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The Top UX Predictions for 2016

by UX Magazine Staff
15 min read
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UX Magazine contributors give us their predictions for the trends and developments that will shape experience design in 2016.

It’s that time of year again, where we present our annual UX predictions for the coming year. Will there be an increased focus on mobile? Will experiences be more tailored to the individual user? Will the UX we’re familiar with change so dramatically that we’ll have to call it something else altogether?

Without further ado, here are some predictions for 2016 from our contributors.

Adopting UX: The Challenge of Change – Scott Plewes, Macadamian

More and more, large companies are bringing UX teams in house and seeing it as a fundamental element of their business success. UX experts are being hired, or entire consultancy firms are being acquired as a whole to shore up larger companies capabilities. This is not surprising, given the important role UX is playing in the marketplace and what Forrester is calling “the age of the customer.” Companies that were not founded with UX “in their DNA” are adopting it as if it were.

The impact this is having, and will continue to have, is the realization that doing UX right means some fundamental changes to your process, tools, and mindset will have to take place. Just hiring a bunch of super talented people doesn’t get you great experiences out the door. What we are going to see is – as companies realize this – an emphasis not just on UX, but on change management, and on how companies “absorb” and adapt to different versions and approaches of UX. Not only will more adaptable companies benefit, but approaches to UX that are more adaptable to core company cultures and values will flourish while others will fade away.

Designing Anticipatory Experiences & Why Designers Need To Be Business Literate – Sarah Doody, User Experience Design & Consulting

Content is a critical factor in creating a great experience. An amazing experience isn’t just about showing the right information–it’s about showing the right information at the right time. Today, users expect some type of personalization: they’re looking for an experience that is predictive and anticipatory with being creepy. The key to this is to make use of all the channels we have available to increase access to helpful information. This includes: better mobile notifications, more actionable emails, hyper-tailored content and recommendations, and doing things automatically for users (but always giving the user control to change).

Another trend is the overlap of UX and business. It’s not enough for user experience designers to know tools and processes. To really be successful, designers must also understand business. Designers must have the agility and adaptability to quickly read an organization, understand its business, and operate within its constraints. As larger and more friction-filled organizations seek to focus on UX, we as designers must become expert at the dynamics of organizations — the soft skills — and operate at the overlap of business and user experience.

Finally, in 2016, designers will redefine delight. We’ve heard the request over and over, “it needs to be delightful.” But what exactly is delight? Is delight a user need? When we’re interviewing users and doing research, do they say “I’d like it to be delightful?” Rarely, if ever. Instead of trying to design delight into our product experiences, we should create experiences that produce delight as a byproduct of the experience. One way to do this is making things more “user friendly,” something people have come to expect. They just want things to work with ease.

The Future is Overrated – by Stefan Moritz, Veryday

Each year around Christmas, we tend to stir the buzzword soup and some big technology trend—this year probably Artificial Reality–moves up the slope of enlightenment on the Gartner hype cycle. We all agree that it’s good to think ahead. But I argue that the future is already here–we’re just not taking advantage of it. Google’s self-driving car was stopped by a police officer for going too slowly recently. You can apply for a house loan on your mobile phone and get instant sign-off. Mickey Mouse knows your daughter’s birthday thanks to the MagicBand she is wearing. We’ve reached a point where technology is often no longer the limiting factor–our thinking and our imagination is what limits us most.

The big problem for large businesses is that they move too slowly, which means that by the time they’ve caught up, the customer is already somewhere new. With the right mindset and framework, however, this can be fixed. In a recent project, we helped a global company figure out how customers will expect to experience an offering that doesn’t exist yet. New research techniques allow us to connect the future with deep human needs, so we can get a head start by utilizing technology that already exists. Working systematically like this is a question of dedication, commitment and leadership. We know that design is a fantastic catalyst and that the biggest threat to success is complacency. Leveraging today’s opportunities should be our starting point for 2016.

Personalized Experience – Liraz Margalit, Clicktale

In 2016, we will see a turning point from the field of UX as we know it to the field of PX – delivering Personalized Experience. More and more businesses are discovering the value of customization, the opportunity to deliver a customized experience, and the additional revenue potential that can be generated from it. In fact, it’s become so strong that today, many popular brands rest their entire business strategy on their ability to customize their products.

