Design in 2016: A Chat with Fuzzy Math

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Design in 2016

What’s going to be important in design in 2016? We’re always looking ahead to the future, ensuring anything we design will be both well-suited for current users and current needs, and also adaptable as those needs evolve. To kickoff the year, the team at Fuzzy Math spent some time on Slack discussing what we expect to see over the next 12 months. (Big thanks to FiveThirtyEight for the “Slack chat” inspiration!)

Nick Leonard

Last year we saw a continued rise in overall awareness and prominence for the field of UX, the launch of the Apple Watch and a related increase in design discussion around wearables, the meteoric rise of Slack (in our office and elsewhere), and the launch and refinement of so many different prototyping and animation tools. What’s ahead for 2016?

Mark Baldino

I see two trends ahead in 2016, both of which are really a continuation of what we’ve seen in our specific UX design industry and the larger technology world in the past.

We’ll start with the first trend I’ve noticed — the continued embrace of design as a discipline with far reaching applications within organizations/companies and across groups, roles, responsibilities, and titles. As user-centered design methodologies have been warmly embraced by organizations looking for a better pulse on their users and, perhaps more importantly, as a better way to solve problems, they will continue to shift their overall organization structure, process, and roles to become more “customer-centric” or “customer-oriented” organizations.

I wouldn’t call this a democratization of design as there will still be specialists, but there is a remarkable component of UCD as a problem solving method: almost anyone who cares can learn it and apply it well. Some of the production level aspects will be handled by specialists (information architecture, interface design, code, etc.), but a much larger audience will shift how they approach the design of products and services. Understanding UX is less about pixels and more about experiences.

So while in 2016 I ​don’t​ believe many organizations will shift their entire “org chart” to reflect this (check back in a few years), I do believe many will embrace a cross-discipline approach lead by user-centered designers.

Isaac Steiner

This goes to the role of service design as well. As organizations both enhance the scope and scale of what their design discipline can influence, there’s also a broadening of the design paradigm itself – and this makes sense: ​There is a greater need and awareness for coordination of touchpoints and services across an offering.

Ben Ihnchak

As much fun as I find disagreements to be in settings like this, I am finding it hard to disagree with anything that Mark mentioned above. Between McKinsey acquiring a design firm to seeing a variety of massive companies that aren’t known for design on the UX conference circuit (GE, Citrix(!), Intel, IBM, etc.), I am finding it hard to disagree with the idea of that trend continuing to grow.

However those are all huge companies used as examples, so I think it will be interesting to see how non-huge companies, small- to mid-sized organizations, handle the shift without a load of cash to handle this relatively quick shift to using a UCD process internally.

Nick Leonard

I would think we’re also reaching a point where the question is no longer “should we have a digital offering?” but “what/how many digital offerings should we have?” Most traditionally “offline” companies now have some sort of connected services – insurance companies all have apps and web chats, anything that can be delivered is being delivered via app, and so on – which is forcing everyone to think about their ecosystem as a whole and the design across touchpoints both new and old.

Ben Ihnchak

That’s a really interesting point, Nick. I can only imagine the pressure those typically non-digital companies are feeling to not be left in the dust of their competition.

Mark, what do you think some common hurdles the new-to-the-game companies are going to run into?

Mark Baldino

Besides a dire lack of resources it’ll be a culture shock. On the former, companies that aren’t design heavy will find it difficult to grow and establish UX design practices. The culture shock will just be the slow churn away from “we know the customer already” / “we know what the customer wants more than they do” / “Steve Jobs said to never ask a customer what they want” mentality to “Oh! We can be more successful if we embrace our customers.” Small victories are super important. People get nervous when you talk about new roles or changes in roles or someone called a “designer” (which to many means you implement an idea) formulating ideas or strategy. It sounds dangerous and expensive. So designers should ensure their process is proven and repeatable and that it is presented in a way that removes the fear, makes it look very safe, and actually could save some money.

I’ll add, on the ‘start-slow-and-find-some-wins,’ that it takes a lot of time to make it work. In one study, 2.5 years before financial gains. This is a great read from HBR: Customer-Centric Org Charts Aren’t Right for Every Company.

Isaac Steiner

That last point is so key. If there is a design bubble (where demand for the discipline extends beyond its need), it will burst when companies realize that the process doesn’t have an esoteric intent. Often the goal is just helping teams align. This is very safe, and very smart.

