How did we start?
To explore the future, we have to take a step back and look at the recent history of UI & UX design. Websites are a good example where we can see the progress of design and development.
They had plain HTML websites with the navigation on the left-hand side or at the top, and the content in the middle. After that, flash made an appearance and broke all the rules, which was sometimes a good thing but probably more often than not a bad thing. Since everyone was a designer/developer, they often had total freedom to design things as they would like it and got no feedback at all. These websites were often too slow, too flashy, and very often unusable. Performance was not something that we thought about too much, users were also often forgotten. With the first appearance of smartphones we had to start thinking about performance and to think about usable website experience on a small screen, which simply couldn’t be the same as on a desktop. Nowadays we measure performance in milliseconds and turn our attention to every part of usability and take almost everyone’s opinion into account, at least we try :).
Where are we now?
So, according to the past, most of our progress is based on developing new ways to enjoy media, adjusting content, and thinking of things that are important for us to make the best possible UI & UX design. Mobile to smartphone to tablet to smartwatch… AR, VR. Designing for desktops, smartphones, tablets and even smartwatches is now in a safe state. We know what questions to ask, we know how to make it pretty and incorporate a good user experience into the story. There are a lot of good examples, great articles, best practices, free libraries with design systems already built.
We sometimes feel like we’re just arranging elements on a screen and more often than not, that is the case. But, the role of a designer should be so much more, if it already isn’t. It should involve communication with the client, developers, PMs/POs, and also with users or potential users. A designer should have an understanding of the product, what is its purpose, how it should work, what are the limitations, and everything else that could be helpful to build the best experience possible. I know that most designers are already in some of these positions. I also know that a lot of them are not and that their impact on the final product is not as great as it should be.
What to expect from AI?
If you’re a UI/UX designer and still not in the position mentioned above, where you have an impact on so many more things than just the layout of the design, try and jump on that train. Automation is coming and the problems that we are solving today will be forgotten tomorrow. Don’t get me wrong, there will always be problems, they are going to be harder, better to be prepared for them, because as I’m writing this blog and you are reading it, there are AI scientists working on automated systems that can make beautiful designs with good user experience. They have a long way to go, especially in the UX department, but they will get there.
We shouldn’t fear this in any way, we should embrace the AI and use it to our benefit while it develops. Whether it’s user testing, simple drawings, idea wireframing using AI will get these things done faster and designers will have more time to think about the more complex stuff that AI is still not capable of solving. And as we solve more complex problems, we also provide data to AI to help it learn. By upgrading our AI, we are upgrading ourselves with more time for the things that haven’t been solved by anyone. As I mentioned before, there are always problems that haven’t been solved, at least not solved in the best way possible. There was a project that planned to design websites using AI called thegrid.io. Here you can read a great article on all the things that happened with this company.
Here are some examples of AI systems that actually work today and use AI to design and use AI to improve their design:
- Logo design – Turbologo & Tailor Brands
- Website design – Wix
- User testing tools – EyeQuant & tobiipro sprint
Is there more to AR and VR?
If you, however, find designing for flat screen boring, think about VR (Virtual Reality) & AR (Augmented Reality). This is one of the greatest examples of VR possibilities as seen in a recent game that has been developed especially for it. Game publisher Valve released a VR experience in Half-Life Alyx which showed what VR is actually capable of and how immersive it can be. For example, in the middle of all the exploring, fighting bad guys, solving puzzles you come across a piano that you can sit down and play your favorite songs on, you just need to know how to play the piano. It’s interesting to see how people started to make meme videos with the piano, you can take a look at it here.
They probably changed how the world perceived VR technology. It’s only a matter of time before other big companies start using the advantages of VR and jump on board, some of them already have. AR on the other hand is already in a pretty good shape, there are already great applications that use AR, like Ikea and similar companies that offer furniture. Clothing companies are not far from embracing AR for clothes fitting via your smartphone, they just need to wait out a little bit more until someone creates software that can be used in everyday life. The car industry was one of the first to embrace AR. There is a great future for these technologies, you just need to really think outside the box to make great designs for them.
What is it? Human-Centered Design (HCD) is a process and mindset for solving complex problems that users encounter. The main focus of HCD is to really understand the perspective of the user, their needs, and to question if a solution is really solving a problem in the most effective way possible. HCD is and should be the future of UI and UX design in so many ways and, as I mentioned above, a designer needs to understand the product from more perspectives (clients, developers, testers, and even PMs). HCD is supporting that idea because it considers so many more angles on how to solve a problem and it always questions the solution to adjust it for the user so that they have the best experience possible.
Now, we can’t go through the entire blog and not mention COVID-19 and the situation that we are currently facing and how we can help. There is no better time than this to put HCD to work and try to fight the virus that paralyzed most of the world. We can’t make people wash their hands or stay at home if they don’t feel well. But we can influence their consciousness by reminding them about the importance of all those things and such as staying healthy and fit. We have many wearable devices, smart speakers, and other smart devices around us, so, let’s put them to good use by designing the experiences that could change how people think and behave. There are a lot of other problems we need to think about, like climate change or homelessness, but let’s put this one in the spotlight for now.
The future can be dark, or it can be bright, depending on how you embrace it and how you develop your skills as a designer. It’s great to have the technical skills to make beautiful designs with great user experience. But it’s even better when you do all that and have the great skill of understanding what the client wants, what is the best and fastest possible way to solve it while staying within the budget. I know it’s a lot to ask. To develop all these different skills while staying relevant and welcome everything that is coming we have to adapt, I personally think that designers are capable of adjusting to any kind of circumstances. So, stay relevant, be prepared, be ready for any changes coming our way, and embrace new technologies. Remember, they are here to help.