UX Consulting in 2014: Predictions and Pain

By Baruch Sachs

Published: January 27, 2014

“Chances are that your clients and customers are reading the same UX articles you are. Since they will undoubtedly bombard you with questions about new trends, you’ll need to have a decent amount of knowledge about them so you’ll come off well informed.”

As we enter the beginning of 2014, it is almost impossible to avoid reading articles that discuss the trends we saw in the previous year—noting what trends have gone mainstream or failed gloriously. We’re also getting bombarded with UX predictions for what will be trends in the new year. This cycle repeats year after year, along with predictions that this year we’ll finally see—insert UX trend here—go mainstream.

From a professional perspective, this kind of stuff is fun. If you are passionate about user experience, there are bound to be some trends that really speak to your own personal design sense. And you can derive an abundance of amusement from reading about the really silly UX trends.

But predictions and trends can also be a source of pain when you work in the consulting world. As user experience—and let’s be honest, anything with the word experience in the title is trendy in and of itself—continues its well-deserved climb into the hearts and minds of regular folk, chances are that your clients and customers are reading the same UX articles you are. Since they will undoubtedly bombard you with questions about new trends, you’ll need to have a decent amount of knowledge about them so you’ll come off well informed.

In addition, you should prepare some good defenses to justify why you would not recommend following any UX trends that you find silly. What you find silly might turn out to be something a client truly believes would elevate their products to providing a world-class user experience.

In my first column of 2014, I’ll offer three predictions of my own for 2014—all relating to UX consulting—in the hope that this discussion will help prepare us for the conversations we are inevitably going to have with our clients.

Prediction #1: Mobile Is Not Going Away

“Design for mobile is only getting stronger and more sophisticated. … We must come up with a much better story to tell and a strategy to sell the truly mobile user experience.”

In fact, design for mobile is only getting stronger and more sophisticated. But having a mobile-first strategy is not going to be enough. Instead, we must come up with a much better story to tell and a strategy to sell the truly mobile user experience. Here are some questions that our clients may ask and we should be prepared to answer:

  • What do our users need to do on a mobile device now? And two releases from now?
  • What shouldn’t our users want to do on a mobile device?
  • How is our content going to change? Should it change?
  • How should we streamline our business processes to make it easier for users to do real work on a mobile device?
  • What types of operational efficiencies will result from adopting a mobile-first approach?

These are just a few of the questions that our clients will start asking once they get their sites and apps looking good on mobile. This is going to be a great year to strive to attain the next level of maturity for mobile apps.

Prediction #2: Responsive Is Here to Stay

“For every client who knows about responsive Web design (RWD), there are many more who will get exposed to this concept for the first time in 2014.”

UX professionals need to be cognizant of the fact that, for every client who knows about responsive Web design (RWD), there are many more who will get exposed to this concept for the first time in 2014. As UX consultants, we are in a strong position to help our clients realize that RWD goes beyond looking good on a phone. We should really hammer home the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and future adaptability benefits that we can gain with RWD. We will also see bigger demand for higher-performing RWD solutions. And finally, we can begin to apply RWD in industries that don’t yet really have a demand for mobile access. (Yes, they still exist!)

Prediction #3: If Simplicity Is King, Complexity Is Queen

“With the push toward visual simplicity, whatever elements remain must convey increasing levels of complexity. We’ll have to communicate messaging and brand, available actions, workflows, and whatever else clients want their products to convey with less.”

Everyone knows it’s the Queen who has the real power. We’ll continue to see some design trends from last  year:

  • a desire to keep things simple
  • stripping away heavy content and visual-design elements
  • icon fonts replacing text in a cleaner fashion
  • giving amazing typography its rightful place as one of the most important visual elements of an application or site

However, with the push toward visual simplicity, whatever elements remain must convey increasing levels of complexity. We’ll have to communicate messaging and brand, available actions, workflows, and whatever else clients want their products to convey with less. That is both very exciting and deeply frightening for lots of UX people. However, it also helps us to wade through the trends that lack substance and get back to the core of user experience.

This trend impels us to be creative with our navigation design, our information architecture, and our visual design. Coupling simple design with complex ideas forces us to make critical decisions about what to put on the screen—and it hardens our design skills in positive ways. On the user-research side, it also forces us to be laser focused in structuring our research to help us understand what elements a screen really needs to display, enabling users to do their job faster and more effectively.

More often than not, simple is not all that simple to achieve. It will be a great year for stretching our UX design creativity to deliver world-class user experiences.

Not Losing Sight of What Is Important

“The core principles of user experience provide the foundation for all successful design trends.”

No matter what the trend is, if we fail to apply core UX design principles, we can mess things up. You could have the simplest, most responsive app, working on every device imaginable, and it could still be a usability horror show if you don’t focus on users and what they really need from the user experience. This is what UX professionals do every day without really thinking about what principles supersede trends, but produce user experiences that are a delight to behold. So, we definitely need to be cognizant of design trends and incorporate them into our repertoire of knowledge and practice wherever it makes sense to do so. However, let’s not forget that the core principles of user experience provide the foundation for all successful design trends.

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