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Four trends shaping the UX design space

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We’re all attracted to products and services that are easy to use, bring us enjoyment and improve our lives.
We can’t explain why a product is well designed or why we like to use it – it just is and we just do. It’s a decision we make subconsciously without realising that a lot of thought and research went into the product – through a processes known as customer-centric design, says Reynhardt Uys, associate consultant, Customer Experience and User Experience, at BSG.

Although many South African companies are realising the need for customer-centricity, few understand what it entails.

To become truly customer-centric, design, culture and governance processes need to change – user experience (UX) is no longer just about usability and aesthetically-pleasing design. It has evolved beyond customer research and cognitive psychology, to include emotional design, behavioural science and economics, and is now a key component in corporate strategy.

These are some of the trends we’re seeing in the industry:

Shift to emotional design
Whether they are aware of it or not, people take decision shortcuts and make experience evaluations based on intuitive emotional outcomes, rather than rational thought, which designers need to acknowledge, understand and leverage.
User experience design cannot just target the rational constructs of how users interact with their world. It needs to engineer emotional resonance and impact, drive persuasion and motivation, engage and immerse users in experiences that differentiate companies from their competitors on more than just usefulness and ease. The skill sets and design approaches to achieve this are an emerging UX field.

Repositioning of UX within corporations
Traditionally, UX services were offered by small, creative consultancies, which often had to fight being labelled the “UI design team”, “the make-it-pretty team” or the concept that “ease of use is just common sense”. Today UX is becoming an integral part of corporate business and is being brought in-house by many organisations, through a large investment in UX capabilities.
With this change the practice itself is changing, as are the requirements of the practitioner. UX is now often leading the charge to move companies from ‘inside-out’ design, characterised by management, technology or process-led design practices, into ‘outside-in’ design, characterised by being customer led. This requires not only technical UX skills, but also corporate savvy and a strong change management focus. The UX practitioner needs to become a ‘corporate citizen’, influencing organisations at levels that were inaccessible and unknown to them in the past.

Movement towards omni-channel design
Customers engage with businesses through many touch points – email, call centres, Web sites, social media, physical stores, etc. – and the overarching brand promise and experience must be consistently translated, and seamlessly delivered within and across these channels.
More so than ever before UX work is being targeted at seamless channel integration and consistent omni-channel experiences. This means that projects cannot work in isolation, channels cannot be designed in silos, and knowledge management becomes an integrated and governed framework across many user types, journeys and interaction environments.
Having a strategy that outlines the core purposes of each of these channels and how they string together is crucial. Managing the structural design landscape and how channels are architected for consistency and purpose backs this up. UX designers are now required to think bigger, pattern more, and influence organisations across landscapes, not projects.

Mobile first is still poorly understood
In Africa, the mobile phone is the lowest common denominator. South Africa’s mobile penetration rate is 133% but it also has very different demographics – some consumers only use feature phones while others are able to choose whether they want to engage with a brand on their smartphones, tablets, laptops or desktop computers.
Many companies recognise that mobile solutions are crucial and adopt a mentality of “mobile first” design strategies. However, they do not recognise that every action customers take will not happen the same across every channel. Designing a mobile experience still needs to be based on understanding that channel’s role in the ecosystem of user interactions with an organisation, and user research needs to drive the channel strategy.

With the growing consumerisation of IT, UX is becoming a competitive differentiator. Companies will succeed or fail in the future, based on their ability to deliver IT services or functionality designed with the customer experience in mind. We’re already seeing massive differences in terms of financial performance between companies that take UX seriously and those that don’t, purely because customers will always choose good experiences over bad. But while becoming customer-centric is a lot easier said than done, if businesses trust in the process and adopt an outside-in approach, they have a good chance of getting it right.