Customization has become increasingly significant to brand-name companies because it’s now part of a broader trend that shifts from viewing customers as recipients of value to co-creators of value. Rather than being passive, the customer is now becoming a crucial part of the experience. The same shift that was witnessed in business strategy will be witnessed in the field of user experience. It will shift from designing an experience for the user to providing the user the opportunity to become an integral part of the experience.  The key to success here is adjusting the experience to meet the user’s personal needs and state of mind at any given moment. ClickTale research has found that the ability to influence the experience automatically generates emotional involvement.

One immediate implication can be found in the field of A/B test. Up until now, A/B testing was regarded as an intuitive tool for testing the effectiveness of a certain change to the page (different color, design, framing, etc.) However, in my work as a web psychologist, I’m exposed to many different types of user behavior, as well as different types of online decision-making processes. Different groups of visitors interact with websites in different ways and derive pleasure from different experiences. Instead of testing different versions on all website visitors, we should be testing how different groups react to the same version and provide them with the opportunity to customize their own experience.

Touch First Design – Will Hacker, Cars.com

For the last few years, designers have focused on mobile first design to address the growing importance of smartphones and tablets in the digital landscape. The next evolution of our multi-device thinking should be around “touch first” design, as more laptop and desktop computers come equipped with touchscreens. Using screen width and device type to style and size tap targets fails to take into account the interactive nature of many laptop and desktop computers. We need to get smarter about device and device capability detection. As designers, we have to start thinking that all (or almost all) devices will have touch capabilities. It’s time for us to really embrace our fat fingers as a primary input on any device, as Josh Clark points out in his book Designing for Touch.

(Image courtesy of Josh Clark)

Mobile enabled experiences – Sebastian Sabouné, Hive

These days, as mobile devices continue to develop and become more ubiquitous, we increasingly expect things to “just happen.” The device becomes, in some ways, an invisible conduit for specific behaviors. Apple Pay is an example of a mobile-enabled experienced that triggers an action, in this case payment.

In 2016, we will see more of these experiences develop, with the mobile device as the enabler. After much talk about the connected home, I can finally see 2016 as the year we take remote control of our homes – from Internet of Things products that connect your mobile to home appliances–such as fridges and heating systems–to enhanced services where your fridge reminds you that you are running out of milk!

Up With Touch-Free, Down With Multipurpose – Q Manning, Rocksauce Studios

2016 is likely to be an even bigger year for UX than those preceding it. An increased focus on UX will aid in the creation of simple, user-friendly apps. The apps dominating the scene in the coming months will utilize these two key elements:

  • Touch-free inputs. In the new year, app designers will continue to make it easier for users to interact with their devices and applications. Instead of relying on touches, the next frontier will concern more voice-based commands, completing the full UX circle. This innovation just started to permeate the industry in 2015, most notably with apps like Square Cash and Google Translate.
  • No more feature-heavy apps. 2016 will be the year for single-purpose apps. Like touch-free inputs, this innovation also took off in 2015. Now, app developers are stripping down feature-heavy applications and breaking them into small apps with more focused designs. Facebook has already done this with Messenger, making it easier to maneuver and digest all that the social media platform has to offer. Foursquare also picked up on this advancement with the creation of Swarm.

Customer Journey Analytics – Ania Rodriguez, Key Lime Interactive

In 2016, the focus will be customer journey analytics, using big data to aggregate the myriad of behavioral-based journeys into meaningful and useful maps, rather than self-reported journeys. Companies have been collecting data for decades but still have no good way to find opportunities, understand them, and course correct quickly and easily. This is especially true as data is becoming easier to gather using tools such as Applause, UserTesting.com, and UserZoom. Companies are now focused on hiring data scientists to use real data to tell the story. The trend will continue as senior executives are all getting on the bandwagon in making customer/user experience a top priority (as noted by various recent articles from Gartner, Forrester, The Wall Street Journal, and more).

Designing for Content and Seamless Experiences – Jaron Rubenstein, Rubenstein Technology Group

First, for content-focused websites, we will see an increase in the use of the “infinite scroll” technique, whereby additional (hopefully related!) content will be automatically loaded beneath the current page as you scroll down. This pattern follows the current trend of increasingly long, scrolling pages, and leverages the contemporary user’s openness to scroll down and keep reading more. This was probably popularized most by Pinterest, although two websites that more recently began making great use of this technique are Bloomberg and ESPN.

