7 predicted UX trends for 2021

To say that 2020 was a rollercoaster ride is an understatement. While it was a year of pure chaos from a health, social, and political perspective, it was also a fast-paced 12 months of product, innovation, and experience.

With 2020 nearly behind us, let’s check out what the 7 predicted UX trends are for 2021.

1. Digital health is trending

As if we hadn’t heard enough of COVID-19, but the pandemic has been the instigator of new digital health opportunities including wearables, telemedicine, and artificial intelligence. And in 2021, we can expect these behaviours to continue to trend.

We have also seen some impressive self-monitoring applications being applied to wearables, providing instant data visualisations on steps, sleep, heart rate or blood pressure. These sophisticated functionalities empower users to take charge of their own health and inform them on how to make lifestyle changes.

Telemedicine — the practice of doctors consulting patients virtually — increased significantly during the pandemic as people were encouraged to reduce their physical encounters. We can expect this type of remote interaction to continue to trend as health services look to distribute their skills and funds to the patients in most need.

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Then there’s artificial intelligence. Precision medicine, genomics, drug discovery, and medical imaging will all be empowered by AI; take cancer treatments, for example, by using AI’s pattern recognition, doctors can prescribe personalised treatment plans tailored to a patient’s genetic makeup and lifestyle.

2. The rise of Virtual Reality (again)

VR is a ‘futuristic’ technology that’s struggled to go mainstream for some time, particularly due to the hefty price tags associated with headsets such as Facebook’s Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PS VR.

However, we can now say that VR is on the rise again thanks to the success of recent game releases including Half-Life Alyx; emerging developers who can build for dynamic and creative mixed reality solutions; plus, an increase in demand from non-gaming markets including health, exhibitions, and recreational arts.

So how have non-gaming markets adapted to VR? Well, during the pandemic, GDC 2020 hosted their talks in VR which enabled remote attendees to interact with 360-degree tours of stands, webinars, and chat rooms. In 2021, we can expect more organisers to utilise the tech to reach out to more audiences around the globe.

We can also anticipate high VR usage in digital health to improve the treatment of chronic pain, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. And we may even see the theatres and museums embrace the tech to keep their doors virtually open to the public.

3. Augmented Reality by design

AR is another ‘futuristic’ technology that’s beginning to gain more popularity and omnipresence. Whether you want to meet a life-sized giraffe in your garden, visualise how some IKEA furniture designs will fit in your home, or even try a tattoo in real-time, we are embracing AR in so many novel ways.

Companies like Apple are already rebuilding and restructuring products that are more accessible to everyday users. According to Industry Week, the tech giant is working on several AR products including digital glasses that could connect wirelessly to an iPhone and beam content, such as movies, maps and more, to the wearer — how cool is that?

The emergence of new AR technologies and applications will incentivise companies to search for designers who can create AR interfaces and graphical overlays. And with the availability of inexpensive design applications on the market such as Google ARCore, and Adobe Aero and XD (now featuring 3D transforms), it is now becoming more of a reality to design for immersive augmented experiences.

4. Voice UI will be part of a UX process

Voice UI (VUI) definitely became one of the hottest trends in 2020. Apple, Google, and Amazon were some of the prominent brands who changed the way we search for information and engage with smart home devices.

Take these examples of VUIs’, to dim your lights you just say: ‘OK Google, dim the lights’; or to quickly order an Uber, callout: ‘Alexa, ask Uber for a ride’. These voice commands have now become so ingrained into our daily routines that VUI is becoming an omnipresent technology.

Now that VUI is undoubtedly mainstream, we can expect more organisations to implement it as part of their UX process. So they’ll be looking for the tools, skills and talent to design for immersive voice experiences.

Since VUI is new, it’s challenging to find a process you can follow up when designing for an app or a skill. However, CareerFoundry has created a simple VUI framework by adapting methods from popular design thinking processes. And in 2021, we can expect more tools and techniques for designing voice experiences to emerge.

5. UX microcopy will shape product UI

The absence of good microcopy results in a tone of voice that’s inconsistent, disengaging, and impersonal. And without a human language rather than a more technical approach, makes it harder for brands to build good relationships with customers.

In 2021, we can expect to see the rise of the UX copywriter, skilled with a communication style that resonates with peoples understanding. Their role in the product development process will be essential for writing a tone of voice that’s consistent, engaging, personal, and trustworthy.

Producing exceptionally good UX microcopy will add human-orientation to virtual assistants and context to users queries, simplify feedback, and generally introduce a human-centred language. Brands such as Marshmallow, Gousto and Airbnb are some great examples of where UX copywriters have applied a magic touch to the tone of voice.

6. The Behavioural Design revolution

In an oversaturated and competitive market, keeping your customers engaged with your product or service requires a deeper understanding of their intrinsic needs. Knowing what makes them tick, itch, and react, is key to increasing product engagement and retention.

In 2021, we can expect a greater demand for Behavioural Design to drain customers attention, reinforce social circles, improve health, entertain the uninspired state of mind, encourage self-fulfilment, and keep people on the right path for a better future.

The scientifically validated techniques for encouraging behaviour change will help organisations determine new design strategies for improving the customer lifetime value for their products, or even encourage people to adopt new behaviours, as seen with Apple’s Smartwatch handwashing detection feature.

While Behavioural Design is a set of techniques for persuasion, it should not be confused with coercion, which now brings us onto the seventh predicted UX trend for 2021…

7. The ethical dilemma must be solved

In 2014, the Cambridge Analytica scandal enlightened the world on how personal data is becoming more valuable — more so than crude oil! In a multi-billion industry, technology platforms are constantly harvesting new ways to keep users clicking, scrolling, and sharing.

For several years we have discussed the dangerous human impact of technology and social media. The Social Dilemma, 2020 Netflix documentary-drama, particularly explores the rise of social media and the damage it has caused to society in America, with experts sounding the alarm of their own creations.

But now is the time for us to solve the ethical dilemma.

We must learn to adopt an ethical design culture to create more ‘humane’ products that meet user’s needs. How can we provide great experiences without asking too much of people’s personal information? And do we really need to keep them hooked onto products for so long?

Closing thoughts for 2021

We should look forward to a year of exciting product, innovation, and immersive experiences. Starting with digital health, there will be a continued uplift in wearable and telemedicine adoption as people become more aware of the lifestyle and well-being benefits.

As more immersive non-gaming VR experiences emerge, the futuristic technology will gain more attention and may even go mainstream. We could see more people engage with exhibitions, entertainment, and even attend office meetings — all through a different type of reality.

Then there’s the anticipation of new design processes in AR and VUI. Learn the tools and skills early and you can innovate beyond the conventional screen-based experience. And not to forget to mention that UX copywriting will play an even bigger role in shaping product UI.

Finally, Behavioural Design contains a spectrum of cognitive sciences that can give designers and researchers different perspectives on how to design for people. And of course, building persuasive technology should be done with an ethical approach to ensure that people’s mental health and needs are always at the forefront of great design.

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