocate their time to more complex transactions. North Carolina Chief Technology and Innovation Officer Eric Ellis states that “Chatbots will be a new platform for engaging our citizens … [and they] can provide the self-service options that citizens and state employees alike desire.” Furthermore, the federal government is exploring the use of chatbots to improve the line of communication between the public space and members of society. They also provide a self-service option, powerful enough to answer questions, provide services, and expand accessibility to non-native English speakers and people with disabilities. The hope is that state, local and municipal governments can build the same kinds of services with a smaller upfront investment.
Messaging Stays at the Forefront
China’s stand-alone messaging app WeChat, created by Tencent Holdings Ltd, has over 800 million users and continues to grow. More businesses will recognize the direct utility of messaging and offer their services in this space. Ride sharing company Uber has partnered with Facebook Messenger to provide messaging access to its customers without opening the app. In fact, Facebook Messenger itself has reached 1 billion active monthly users worldwide as of July 2016.
While many types of informational content are migrating into various audio and video formats, there are still instances where text the most efficient and effective delivery format. As more users go online from small handheld devices, it is becoming essential to break up content into smaller chunks in a sleek and easy to read manner. This allows people to scan a written piece, quickly comprehend it, and easily digest the information.
Effective content chunking is key in providing a great user experience and can help increase information retention. Small amounts of data are more easily remembered by users, especially on a smaller screen size. Chet Gulland, strategy chief at top advertising agency Droga5, states that “mobile is more on consumers’ terms.” Going online in the midst of hectic environments is a natural outgrowth of the shift to mobile access, and content chunking helps users to stay focused through large amounts of information.
“True” Omnichannel Experience
From mobile phones to a laptop to an in-store visit, customers seek and expect an omnichannel experience. Businesses continue to struggle with the technical challenge of delivering a consistent experience across a plethora of interactive channels. Today, cross-platform frameworks like Electron are starting to solve this problem, providing back-end compatibility and a deployment framework. Electron is simply one example of the large array of open-source tools shared through GitHub, a giant global community of generous developers working collaboratively to “shape the future of software.”
Integration of All Things
The digital cloud will continue to play a pivotal role in mainstream businesses, as physical and digital devices are networked into the Internet of Things (IoT). Business Insider (BI) research estimates that the number of IoT devices will reach 24 billion by 2020. Traditional computing devices such as smartphones, computers and smart watches will comprise another 10 billion connected devices by that year. BI figures also show that investment in developing these solutions will equal about $6 billion by that time, netting a return in the neighborhood of $13 trillion by 2025.
Hundreds of companies across every industry are already becoming major IoT players, connecting smart devices and physical infrastructure. Amazon Web Services (AWS) is one of the largest centralized providers of computing power, storage of data and other functionality. IBM Watson provides “cognitive solutions,” powering the artificial intelligence behind the vast cloud of connected devices. The integration of real and digital devices along with the network that enables them to exchange data is only gaining traction and sophistication. With this movement, more focus will be placed on user experience as a distinguishing factor in achieving these more efficient systems integrations.
IoT Transforming Risk Assessment
When looking at the fintech industry, innovations in retail banking and payment technologies are only the beginning of the technological advancements on the horizon. The coming year will see more insurance companies using connected devices to tailor their premiums and coverage to individual behavior. This “usage-based insurance” represents a sea change in the insurance industry, which, up until now, has had to rely on group statistics and demographic trends. Now, devices such as in-car telematics can directly communicate an individual driver’s habits, allowing coverage to be matched to individual risk level. The next step in such programs may be digital “pay as you drive” insurance options.
Likewise, various kinds of physiological monitoring devices provide additional information to health insurers. Aetna has stepped out in front of this trend with a widely publicized plan to subsidize Apple Watches for some of its health insurance customers because of the functions that encourage exercise and track physical fitness.
Real-Life User Interfaces and Increased Motion
As the boundaries of user experience become more and more blurred, new tools will and are emerging to generate emotion, increase engagement, and link to more real-life experiences. Rapid prototyping tools such as Invision and UXPin offer new methods for drawing users in, leading to better gauging of usability and aesthetic early on. Natural interfaces follow users wherever they happen to be, and seamless interaction channels replace static, siloed experiences. The ability to directly experience real-life movement is generating consumer excitement, thinning out the dividing line between digital life and “real” life.
While mobile device users have outnumbered computer users since 2014, this year, more companies will integrate that reality in a more thoughtful and strategic approach. Google has been incrementally working toward a mobile-first approach since 2010, but as of November 2016, it is now testing a “mobile-first index.” This means a website’s listing in Google search results will be influenced primarily by their mobile experience, rather than their desktop one. Delivering content to smaller screens will thus be given the highest priority, and web interfaces will include more mobile user interface elements. However, brands are well aware that these design decisions must not come at the expense of the desktop experience but rather complimentary of and this poses a challenge.
Ad Age reports that one solution to this design dilemma is for companies to increasingly rely on the social media platforms already integrated into the majority of consumer’s personal devices. Consumers spend 88 percent of their smartphone time on mobile apps, and are increasingly guided by what Google calls “micro-moments.”
“The best technology is often invisible,” according to Andrew Ng, Baidu’s chief scientist, and Stanford professor. In a way, this statement expresses the underlying goal of this year’s development of user experience: Designers strive to make their experiences more available to more deeply connect and engage with society in the real world.