What trends are you tracking in the UX industry? Here are a few that I am seeing.

During my online networking, I usually like to ask people what trends they see emerging or where they think the industry is headed. I ask them to predict the UX industry trends five years in the future. While that is a big ask given how much and how fast things change on the internet, UX professionals already have strong hunches on the future of design thinking. It is important to know where we are headed and I think we consider this at least subconsciously. If we want to grow in our careers it is impossible not to think about.

These ideas can be a little general, but also very pointed at the same time. There is enough detail to allow one to start preparing for our future roles now. Here are a the biggest trends I often hear repeated. I present these ideas in no particular priority, They are all equal in prevalence in my opinion.

Specialization — There area already many different fields in UX: Research, content strategy, AR/VR/3D design, visual design, product design, mobile, UX copywriting and so on. Speculation that there will be an expansion beyond these few is growing. Some possible examples I would throw out; Product design may split into media platform type; wearables, entertainment, augmentations, etc. In the future, you may only work on game products or write copy for social media apps. Maybe your expertise is confined to mobile grocery shopping apps. We already see this in other industries: Medicine has fields dedicated to all the different ailments, parts of the body, organs, etc. Engineering can refer to everything from chemicals to airplanes. Construction expertise will vary based on what you want to build.

Examples of specialization can be found everywhere. Anthropologists will tell you this is what allowed the human race to develop socially and increase survival rates. UX is a relatively new industry so there is not the same degree of separation in disciplines, but there is no reason to doubt it will follow the same ‘division of labor’ trends.

Standardized tools — There are so many different tools to communicate, design, problem solve and display content. Everyone is using something different. There are a ton of great apps out there that help us create beautiful displays or facilitate our problem solving. The problem is that we are spending on increasing amount of time trying to convert our work to outside apps or across devices. The industry may be headed towards a unification of some of these apps and platforms. Wouldn’t it be great the work you created on Illustrator could easily port to everything from G suite tools to Excel to Miro without problems or limitations? This may be a bad example, but there are so many apps going on it would take me to long to verify this example for my short post and that is exactly the problem.

Many (usually larger) organizations already define what programs they want teams using, if only to facilitate projects internally. There are increasing amounts of cross-platform tools that integrate organizational content across the net. Many smaller companies already see the value in providing portability and cross-functionality in all media. Think about how handy it is when you schedule a meeting on Google calendar and it automatically updates to your iphone calendar.

Standardization is either going to involve increased cross-functionality in all apps, devices or platforms or it will be a honing of the available resources and tools we use. The end goal is that we will be free to work in platforms we know will be cross-compatible, spend less time trying to share ideas and more time addressing the problems confronting us.

Increased knowledge of coding — There is a solid line dividing designers from developers. Few designers speak coding languages and few coders can create elegant designs. That won’t last forever. My instructors at school always talked about the rare individual who can code and design. Termed a ‘Unicorn’ because of the rarity (not intended to be an MLP pun) of someone possessing both disciplines. I see design and coding listed as preferred requirements in many job listings. Many only want someone who can relate to the developers on their terms (ie using JavaScript terminology), but someday it may be a necessity to push out MVPs or prototypes faster. Someone who can design and then code a quick prototype will be very valuable. Say you want to get into AR/VR design. It might be very helpful to know the coding languages that underpin these. Or be able to recognize how developers need to compartmentalize what we know as visual elements in object-oriented programming.

Multi-disciplinary teams are common in agile environments and will surely lead an evolution of expertise in a variety of coding languages in the near future. Given how competitive the tech industry is, having more knowledge is never a bad thing. Many UX designers have transitioned from other backgrounds, so adding another layer of knowledge seems like a no-brainer.

Design systems — These have been around awhile and we all know the value they provide in an ongoing basis to design organization. The main benefit of the design system is to preserve the original artwork and voice of the product. Projects see individual team members change frequently and there should always be something that is available for new recruits to utilize. It also reduces deviation from the visual message and voice that has probably been extensively researched and honed. The design system is also a reference that will help speed up the design process for updates or additions to the product. A designer would not need to “reinvent the wheel” when adding another container to a landing page. New team additions would best familiarize themselves with the existing design system to facilitate their work and minimize mistakes. Some design apps even have ‘libraries’ or ‘components’ that help make integration and alterations to the product.

The design system ensures that the hard work has already been done and the message of the product stays the same.

Accessibility — Designing digital products with disability considerations has always been important, but in the rush to get a product online it usually is relegated to the corner. As advocates for accessibility are becoming more and more prevalent it is becoming harder to ignore this need. Online resources like W3C and WebAIM provide articles and apps to test your designs for different accessibility problems. The literature and resources are available, it is up to organizations to support and allow the time to develop their products for these standards. Failure to think about people with disabilities can be at the least, ethically negligent, but can also lead to lawsuits and boycotts of your product. Recently Domino’s pizza chain was sued for inaccessibility standards by a blind man who was trying to order pizza from their site. The 9th circuit appeals court ruled that “alleged inaccessibility of Domino’s website and app impedes access to the goods and services of its physical pizza franchises — which are places of public accommodation.” Even colorblind individuals may have difficulty ordering a pizza given the extensive use of blue and red elements on each site page.

The takeaway is that as designers, we need to think about how we design to include everyone. The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law in July 1990 and since then awareness of disability standards has spread to every part of our daily lives and technology. Even now there are apps that aid blind people to use their smart phones. These may use voice commands or remote access to allow seeing volunteers to aid them. The point is there is a lot of ways we can think about inclusivity. It is time for us to start designing to that end.

Multi-disciplinary designers — In order to meet the needs of many different facets of work, lifestyle and culture, designers will need to have experience in more than just UX design. Pulling from other work/life experiences can give different and varied perspectives on a different subject. For a poignant example: One complaint many researchers and scientists have is that a problem is usually only studied from one discipline approach. When we view a problem from only one angle, what are we missing by omitting other perspectives? You may hear about local health care clinics touting a multi-disciplinary approach to medicine. This is relatively new, but powerful. Doctors with different specializations combine their experience and knowledge to attack single cases for a better outcome for patients.

In UX, we are familiar with the ‘6 Hats Thinking’ approach. This works by putting yourself into a different perspective to ideate about a problem. What if you did not have to role play, but already had that alternate perspective from a previous industry? One UX designer summed it up perfectly, “… I believe that if a designer has worn multiple hats before, they’re more likely to understand the larger scope of each project.” Now think about how this relates to the previous point about specialization. Both trends work in tandem because they both point to people of different disciplines working together on a problem. It is a much more powerful approach than to assume that one discipline has all the answers.

I am excited for these changes to come. I have come to view the internet as a limitless tool for improvement in all areas of life. So these trends reinforce my beliefs about the net as a tool for everyone to benefit from. I think we are heading in the right direction.

A UX Designer in a UX Designer world