When looking back at 2016, the advancement of new technologies ushered in an exciting era of deepening interactions and further evolved the definition of ‘experience’. Now, technologies like chatbots, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, machine learning, conversational UI, and virtual reality have dominated 2017 trend reports for good reason. They broaden the realm of user experience by not only bridging our interactions with technology but with each other, our environments, and the brands we love.
The Resurgence of Information Architecture
As our interactions with technology become more sophisticated and varied, a deeper understanding of the structure of information will be required. This will likely take shape as a return to the fundamental principles and concepts that form the foundations of understanding and crafting experiences. One such principal is Information Architecture.
Consider initiating an interaction. Nothing more than a request — by touch, voice, movement— the framework that negotiates the type of response is resultant of information architecture. Whether it’s a chatbot, mobile app, wearable, ATM, or your car’s dashboard, Information Architecture contextualizes the request and shapes the meaning a user receives as a result.
“A good IA helps people to understand their surroundings and find what they’re looking for — in the real world as well as online. Practicing information architecture involves facilitating the people and organizations we work with to consider their structures and language thoughtfully.”
— The IA Institute
Information architecture informs how we craft content; structures language and context to make it accessible; and captures the nuances in how people think and behave. This is often achieved through a combination of research based activities: card sorting, wireframes, content mapping, concept modelling, task analysis for starters.
Content Strategy ≠ IA
Over the last few years, Content Strategy has come into its own as a unique discipline. Often considered synonymous with Information Architecture, the two share similar practices and methods. However, while one is focused on the creation and delivery of content, the other provides the structure from which the content is formed. Without a clear and deliberate distinction made between the two disciplines, the resulting experience will lack the relevance and impact that makes for truly great ones.
Managing a Digital Ecosystem
I’m sure you’ve all heard the phrase, “Can’t see the forest for the trees”. A fitting phrase as it seems to aptly describe the current state of multi-channel strategies across many large-scale organizations. A “tree” in this case, represents a product or solution with its own unique features, solving its own unique problems. While still considered a fair and reasonable approach for delivering best in channel, there is an evolution taking form—one that is responding to meet the ever-changing and more demanding needs of users.
With customers engaging through multiple channels and touch points, there is an emergent need for companies to begin managing the entire digital customer experience. The “forest” if you will. The emergence of Digital Experience Platforms is testament of this evolution. By unifying web content management, e-commerce, analytics, marketing automation, and apps into a harmonized platform for example, a user’s journey is now across a singular landscape, not disparate ones.
The evolution of the channel strategy is calling for integrated services that can cross-pollinate, cross-communicate, and hide the seams between systems. A system of loosely integrated systems cobbled together via ad hoc customizations is becoming less and less acceptable to users who demand more.
Cultivating a UX Culture
In recent years, there has been a growing urgency amongst organizations to achieve a high level of UX competency. The business value of user-centric thinking, research-based decision making, and design thinking are seemingly well-understood. However, achieving organizational competency is far more challenging than merely filling positions with ‘UX’ in the job title.
User Experience as a distinct practice can be confusing and equally hard to operationalize. Words like ‘unicorn’, ‘ninja’ and/or ‘guru’ are bandied about in job descriptions to identify individuals who think and act differently in the most non-specific terms possible. Therein lies the problem.
UX’s mandate continues to grow and include a broader set of disciplines: cognitive psychology, journalism, humanities and sociology, quantitative and qualitative research methodologies, creative thinking, and much more. To counter this problem, UX is often pared down to duties like creating user journeys and personas, or measuring how “easy it is for someone to use a website”. This is insufficient and counter-productive to building UX competency.
Achieving UX competency comes down to culture and mindset, just as much as it does skill and discipline. It’s realizing that everyone who contributes to the creation and delivery of a user experience is part of the UX team. It’s about fostering a shared way of thinking — a shared passion for curiosity, empathy, and imagination.
“Change thinking, not behaviour. If it’s new behaviour on old thinking, you haven’t really changed anything.
— Stephen Gates
Cultivating UX culture means finding individuals who exhibit those attributes and planting them throughout the organization so that they can expose new ways of thinking and challenge old ones. These individuals are the seeds from which UX competency will emerge. They merely need the freedom to grow, commitment to change, and energy to be sustained.
UX in 2017 and beyond will continue to challenge our collective understanding of what defines an ‘experience’. New technologies will continue to challenge the ways we think, feel and interact with each other, our environment, and the products we use. Compounded by more demanding and ever-shifting customer needs, the mandate of User Experience will continue to expand in discipline, scope, and business value.
Organizations that embrace UX—beyond the conventions of customer engagement—and focus on embedding it throughout their organization will unlock new potentials for relevance, growth, and opportunity.
The trends above were originally presented at Acing Digital, a panel event where experts presented emerging trends in areas of digital marketing, web design, UX, and search.