Nick, you mentioned insurance, which I think is interesting. What other verticals do you think will be most impacted by growing interest in design?

Nick Leonard

Healthcare in its entirety — those companies embraced design a while ago but I think the opportunities there will continue to evolve. Public services potentially as well, which I think the publication of the U.S. Web Design Standards helps point to. I think that one might take a while to be fully realized but there is a huge opportunity at local, state/regional, and national levels. What am I missing?

Rachel Vorm

Nick, I agree with healthcare and in specific I think therapy and “self help” type applications. I also feel there is a lot of room for improvement in how security and privacy flows are interpreted in design.

Ben Ihnchak

To Nick’s “public services” point, man, please! As a consumer of all things required by the government, I would love for those things to be even just 5% more simple. I would also venture a guess that improving the experience for the end user would somehow help reduce overall costs — better experience, less questions from the public, fewer fees associated with answering questions, etc. We all win.

I also second Rachel’s point in there being a lot of room for improving security/privacy, if nothing else, just explaining what the heck is going on with my information.

Isaac Steiner

The public sector has what you call a plurality of concerns outside of the role of design. When considering where the capital is (I’m talking :money: not :government:), it seems that innovation in healthcare/biotech (and financial services) is somewhat of a given and will be the huge push.

Not to change topics too much, but regardless of verticals, interesting trends to watch I think are mobile, cloud-based services and the continued questions around data.

Mark Baldino

Well I’ll pick up the “new industries” healthcare and data thread and move to the second trend I see, which is another continuation of trends: increased power in the the widely discussed Internet of Things. The majority of consumer facing products will no longer be acceptable if they don’t connect in some way, shape, or form to something else. Interfaces will have, in certain cases, less digital UI and more connection with third-party tools, apps, or devices handling the interface. Vacuums aren’t created or intended to have a fully functioning consumer-acceptable digital interface. So instead, create the best vacuum and then connect it to a touch screen device, something that was created to be a full functionality, consumer acceptable, digital interface. All of these connections create a very rich set of physical and digital interactions and are a tremendous data source that was traditionally reserved for business. Many markets will benefit from the increase. Healthcare, along with the wellness category, has recently had the strongest position in the market. But other industries, such as manufacturing, will continue to leverage the ecosystem of people, process, and data that connected devices, sensors, and data repositories can bring. Design will continue its influence over those devices with “user interfaces,” but the interfaces for consumption of the data and the decision making process will as greatly benefit from UX and UCD. Design will play a prominent role in 2016 in enhancing the the strategic value this enormous ecosystem will bring to businesses and consumers.

How do people feel about the Internet of Things in 2016? Overhyped and underutilized? The reverse?

Nick Leonard

The connected vacuum example is maybe apt as I think that’s something that will probably exist (if it doesn’t already) but also something whose connectedness may never outweigh the additional cost and potential for breakdown. Similar to “social” a few years ago, there’ll be a lot of things that are connected just because they can be, which will help identify where the real value exists, and then a refinement to where high value connected products succeed and others start falling off. But for 2016 I eagerly await the connected blenders, sinks, and ergonomic office chairs.

Chris Curry

Personally I think the “internet of things” is still growing in interesting ways. I think it is providing unique challenges and opportunities for design and reshaping the way we think of our environment. To me, it means thinking of things things as they work in a system in addition to how they work on their own. This will be interesting to work with as experience designers, especially when many of these new connected devices do not have screens and their physical form might not always show their full capabilities.

Ben Ihnchak

Tagging along on Nick’s “just because you can” point, I find it very cool that the engine of the train I am on can talk to its manufacturer and let it know that it’s due for an oil change, and I love that my watch can further inform me about my activity and sleep habits, but I really care about why my old dentist’s system can’t tell my new dentist’s system that I had x-rays taken three months ago? Why do those offices need to talk at all? I guess my point is that the Internet of Things is really cool, but I just want the Internet Holding My Things to work better.

I guess I get less excited about the Internet of Things, but I fully agree with Chris that I am pretty giddy to see what happens with “interface light” objects and design in the coming year.

