The art world has seen a plethora of movements and trends come and go throughout history. The same can be said for design, where we seem to see new trends every year. However, there are a few design trends gaining momentum that we can expect to see for a while.
1. Recognition of UX Design
These days, more and more companies are realizing the benefit of user experience design. UX design is relatively new but it is becoming increasingly popular because of the obvious benefits it has for users/customers as well as for the companies that employ it. Prior to this shift towards user centered design, it was thought that making things look nice (visual design) was enough to impress users. However, just because it looks good doesn’t mean it’s easy to use. While visual aesthetics are still important and in fact play a role in usability, the psychology of human-computer interaction is becoming the forefront of design. Designers are now concerned how people will interact with digital interfaces since they do more than just observe. Many companies now are (or should be) looking for UX designers and interaction designers to help with their digital products such as websites or apps. The goal here is to make things as easy as possible for the users thus promoting a positive experience.
Designers may have been aware of these concepts for some time but now developers, marketers, and CEOs are paying attention and understanding the benefits of user centered design. In recent times this type of design has also become cheaper, most notably in usability testing – the process of having actual users test out the website to find where problems/frustrations appear. This process was known to be expensive and time-consuming because it took a lot of research to find out who the target audience was, renting equipment, reserving a usability lab, hiring experienced usability professionals, and writing extensive reports. That was then. In reality, usability testing is now cheap and quick and should be done multiple times throughout the process of developing digital products. Testing can be done by people on your development team in any office or conference room with just a computer. Instead of spending around $5,000 – $15,000 per testing session we can now spend a couple hundred dollars which is just the stipend for volunteers. Jakob Nielsen points out that we only really need to test with five users to find about 85% of the problems. After the testing session, designers, developers and anyone else from the team can meet to discuss the insight from the test before iterating the design. When users are able to easily understand and use the interface, they are more likely to feel smarter and in control.
2. Designing for Emotion
With the surge of UX design, many designers are now discovering the effectiveness of designing for emotion. This goes a step beyond just making a website functional and easy to use; it adds personality. The point of this is to make the experience on the website fun and enjoyable. Emotions, whether positive or negative, are very closely linked to our memory so producing positive emotions will result in pleasantly memorable experiences with the website. This goes a long way in the success of websites or software. People are more likely to return or recommend your brand if they feel strongly about it.
Users are also much more likely to overcome obstacles and forgive shortcomings if they already have a reserve of positive experiences and goodwill saved up. For example, in Aarron Walter’s Designing for Emotion, (review available here) he discusses a time that Flickr (the popular photo sharing website) had a period of downtime with their servers. People could have been very frustrated that they weren’t able to use Flickr’s service to view or upload their pictures. However, Flickr quickly, honestly, and clearly explained what was happening and offered a coloring contest with the possibility of a free Pro account for a year in return. Instead of being upset, users brainstormed creative ways to try and win the contest. The memory that remains of the downtime is the coloring contest as opposed to the frustration of not being able to use the site for a few hours. “Emotional design is your insurance to maintain audience trust when things aren’t going your way.”
Another way to think about designing for emotion is this: Think about the best meal you’ve ever had. What do you remember about it and why? Was it the company you were with or the ambiance of the restaurant? Was it the exquisite taste or how the food was artfully plated or a combination of all these things? What you probably don’t remember is the nutritional value of the meal. The same principle can be applied to websites and software. People may be able to find the information they need and may not have experienced downtime. But what they will remember are the emotions that were attributed to their experience. Designers and companies that are designing for emotional engagement are going to stand out from competitors and have more success.
3. Simple, Flat UI
Over the past few years, there has been a continued rise in the use of flat user interface (UI) design over the use of skeuomorphism. We’ve seen this trend taking over many websites but it’s reaching even further now. Instead of seeing flat UI design only on the web, users are now seeing it on their mobile and desktop operating systems. Microsoft made a huge change in their operating system starting with Windows 8 on both their desktop and mobile devices. Apple moved from skeuomorphism design to a flat UI on their mobile devices with iOS7 and iOS8 and also migrated the same look to their desktop operating system with recent release of OS X Yosemite. Google is taking the flat UI a step further with its Material Design specifications. While many of the components use a clean and simple flat ui, the use of 3-dimensions (inclusion of z-axis) create a sense of depth, especially with the use of some shadows. By definition, this is not flat design but the overall look and feel creates an enhanced flat(ish) UI.
This type of design generally uses bold yet softer colors on white or light grey backgrounds creating a minimal yet vibrant user interface. In turn, clutter is removed, white space is used, and the resulting interface is clean, light, and visually interesting. This trend typically results in minimal and easy to use interfaces which is one reason why the three main tech companies (Apple, Google, Microsoft) have all adopted it. Because of this, we are likely to see this design trend hang around for a while.