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How Our Expectations for Modern User Experience Evolved in 2020

April 5, 2021

In 2020, Disney announced plans to prioritize its streaming services going forward. The media and entertainment giant realized how valuable on-demand content has been to people during the pandemic, prompting it to create more material for that medium.

This move makes sense from a strategic standpoint. After COVID-19 hit, people who were fortunate enough to remain employed experienced major changes in when, where, and how they worked. Their attention and time quickly became fragmented as they jumped between attending video conferences, caring for their children, arranging more meals at home, and more.

As a UX professional, you should take note of Disney’s decision. When people don’t have as much time to spare, they are less forgiving of products, services, and tools that fail to meet their needs. Unless you’re considering what the modern user needs at work and at home, your approach to UX strategy is not comprehensive.

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The Evolution of User Experience

Considering consumers’ recent shift in perspective, it’s no surprise that usability became the defining predictive factor for business survival in 2020. People quickly adopted whichever platforms were easy to use, while those with issues fell by the wayside.

Zoom, for example, became the preferred videoconferencing system over Webex, Skype, and other tools. Why? People decided Zoom was more user friendly and intuitive. Now, the value of Zoom exceeds $129 billion and millions of people use the platform every day. It’s clear that the company’s initial investment in a best-in-class user experience has paid off.

Anecdotally, people began using a number of new tools in an attempt to restore the communication pathways that the shift to remote work had severed or at least impaired. But only the tools that provided clear value and a good user experience remained in use after their initial novelty wore off.

What’s Your UX Strategy?

Given the renewed focus on usability as part of our new normal, it’s a great time to reevaluate your own approach to user experience. Start by considering which changes most impacted your users’ lives. You must figure this out before you can begin meeting their needs and remedying their painpoints.

For example, if employees were using your digital product in an office setting before COVID-19, you definitely need to consider what has changed. Are employees working from home now? Are they experiencing new painpoints? Is your product still the most valuable one on the market? Updating your approach means taking into account which features and characteristics are no longer relevant to the modern user experience.

Once you’ve determined what has changed, you can begin brainstorming potential solutions. Do a lot of your users have pets? Maybe your system would benefit from a special cat-on-the-keyboard mode. What about family interruptions? Instead of just chalking up common issues to the current state of the world, think about how you could accommodate them. You need to design for the modern user experience. What can you do to make working from home easier, more productive, and more enjoyable?

User Experience Trends for 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated some technological advancements in business. Sit-down restaurants had to join Grubhub and Uber Eats, offices without remote-work policies or technologies quickly had to figure out Zoom, and companies that were delaying digital innovation had to evolve more quickly.

That need for acceleration is far from behind us though. Let’s consider two major forces that will continue to drive modern user–experience changes in 2021.

1. User engagement will look different in the post-pandemic world.

No matter what the world looks like a year from now, remote work is here to stay. It might not be a job requirement as it is now, but many companies are planning for employees to telecommute even after the pandemic ends. As a UX professional, it’s your job to design solutions that provide people with what they need—even in an imperfect environment such as a busy home. What would help users retain their optimal workflow?

Right now, the workforce is more distracted and anxious than ever. Everything that’s going on—from COVID-19 and its social-distancing restrictions to political upheaval and other world events—puts people under cognitive strain. That’s why any systems or tools they use must be more forgiving. For instance, it’s no longer a good idea to require eye contact for online-testing experiences. A doorbell could ring or a dog could bark at any time, making it hard for both users and researchers to stay focused.

Moving forward, your modern user experience should be able to accommodate people who are distracted. Do whatever you can to make it easy for users to step away, then pick up where they left off. For example, if you’re working on anything that involves live collaboration, be sure to account for sluggish response times. Plan for distractions and consider how they might affect other features.

2. Emerging technologies will deliver greater value.

Invisible, integrated, intelligent computing can solve many of your users’ problems without getting in the way. As always, start by understanding your users’ needs, environments, and painpoints before bringing technology into the picture as part of solution ideation. But once you’ve moved into generating possible solutions for consideration, some growing technologies that have the potential to deliver even more value to users include the following:

  • augmented reality (AR)—Improvements to AR could take the world by storm. The 2020 iPad Pro, for instance, leverages AR that is driven by embedded LiDAR—a type of high-powered sensor—using it to improve spatial tracking.
  • 5G—The new global wireless standard is driving ubiquitous networking. The shift to remote work has created a need for instant connection, so phone companies will continue to deploy 5G in 2021.
  • artificial intelligence and machine learning—With these technologies, you can build increasingly intuitive systems that are more capable of real-world and real-time responses. This has also resulted in a growing conversation around AI ethics.
  • wearable computing devices—Smartwatches, fitness trackers, and other wearable technologies are making people’s lives easier. How can your product or tool use or integrate with this technology?

Conclusion

People talk about the next big thing, but improvements in technology happen in small jumps. A strong UX strategy can help you understand what you need to do and plan for the future. If you start with your users and take the time to understand their evolving needs, you can deliver the solutions they need to thrive during the pandemic—as well as when it eventually becomes just a memory. 

Head of Experience at Frogslayer

College Station, Texas, USA

Tim ScottAs head of experience at Frogslayer, a custom software–development and business–innovation consulting firm, Tim helps forward-looking companies design and develop the custom-software tools they need to accelerate growth, increase profits, and innovate faster than the competition—in weeks or months rather than years. Tim holds a user experience certification from Nielsen Norman Group. At a previous company, he did extensive research and data gathering that resulted in a better product and an improved user experience.  Read More

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