Design Trends We’re Watching in 2014

As a follow-up to our Top Interaction Design Trends 2013 post in December, the design team here at OpenRoad considered some of the trends and buzzwords that might give us a glimpse into what design and technology has in store for us in 2014. Now, we’re not claiming that these are the design trends for 2014, but merely a few of the ones that we find particularly interesting at the moment. So let’s dig in…

Connected Everything

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Some say it started a few years ago with Nest, who introduced a smart, self-learning thermostat for your home. Soon, we saw an explosion of connected products and product ideas for home automation, including lighting and security systems. But this year, things seem to be moving into overdrive. Clearly, Google thinks so too with their recent $3.2 billion acquisition of Nest, only last week. Wolfram even announced the launch of their new Connected Devices Project, which boasted “a couple of thousand devices” at launch.

Whether or not the dream of a “connected everything” plays out remains to be seen (and will likely be determined in the end by the consumer’s desire for an Internet of Things and smart devices) but it’s certainly something that will play into our thinking as designers this year.

Offline First

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If mobile computing has shown us anything, it’s the impracticality of counting on an always-connected device. Let’s face it: signals drop, batteries die, and the FCC has its rules. So, as designers of websites and mobile applications, do we just shrug our shoulders when the user’s connection drops as they use their web-enabled application? In the past, the best practice has been to clearly communicate to the user that there’s been an “error” and let them know the nature of the error.

But this is the future. And the future is now.

As designers, it’s our job to anticipate the context of use and design our experiences appropriately. This means that, yes, acknowledging that connectivity breaks. But we should be going beyond that. It means designing for those times where connectivity is just not there but offering more value than just an error message. The people have voiced their annoyance with ill-considered offline experiences and the winner here is clear: the user.

Cross Channel Experience

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Ask any reasonably-adept consumer and they’ll tell you: very rarely do they complete an activity (whether it’s booking a flight, shopping for pants, or buying a book) in one sitting. The customer journey is both a linear and not-so-linear narrative of research, browsing, chatting, comparing, dreaming, regretting, wandering, and buying. And yet so often companies fall into the trap of thinking that each “touchpoint” with their customer, each communication channel, is a self-contained, uninterrupted universe unto itself, with no external dependencies.

But in the customer’s mind, the brand is the brand—it doesn’t matter if they’re dealing with the company’s call centre or the ecommerce website. With the explosion of new consumer behaviours like mobile commerce, “showrooming“, and social sharing, each of which have the customer juggle multiple modes simultaneously (online/offline, retail, phone, advertising), companies can no longer afford to ignore the story their product or service weaves within the total life of the consumer.

Not only does this require unified messaging and responsive designs, but smart interactions based on context of use at each stage of the customer experience. It’s win-win: the brand’s message is more optimized, and the consumer’s given greater value. So we’re hoping that the cross-channel experience approach continues to gather steam in 2014.

The common current through most of these examples seems to be the increasingly blurry line between the “digital world” and the “real world”, a distinction that we, in fact, find to be largely irrelevant as we move into 2014. There’s no digital or real—there’s only the user and their experience with your brand, service, or product (connected or not). Once we give up artificial notions of boundaries around “digital”, we can then move into a new mode of design thinking that frees up all sorts of radical possibilities.

So, with that thought, we’ll leave you with a trend that’s been growing fast over the last few years, and one that we hope will ultimately dominate 2014: User First. (Though, not to toot our own horn too much, but we’ve been saying this for years). Dare we call 2014 “The Year of the User”?