As UX design continues to transform companies and the products they create, the new year will see not only the permeation of design practices into all areas of successful businesses, but also the kind of cross-functionality, inclusivity, and specialization that’s indicative of a mature field.
Here are the five trends we predict for 2020, along with key takeaways that you can put into action before the new decade begins:
1. Continued evolution of computational design and AI
Computational design is a natural complement to user-centered design (and great UX).
In computational design, we move from designing things that meet human needs to designing computers and programs to do this for us.
These computers and programs are what John Maeda, in his 2019 Design in Tech Report, calls “boring AI”—AI that’s doing some good in the world (different from any weaponized or “Westworld”-ian counterparts). Simply put, they are human-made things that mimic our decision-making processes and explore possibilities within defined parameters just as we would, but faster.
Traditionally, it can cost a great deal of time, effort, and money to design and test options that fit within a given project’s constraints. But now we have programs that enable faster design decisions—we can set the parameters and constraints and let our computers draw up the design options to be tested on-screen. That particular workload is taken off human shoulders and sped along considerably, allowing us to consider new and larger design problems.
This is well-illustrated by Visual Capitalist’s definition of computational design: In classical design, we ask how to design a beautiful, comfortable chair; from a design-thinking perspective, we ask, “Do we even need a chair?”; and in computational design, we ask, “Can we arrange seating in cities to improve our social lives?”
Your actionable takeaway: Learn about computational design. Follow leaders in the field and stay abreast of what they’re contributing. John Maeda’s 2019 Design in Tech Report is a great place to start. Or maybe learn to use Rhino or Dynamo!
2. The rise of the business designer
As more companies catch on to the business value of prioritizing design, design thinking becomes increasingly critical in shaping business strategy. Business-minded people are learning and embracing the power of design thinking while designers study business (instead of code).
“A business designer has the head of a business person, the heart of a designer, and the ability to understand and communicate across the full lifecycle of a product.”
This integration of two seemingly disparate approaches will only intensify as companies begin to see the benefits of a stronger, happier marriage between business and design.
Innovation-focused design company IDEO helped pioneer the business designer, a role that intricately weaves business and design. A business designer has the head of a business person, the heart of a designer, and the ability to understand and communicate across the full lifecycle of a product—from research, development, and design to testing, marketing strategy, and product retirement (or iteration!).
According to IDEO’s Business Design job description:
“Business designers take juicy, creative, human-centered innovation and make it succeed out there in the real world. We use strategy, analysis, and financial modeling as generative design tools, and help organizations turn their biggest, wildest ideas into businesses with long-term viability.”
While the role seems to have originated with IDEO, it certainly didn’t stop there: Business designers are employed in large and long-standing companies like Ford and IBM and are appearing more and more in the start-up world and freelance roles.
Your actionable takeaway: Read about business design and consider how you, your team, and your company can strengthen the relationship between business and design.
3. Growing focus on inclusive design
John Maeda devoted an entire section of his 2019 Design in Tech Report to “addressing imbalance,” calling on the design world to “solve for one, extend to many.” Maeda’s voice is one among many calling for greater overlap between UX design (designing great experiences for users) and universal design (designing for accessibility and inclusion).
According to Forrester’s Inclusive Design Imperative (April 2019), many companies focus on the 80% of their users who are “normal” or “average” and miss out on the wealth of opportunities the other 20% bring to the table. The Imperative also points out that many companies only address accessibility concerns as required for legal compliance.
Inclusive design makes accessibility and inclusion central to the UX design process from the very beginning. In fact, Forrester even calls on organizations to start the design process with the needs of the 20%, pointing out that, “focusing on the margins not only opens doors to new markets but also yields the desirable side effect of innovative solutions that even those who are not at the margins benefit from, too.”
This is supported by the Paradox of Specificity, a concept Alan Cooper discussed in his book The Inmates are Running the Asylum. This theory claims that focusing on the needs of a narrow market segment results in products that are more broadly useful. This has been proven time and again with products like the Rollaboard suitcase, OXO Good Grips peeler, and the Swiss Army knife.
Good user-experience design is design accessible to all users and intentionally-accessible design is design inclusive of all users. A company is not considering its users if it is not considering all of its users—and meeting the needs of more people is simply good business.
Your actionable takeaway: If you don’t know much about inclusive design, learn. If you already know some (or a lot!) about it, learn more—and ask yourself what a radical approach to design (designing for the 20%) might do for your business.
4. Increasing data and design integration
Designers and developers increasingly collaborate, and that integration will continue and deepen as data and design connect more intricately.
“Simply hiring both designers and data professionals to perform their discrete functions (even when on the same project) isn’t enough. Organizations need to enable the two to effectively work in lockstep—so that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
And the most design-forward companies use data to make a big difference on the bottom line. According to InVision’s Design Maturity Model, the top 5% of organizations tackle design in a truly integrated way that elevates strategy, increases market share, and surges employee impact. In these superstars, designer-to-developer ratios are at a healthier balance, design systems are commonly adopted, and user research is baked into most workflows.
This integration requires a shift from an island mentality to something resembling a squad mentality—a concept familiar in Agile methodologies. Rather than having data and design teams work as separate entities with communication and cooperation bridging the two (island mentality), a squad mentality calls for cross-functional teams to go beyond this and towards integrated collaboration, sharing knowledge, skills, and workflows.
Your actionable takeaway: Learn to think about design quantitatively. Leanne Waldal’s guidance on measuring design is a great place to start.
5. Stronger demand for specialized UX professionals
On the whole, businesses are devoting more attention and resources to design, resulting in bigger design teams than ever. Google has more than 3,000 designers and IBM has more than 2,000. Some insurance and finance companies even have design teams of 150 or more. As design teams grow in the new year, it’s clear we’ll see even more demand for UX professionals who can thrive in an increasingly-integrated product development experience.
For example, companies like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Airbnb are currently hiring:
- UX designers with experience developing and working with style guides
- UX designers with an ability to communicate on highly technical levels with data scientists and engineers
- UX writers and researchers with project management experience
- UX design “managers” who provide leadership at the intersection of research, development, design, engineering, content, marketing, and business strategy
- UX interns with demonstrated skills in graphic design, video editing, and 3D modeling
This trend isn’t limited to larger companies with the resources to hire UX specialists. Even smaller companies and start-ups see the value in this cross-functionality.
Your actionable takeaway: Get ready to deepen and/or broaden your skillset. Look at the design or business functions around you and consider which ones you find intriguing or think you’d be good at (or that you want to be better at). Take an introductory course to data analytics, explore and master InVision’s design platform, or (re)read a design-oriented book to get your creative juices flowing.
Get ahead of the game:
In sum, 2020 will be all about acquiring new knowledge and skills, designing to include all of your users, and seeking greater cooperation and collaboration across all areas. In short, we can keep doing what we already do best: research, ideate, and iterate. Cheers to the new year!