As is the way with trends, new lists of UI/UX design trends appear every year.
As it is with any trend – be it design, tech, or even fashion – they usually emerge out of a need to gain a new angle and increase popularity. Trends also serve to differentiate yourself from the competition. Usually, after trends catch on, they become obsolete and ineffective due to overuse. While some trends end up overstepping the mark of aesthetics and become prove themselves pragmatic, some just fade off into nothingness.
But just like any other body of knowledge, UI/UX is also evolving. And like anything else that evolves, there are new trends developing all the time that we need to take into account. As designers, it is a part of our work to keep well-informed of current trends and leverage them whenever possible.
So let us look at 4 major UI/UX trends that made their presence felt in 2020 and will continue to do even more so in 2021!
AI is not just complex robots and technologies of the future, as much as sci-fi movies would have us believe on the contrary. AI plays a big part in UX and is in the trends without us even realizing it.
All the ways we can improve UX with AI, they all lead to a shared end goal:
Think about the personalized music suggestions on Spotify, the suggested videos on Youtube, Netflix recommendations, or smart home assistants like Alexa! All of this personalization was achievable because of AI.
Some people might say that this can be a job for developers and not UX professionals. After all, developers can put custom content on the page for the users.
This is where AI comes in.
There is a difference between personalization and customization. Nielsen Norman Group defines the goal of personalization to:
Customization on the other hand refers to a direct change in the interface that occurs due to a user’s action. It’s about controlling the elements on the screen according to their preference.
AI makes it possible to improve social listening (the process of monitoring social media channels for mentions of your brand/competitor/product), data analysis, and facial recognition so that companies can get to know their customers on a much more intimate level.
It may seem ironic that machine learning and artificial intelligence can drive a deeper understanding of human behavior. But the reality is that with the help of artificial intelligence, companies can offer more personalization, which humanizes brands with a relatable face and voice that resonates with their audience.
A study revealed that 62% of design professionals believe artificial intelligence and machine learning will be very important to their creative roles.
When applied to UX design, AI can implement the optimization process. The technology is capable of collecting and analyzing large amounts of data very quickly and far quicker than humans. It can use that information to run A/B tests automatically, understand the results of the test, and update the product or design accordingly. It can then restart the process by testing other elements of the design.
In the end, designers will be the decision-makers and will feed information, rules and conditions to the algorithms that will then conduct the tasks. AI cannot take over those tasks yet.
The truth is that AI enhances UX in a way that no other technology or marketing strategy can and as a result, it gets more people to engage with the technology.
What is mobile-first design?
Mobile-first design is exactly as it sounds: sketching, prototyping and designing for mobile first and then scaling up to larger screens from there. Mobile-first ensures that you deliver the right User Experience (UX) to the right screen.
Even though the importance of responsive design is well documented and the analytics from websites keep suggesting it’s crucial, one crucial factor has emerged which makes mobile-first design indispensable.
Google recently announced its “Mobile-first indexing best practices” which outlines how Google predominantly uses the mobile version of indexing and ranking content.
This means that the Google bot will now use the websites’ mobile version to index content. According to Google’s documentation, “If your site’s mobile version has less content than your desktop version, the website traffic will be affected.”
Responsive design is no longer an option. It’s a priority. As a designer, this is the time for you to sharpen your responsive design skills.
When designing for mobile-first it is important to consider that the need of those searching on mobile is probably different to those searching on a desktop. While those searching via desktop are probably looking for more detailed responses and additional information, on mobile it is far more likely the user is simply after quick information, which is why a mobile-first approach works best. It gives you the space to start from less and build to more rather than vice-versa.
3D graphic elements are receiving a new-found love in design.
3D designs have been attracting users for years now and are hardly novel UX design trends, both on the web and on mobile. But this year, the designers’ interest in 3D components and entire 3D scenes in interfaces has gone even higher.
What has also changed is that whereas before the 3D elements were not diverse in practical use because they often dumped a very heavy load on user machines and were not in high demand, modern front-end frameworks and libraries are able to significantly reduce page load time allowing the 3D objects to become even more detailed and larger.
In 2021, the 3D trend will continue to become more popular, especially combined with the rise of VR and AR technologies. 3D design got a new boost with Apple incorporating it in the new macOS update set to release later this year.
MacOS BigSur has a set of revamped icons with a lot of 3D elements in the icons. Below are just a few of them.
It’s more difficult nowadays to surprise someone with huge animations, so using small animated elements for user encouragement is more advisable. Microinteractions show state change and help users navigate.
According to Normal Nielsen Group, a micro-interaction is a trigger-feedback pair. The trigger can be a user action or an alteration in the system’s state and the feedback is a targeted response to the trigger and is communicated through small, highly contextual and visual changes in the UI.
Microinteractions play a crucial role in your UX and if implemented correctly, serve to delight and engage the users. They put you a step ahead in terms of well thought out UX because you exceed usability and have fine-tuned details to offer to the users. They may be called micro-interactions but they play a macro role in increasing the feel-good factor of your product, no wonder they have been in trends in the UX space.
Examples of microinteractions include swipe instead of a simple tap, pull to refresh, interactive data inputs, keeping users informed of system status, and small animations when users accomplish seemingly minor tasks.
Many trends have been around for a while – storytelling, dark mode, ethical design, unique illustrations, and bold typography, etc. Since these elements have been around for a few years now, we can’t say they are “trends” anymore, but rather, common knowledge.
As technologies evolve, the drawbacks remain. The more complex these trends are the more time consuming they can get and the more load they can increase on user machines. So while it is important to implement these trends and styles into new designs in 2021, it can only be done after careful consideration and practice, because otherwise, it can cost your product or your client.
In 2021 the design trends will prioritize speed, simple page designs, mobile-first approach, and most importantly, all of this spiced up with artificial intelligence.