Second, landing pages on content-rich websites will look more like content hubs than overview pages, with an experience that approaches leading news publications more than corporate websites—smartly written headlines, short snippets of content, and effective imagery. UX designs will focus more attention on techniques such as card-based design to “chunk” content and optimize shareability, all in the attempt to provide messaging for the increasingly short attention spans of visitors. Detailed pages will also move towards content chunking, and focus more real estate on related content to keep users engaged and reading.

UX 2016 prediction: Designers must operate at the overlap of business and UX

Finally, there will be an increased focus on the seamless brand experience. Research increasingly shows that a customer’s experience with a brand, from start to finish, drives future buying decisions and, key to today’s social marketplace, brand awareness and referability. Expect to see industries that historically invested little in their online presence and user experience begin to focus more effort on ensuring that their customer experiences are seamless. From the customer’s first digital interaction to their last, all interactions in between should strengthen relationships with the company and ward off the competition.

The Evolution of User Interfaces – Rob Tannen, Intuitive

Rather than thinking about year-to-year incremental changes in our field, we should step back and look at UX as a dynamic system that is constantly evolving.  In my upcoming publication for UX Magazine (“What Do User Interfaces Want?”), I discuss three drivers of the future of user interfaces.  These drivers are not “predictions,” but rather fundamental principles that influence all human-created technologies – complexity, diversity and ubiquity.

In recent years, we’ve seen these three characteristics play out very clearly in the world of user experience. Hardware and software have become more advanced, allowing us to create more sophisticated and naturalistic interfaces. A growing number of computing devices, mobile, wearable, and otherwise have expanded the diversity of interfaces that we design.  The emerging internet of things is also putting interactivity into nearly every place and context.

These drivers will continue to impact UX in 2016, but well beyond, and will influence the way we learn, practice and define design. I encourage you to look at the other predictions in this 2016 predictions post through this lense.

UX Will Go Multi-channel and Multi-device – Sergio Nouvel, Continuum

In 2016, UX and Service Design will be more and more difficult to tell apart, as the boundaries of a “digital product” are getting increasingly blurry. We are already observing Internet of Things gaining mainstream recognition, and mobile becoming the main point of access to the Internet for both developed and undeveloped markets. Meanwhile, the continued growth of APIs and new networking techniques make devices from different vendors talk to each other in a myriad of new ways. So it’s fair to wonder: where does an “experience” actually start and end? When does designing interactive screens stop being enough? If in past years we could lazily assume that some responsive Web Design was the answer to all of our design problems, today’s hyperfragmentation of devices, channels and interactions says otherwise.

The current progress of technology, rather than mere creativity or academia, is what is driving change and new possibilities to better solve people’s problems. A UX designer disconnected from the technological state of the art will be an oxymoron in 2016. Designers with a strong technological DNA are required; graphic artists will give way to hackers, able to build as well as prototype. Information architects will have to update their methods and their realms of action, but they will be hugely rewarded by a market that needs them desperately. In a world getting incredibly complex, the designers, engineers and architects able to produce meaningful and simple products, services and value propositions will thrive.

Incorporating Customer Data Easily into Personalized Experiences – Kevin O’Connor, User Insight

In the past few years, website and mobile applications have increased in their ability to tailor themselves to a specific user. After all, the more information that’s known, the more customized the experience can be.  While all users crave a good experience, we see a continuum of willingness to share personal information in our research.  Some people are reluctant to share the most mundane of details while others are willing to provide almost anything if it will result in an improved user experience. As one user put it during a recent user experience research project, “I want the world to know more about me if it will make my life easier.”

In 2016, the movement towards greater personalization and customization in interfaces will continue to accelerate, while putting less burden on the user to provide the necessary information to make it happen. The challenge that arises from this trend is how to design in such a way that the interface can best leverage users’ spectrum of sharing and create a usable experience, regardless of what a user is willing to share, or where they are in an experience.

Designing for users in 2016 will include more paths in the user interface to accommodate the different ways people like to consume information (i.e. a guided experience for some, a detailed research process for others). In addition, successful implementations will include more automated personalization based on user behavior (i.e. Nest or recommendations on Netflix), relying on someone’s actions rather than waiting for them to provide information. And finally, we predict that there will start to be more tailored experiences pre-login.

UI Trumps UX (Unfortunately) – Steven Hoober, 4ourth Mobile

We like to think today is the heyday of good UX, but it’s really at or past peak-buzzword. No one ever got the gist of it, most annoyingly many of those hired on to be designers, and almost everyone who makes digital tools and services for design and prototyping. I can draw pages, responsively no less, in any of a few dozen tools, and prototype in almost as many. But there’s not one digital tool I find useful to think about processes, or which empowers design by views, actions, and information instead of “pages.”

