Last month, I had the privilege to put together and moderate a distinct panel of creative leaders from companies like HUGE, Gannett, CHIEF, and AKQA as we focused on the state of UX Design in 2014 and beyond. Our friends at AddThis—who’ve seen great success this year as the #1 ranked distributed content provider—host the NOVA UX Meetup each month, and I strongly encourage you to check out the group if you’re involved or want to learn more about the UX Design industry.
Here is a summary of the top 7 burning topics we covered during a stimulating 1.5 hour fireside chat—feel free to comment below and join the discussion.
1. Designers are more strategic than ever.
The notion of a designer “unicorn”—a multi-disciplined individual that can both design and develop great digital products—is nothing new in 2014. We’re seeing a continued increase in companies seeking such talent from Madison Ave to Silicon Valley, and the movement is unlikely to subside. But many designers feel that the glorification of hybrid designer/developers detracts from the necessary craft and focus on a particular discipline.
We touched on the emergence of “Pegasus” designers—those that can think strategically like a product owner from 10,000 feet up—and why they may be better than unicorns in today’s experience-focused digital environment. These designers can step back and understand real-world applications and how UX influences product strategy at a very high level (but don’t necessarily have to be developers). These types of designers are poised to influence business decisions at an unprecedented level in 2015 and beyond.
2. We should be striving for data-informed design, not data-driven design.
Making design decisions based on cold hard data (a.k.a. data-driven design) can make it difficult to respond to rapidly changing user needs and environments. This is typically a top-down approach, sometime creating a “don’t ask just do” mentality. It’s better to qualify data and metrics from a variety of platforms and sources (especially your user), and measure data as a built in part of your design process to gain context. Test, measure, and iterate constantly to give your users what they need and to help you better back up UX design decisions.
3. Responsive design is here to stay, but...
Brands are always looking to deliver a unified experience, and digital experience is no different. From desktop, to tablet, to phone, leveraging responsive design helps that cause. Mobile will soon surpass 50% of Internet usage, and we’re seeing most users are jumping among several touch points during any given interaction with a brand. This is a fragmented experience and a problem. They’re using each platform to accomplish a specific task, and it’s our job to determine the appropriate experience at each touch point. This is a continuation of critical design thinking where we can’t simply just make the brand accessible; rather, we must be sensitive to what is most important to the user at each touch point.
4. Think bite-sized for 2015.
UX Design is about providing a solution to a user experience problem. This is similar to designing for a poster in a busy subway or billboard in Time Square. If you don’t capture the user’s attention within 3 seconds, you just lost them. We all know that scanning is the norm now, so ensuring that a user can rapidly consume your site content and intuitively interact with your product is paramount. As UX Design practitioners, we’re consistently tasked with quickly telling a story that is digestible. To achieve this efficiency, be sure to utilize micro interactions and effects, or “Micro UX,” by increasing the use of sound, vibration, UI Animation, using bigger graphics and fonts (16 px instead of 12 px), and cinematics—all while providing a cohesive and intuitive experience.
5. The skills that make a great designer can't be taught.
Artistic ability is important, but the most vital characteristic of a great designer is the natural curiosity and instinct to always be hungry for answers. We talked a lot at the fireside chat about what got us into this field as designers, and what inspires us. Even though we came from different backgrounds, the constant theme among the panelists was knowing what already works and then trying to break it to create something new and innovative. As the cartoonist Scott Adams says, “Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep."
6. When it comes to designing for big vs. small brands, size matters.
When taking on new roles and projects, we talked about the importance of remembering that work—and Agile processes—are structured differently at small vs. large companies. At small companies with less employees, designers need to be more multi-disciplinary as they cross every line and lane to take on multiple roles. At large companies where there are more specialized experts, one person is assigned a specific role and the need for strict sprints is not as paramount. All this amounts to picking and choosing the right methodology, process, and plan for your target audience. Do make sure you have one.
7. We're on the cusp of a Design Renaissance!
Ultimately, the internet has resulted in a tantamount demand for designers, developers, and creatives in the business world. This year, we saw that good design is no longer a luxury cost, and businesses are valuing design as an important factor and need in the overall success of their operations. In fact, many large companies (for example, Capital One) are now making the major investment of acquiring design firms and moving them in-house. If you’re interested in the business of design, here’s a great article on Wired.
As we see more and more businesses living and dying from good and bad user experiences, there is no doubt that UX Design is getting the proper seat at the decision table. As designers we have greater responsibility, voice, tools, and reason to do good. Let’s use it wisely.