In 2014, the prominence of design and UX within technology has been a hot topic. Whilst technology is increasingly commoditized, user engagement with that same technology has become a clear differentiator in the marketplace.
Driven by the proliferation and success of consumer software products and apps, recent acquisitions of leading design agencies by the big technology houses indicate a new UX scaling approach for the enterprise. This trend goes far beyond the services needing to “beef up” the relevance of their offer; empathy and understanding for the end-to-end user experience has become a requirement for clients themselves, and the call for designers and design thinking comes directly from the desk of the corporate CEO.
The challenge is that software has to improve rapidly to stay ahead of user expectation. The all-powerful enterprise platforms have shown their inflexibility as a new generation of professionals makes noisy, impatient demands. When it comes to on boarding, usability, retention and exploiting value, the behavioral triggers of professionals are entirely comparable to those of consumers. Demand for constant improvement and increased competition from purely digital players has pushed traditionally sluggish technology companies to embrace UX as a philosophy rather that the function of a single designer. Accenture acquired Fjord in 2013 and Capital One Bank acquired Adaptive Path in 2014. Initially championed by startup mavericks, UX has gone both mainstream and global, with the marriages seemingly getting weirder and weirder. This shift to “thinking in experience, rather than thinking in code” is now the accepted bedfellow for innovation.
On a superficial level, we have seen a result in the battle between skeuomorphism and flat design. Arguably, the victory of the latter reflects the increasing complexity of individual products, multiplied by the cumulative intricacy of ever-growing product ecosystems equals an urgent need for clarity. Design and technology veteran John Maeda’s answer to this sensory and cognitive overload is encompassed by the Laws of Simplicity (http://mitpress.mit.edu/books/laws-simplicity) where he makes the case that simplicity will save our sanity.
Big Data is an obvious area where big technology muscles are proving to be insufficient without the simplicity, clarity and insight the design brain offers. We must surface an intelligent essence from an effectively bottomless pit of Big Data to the plane of our consciousness. Clarity is the language, analytics the vehicle and Data Visualization the tool to achieve this (http://goo.gl/BW8U8T).
Devices have made significant strides forward in 2014, with wearables being another hot topic for both technology and design. Yet, while products continue emerging, the case for their continued success hasn’t yet been fully proven. Whether it is Oculus Rift vs Google Glass, or activity trackers vs smart watches, one of design’s strengths is that it will address the existing needs and ambitions, and reveal unrecognized opportunities along the way. This is where true value is shown, markets opened, and winning differentiation exposed.
At the end, it is The Internet of Things where all these stories collate creating a direct impact on the future of the Digital Economy with UX tying technological loose ends into a coherent user centered system. A complex inter-dependent system of technologies and devices generates a feedback loop of analytics, which triggers improvements in personalization and drives a move from convoluted operations to intelligent services. A rich combination of the best design and the best engineering has delivered the success of early IoT solutions like Nest. Achieving success on that scale will remain an ambition for IoT players in 2015.
The modernist maxim ‘form follows function’ has been transformed to ‘form is function’. The big question remaining is whether designers and engineers can successfully work together towards a genuine and unique user experience to make this come true in its purest sense.