What causes most of my effort on this (aside from making it hard to find good people to work with) is the many beautiful frameworks and grids. Whether web or hybrid app, they are all shallow as a layer of paint, with no attention to architecture, and little to interaction (or at least, no structural encouragement to have a consistent and deliberate structure and interaction). This isn’t just a general lament as I become an old man shooing kids off my lawn and reminiscing with you all about the good old days; I see atrocious adoption rates and a trend downward in satisfaction when I check analytics or run usability tests on products built from this.

Design is our brains and fingers first. I hope that I keep seeing whiteboards and Post-Its in heavy rotation, and that some new buzzwords like this iteration of Design Thinking will bring the basics back to the forefront. We like tools to solve our process and mindset problems, so I hope more than predict there will be some Design Thinking-oriented digital tools in 2016 to fight the UI-centric trend.

Consolidation of Apps and Merging Real and Virtual Communities – Mary Brodie, Gearmark

I see two trends that will emerging in 2016, the first one being a simplified way to access apps, including consolidation/aggregation, voice control, robots, etc. This is largely because there are too many apps.

In Q4 2011, the average number of apps used per month was 23.2. The following year (Q4 2012) it grew to 26.5, and as of Q4 2013 it was just 26.8. This appears to indicate that there may be an “upper limit” to how many apps users will engage with each month.

I think we will start seeing apps that consolidate other apps. An example of how this could work: a user tells his phone that he wants to book a car at 10am from his house to the airport the next day. The phone goes to Uber, Lyft, the local cab company, and also accesses other APIs to get pricing. The phone displays the pricing and the user selects the one he wants to book. There is a need for the apps to provide the data and a product – but no need for a separate, unique experience. It’s not what a user wants.

I think we are also going to start to see the merger of virtual and real life communities. The key to creating communities is encouraging members to develop relationships. Online communities require the best of both virtual and real world interactions. In the virtual world, you can communicate anytime, anywhere; in the real world, in-person interactions build trust. There needs to be a way to bring the two together with simple, easy-to-use apps to create the next step of online communities. This functionality semi-exists but it doesn’t incorporate all of the features – notably, the forum component and linking to different apps. There also isn’t an optimal way to access everything at once. I think this will be built on various platforms and places during the year.

Subtle Interactions – Anders Arnqvist, Veryday

Interactions are becoming subtle humans. Many of our devices have gotten connected, requiring more interactivity and some even equipped with rudimentary AI. Products designed in 2016 will be adhering the idea that not all interaction requires a two-way dialogue or a screen interface.

To manage device usage, we will see devices equipped with interfaces that we can interact with in more subtle ways, like at a glance, without fully engaging throughout our increasingly growing micro-moments lifestyle. Products that better follow our rhythm and are better informed of the context in which we use them. This 2015 favorite stands as a role model for 2016.

Empowering Design – Nour Diab Yunes, Fjord

In 2016, design will empower people, giving them a sense of control over their bodies and environments. More importantly, this is the year that design will fuel all aspects of our social and private lives, and play a role in how we deal with the everyday as a society and as individuals. Digital services will continue to help organizations build stronger relationships with their audiences by providing more informed and personalized experiences that meet their needs and exceed expectations.

We are also seeing the rise of design thinking in influencing how the government communicates with its public. Gov.org.uk, for example, are using design thinking to address the general public with a more human-centric approach, allowing more people to access information in a meaningful way. Private digital initiatives are also emerging in the most unpredictable and poetic ways, such as the Berlin-based Refugees Welcome service, also known as “Airbnb for refugees,” which has invited people from Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Mali, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia and Syria, into private homes. This is a shining example of how effective digital can be in enabling citizens to reach out to one another and connect across geographical borders and cultural/political boundaries. Design has the potential to truly make an impact on society by encouraging a people-centric approach and giving room for a bottom-up communication stream that gives a voice to the public.

Image of hand holding a glowing crystal ball from Shutterstock.

post authorUX Magazine Staff

UX Magazine Staff, UX Magazine was created to be a central, one-stop resource for everything related to user experience. Our primary goal is to provide a steady stream of current, informative, and credible information about UX and related fields to enhance the professional and creative lives of UX practitioners and those exploring the field. Our content is driven and created by an impressive roster of experienced professionals who work in all areas of UX and cover the field from diverse angles and perspectives.


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