Chris Curry

Tagging along with Isaac I think the mobile market will continue to grow. Obviously phones are no longer just for making calls and texts, but I think they are starting to cross into a new territory. With the additions of biometric security, the phone is starting to become a key to many other things. We can already use our phones in place of a credit card for payments but I wonder what other situations the security verification and near field communications can be used for. Obvious solutions for me would be unlocking doors, setting up personal settings in cars, virtual tickets, etc., but it will be interesting to see if there are any unexpected use cases that emerge this year.

Isaac Steiner

Mobile payment technologies and mobile video will be interesting to watch. Both are maturing. (And I’m sure we’re going to see more public discussions about the experience of mobile payments.)

Nick Leonard

One of the big things at the start of 2015 was what role wearables, and in particular smartwatches, would play moving forward. I’m not sure they’ve achieved the traction some were predicting, but maybe that changes as more of those type of uses (mobile payments, biometric security, etc.) become mainstream. What do you think? Does the phone continue to dominate or should we expect more utilization to move to interconnected devices?

Mark Baldino

My personal guess is that the phone is still the hub with devices as sensor gaining traction. There will be a blend in many cases but I think the balance will tilt towards the more versatile device (and to my IoT comment) and to the device that is best suited for data entry and display. Until we see some paradigm shift in non-UI interfaces (not on the 2016 list I don’t think, but stay tuned for the Feb. newsletter) we’re stuck with a limited real estate and gestures on small devices (or things like vacuums that shouldn’t have a screen) — and left to the phone or other “hubs.”

Isaac Steiner

Given the ubiquity (and utility) of phones, I think they will maintain dominance. The gap between technology and interaction patterns is pretty narrow, and I think that’s unique. The speed-to-market of the technology and the robustness of the evolving pattern languages make it a ripe ground for experimenting with inputs and sensors.

Julia Jouravel

Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing how our society continues to adjust itself to this new tech in terms of day-to-day communication, task management, work flow, and getting things done. By making things more intuitive to use, we not only create new cultural patterns (a recent example of swiping on a screen), but also speed up our current processes. I’m curious to see just how quickly we as a society will evolve to adopt the wealth of new tech in the upcoming years, without experiencing a massive cognitive overload.

Nick Leonard

That’s a great point — tech at this point is mainstream, and very much woven into everyday life for a great many people. What is everyone else looking forward to in design in 2016?

Carl Duffield

I’m especially interested to see how design and healthcare will continue to intersect in 2016 (and hopefully the foreseeable future). With patient-centered design gaining traction and designers being encouraged to lend their voices to the conversation – it’s going to be exciting to see how many of the seemingly simple-but-stubborn problems that patients and healthcare professionals face every day can be addressed, or better yet, solved.

Nicole Sciackitano

Riffing off Julia’s musings, I am looking forward to a leaner and meaner transformation of work, collaboration, and synchronous communication. Within the past couple years, we’ve witnessed a parade of digital workspaces redefine what it means to be an engaged and productive worker/person. I’d like to see more Slack-ified collaborative workspaces come to the fore in 2016.

Isaac Steiner

Nicole’s point is even more salient when considering the work within giant enterprises.
I’m looking forward to seeing how mobile will be a more influential part of corporate operations.

Ben Ihnchak

I am pretty curious to see what comes of wearables and all the data we are tracking about ourselves. I really enjoy my wearables (Garmin watch and bike GPS) and tracking my personal data, especially weight and general activity, but the ecosystem of “my data” is kind of a mess to wrangle. More importantly, I am unsure if I am actually getting any value or true benefit out of what I’m tracking. I am hopeful that there will be some improvements (design of apps, design of the larger ecosystem, and otherwise) to help me make sense of it all.

I would also like to see buttons that look like buttons: some gradients, a little drop shadow here and there, have them stand out from the background so I don’t have to search for them. I feel like this is UX 101 that has been lost over time, and 2016 is a good time to bring it back. (I feel like this is nitpicky, but it’s the truth!)

Nick Leonard

I think the thing I’m most interested to see is the progression of chat platforms as input mediums for other systems (think of the corporate integrations with Facebook M as an example, e.g. ordering an Uber via M). Messaging is familiar and relatively ubiquitous, both in personal use and increasingly in business use. What once required many web pages, forms, and buttons might now be resolved through a single UI, meaning designers can focus narrowly on defining the best process and allowing the already-familiar UI to manage the input.

What are you looking forward to in design in 2016? Let us know on Twitter @fuzzymath!

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