It has been a busy year for the UX industry. In what market research giant Forrester has termed ‘the age of the customer’, more and more businesses are waking up to importance of user experience. And companies are learning- often the hard way- that even great services can be killed by poor UX. If you’re in the mood for a cautionary tale, consider the nightmare that was the Windows 8 rollout. Customers responded to the new release’s counter-intuitive start screen and hard-to-navigate settings by voting with their feet: Microsoft sold only 200 million Windows 8 licenses in the 15 months following its launch- 40 million fewer than were sold for Windows 7 in its first year.
But now is a time for looking forward, not back: ‘tis almost the season of New Year prediction articles, after all. To get into the spirit of things, I spoke to Timi Olotu, Head of Content at user testing platform WhatUsersDo, to ask him about the opportunities and challenges facing the UX industry in the year ahead, and beyond. Here are his thoughts on the trends we should be looking out for in 2017.
What challenges is the industry facing?
According to Olotu, “[t]he term “UX" is suffering a bit from "genericisation”- like brand names, such as Hoover or Tippex, that are being used too generally for their own good.” Perhaps rising demand for UX is a double-edged sword, one of the downside being that some businesses pick up the buzzword without really knowing what it means. “UX is often taken to mean anything and everything affecting customers”, with the result that “clients can struggle to see the value of UX-specific optimisation strategies.”
The solution, Olotu suggests, is clearer communication from within the industry: “[i]f UX professionals can get more tangible about what UX is and isn’t, the commercial benefits of a user-centred approach will likely become clearer to business stakeholders.”
What’s on the way in?
Olotu’s money is on chatbots, citing a “sharp increase” in interest on Google Trends. The rise of the chatbot would certainly make sense given current internet usage patterns. In 2015, the number of people using messaging apps outstripped the number of active social media users for the first time. Chatbots can access messaging services in a way that conventional apps simply can’t, opening up huge opportunities for businesses to engage consumers on new platforms frequented by growing numbers of people.
From the perspective of consumers, Olotu predicts that chatbots will be popular because of “the positive effect they can have on UX metrics” like time-on-task. Well-designed chatbots “can dramatically decrease the amount of time and effort it takes to complete tasks”, making a whole host of activities, from buying clothes to searching for specific news items, much easier.
What’s on the way out?
Hamburger menus: “they’re just not working out”. Research backs up this view, including a study conducted this year by WhatUsersDo and the Nielsen Norman Group which found that sites with hidden menus like the hamburger take longer, and are perceived as harder, to navigate than sites with visible menu options. Olotu comments: “[i]n 2017, I think more companies will wise up to the limitations of the hamburger icon and opt for alternatives- such as a collapsing menu, scrollable navigation or tabs.”
Where will UX be 10 years from now?
Olotu is wary of making such long-term predictions, but does offer one: “[i]f I were to bet on one thing, it would be a dramatic increase in awareness among consumers of what user experience is and how it affects their everyday lives. […] I think in 10 years, it will be impossible for a business to thrive if it can offer only a terrible UX. Customer support won’t be getting calls only about accidental payments, they’ll be hearing from customers who find a confusing navigation bar unacceptable.”
Whatever the future holds for the UX industry, one thing is clear: in a world where consumers are increasingly better informed and not short on options, businesses ignore it at their peril.
Written by: Louise Carey