Review of our 2016 UX predictions

Design, Innovation, Opinion

Last year I predicted six big changes in the world of UX for 2016. Now as the year draws to a close, I look back at those predictions to see whether any of them came true.

I predicted that in 2016:

  1. Websites and apps will automatically redesign themselves
  2. Adobe Comet will become the industry standard
  3. User experience designers will be expected to be multi-skilled
  4. New digital-only, UX focussed banks will finally launch
  5. Microsoft’s Hololens will activate markets for complementary interface technologies
  6. Ad blockers and new EU laws will force businesses to re-think the way they generate revenue online.

1. Responsive 2.0: Websites and apps will automatically redesign themselves in response to usage patterns

Prediction: “The digital design industry will experience some disruption from Applied AI. Website building tools such as will launch to process images, text, URLs and more — to automatically design unique websites.”

What happened? These tools do exist, but the design industry isn’t out of a job just yet…

After considerable delays, finally launched in spring 2016. It claims to be “The website of the future: it builds itself.” It works by automatically A/B testing different designs to determine the best layouts, colours, fonts and extra imagery for your site.

While The Grid does produce some very aesthetically pleasing sites, I believe designers are a long way from losing their jobs for a few reasons:

  • These tools are only capable of designing simple brochure sites.
  • The AI’s designs are currently very similar.
  • There are questions over SEO, performance and cross platform integration.
  • The user loses control to make tweaks and design changes.
  • These tools depend on designers training them up.
  • Computers simply can’t achieve human empathy. Designers draw on experiences and manage this across many different channels, designing for the entire user journey.

2. Battle of the Web Design Tools: Adobe Comet will beat the competition to establish itself as the industry standard

Prediction: “In 2016 we will see web designers move away from market leader Adobe Photoshop to Adobe Project Comet; a tool built specifically for UX designers.”

What happened? Have web designers moved away from Photoshop? Yes. But Sketch is currently the tool of choice. The race is still on, though…

When I wrote the blog last year Project Comet was seen as the potential ‘Sketch killer’. Adobe eventually released a first preview version on March, 14, by the name of Adobe Experience Design, aka, Adobe XD.

The product wasn’t what I, or the industry, expected, which probably explains why Adobe released it under the version 0.5 and called it Preview. For me it’s missing some key features, such as the layer panel, styles and symbols, and layer effects and it seems too plain and limited for creating new graphics.

The significant disadvantages can be excused by the fact that it is a Preview, but meanwhile Sketch is growing a large user-base of UX designers.

Sketch is a fast and intuitive application allowing users from different disciplines to build on their colleagues’ work. A single file can start as a wireframe, then be handed over to visual designers and exported for developers to use as assets (check out Pascalis Spyrou’s blog post Lets have a look at Sketch).

Sketch’s advantage lies in their user-base and countless plugins, such as Marketch. Also, Sketch’s pricing model of a one-time payment is a definite winner. So despite the fact that XD is coming from Adobe, in 2016 Sketch is the designers’ tool of choice.

Watch this space though… XD still has a large team developing the tool with the help of regular feedback sessions from designers.  It won’t take over Sketch in 2017 but it could be a real contender by 2018!

3. Rise of the Fat T Designer: User experience designers will be expected to be skilled in a second major discipline

Prediction: “This year we’ll start to see an increase in demand for dual-skilled digital design professionals such as UX / UI designer, or visual designer / HTML developer.”

What happened? Is the demand for multi-skilled designers increasing? Yes, for smaller projects. No, for larger projects.

We are seeing an increasing demand from small businesses to have well rounded design professionals with multiple skills. However, bigger budgets are generating highly focussed roles in which the specialists are at least required to have an understanding of their colleague’s departments.

As RMA is #2 Digital Agency in the UK, I’m fortunate to be surrounded with multi-talented colleagues who possess complimentary skills in addition to their key discipline. We hire designers with experience and knowledge in all areas – UI, UX, service design, strategy and coding – as its important to be able to communicate effectively and work together on agile projects, but we’re all still very much specialists in our main role.
We’re always looking for skilled and knowledgeable designers – so if you’re interested get in touch with our careers team.

4. Banking Shake-up: New digital-only, UX focussed banks will finally launch. Traditional banks will struggle to keep up

Prediction: “Digital-only banks, such as MondoAtomNumber26 and Starling look set to launch and cause massive disruption to the consumer banking industry.”

What happened: Have digital-only banks disrupted the consumer-banking industry? Yes – but there’s a lot more disruption to come.

The 2016 World Retail Banking Report (WRBR), released by Capgemini and Efma found that nearly two-thirds of customers (63%) are now using FinTech products or services. Traditional banks admit that they are not prepared for this disruption.

Digital-only banks Monzo (formerly Mondo), Atom, Number 26 and Tandem acquired banking licences this year. Starling is expected to get its licence soon. All of these challenger banks are focussed on ‘people’ and are mobile first, appealing to the smartphone generation. They offer customers a quality mobile user experience, smart analysis of spending patterns and transactions, at any time and anywhere.

  • Monzo: This super slick app aims to be a bank that’s “as smart as your smart phone.” In early 2017 the Mondo app will be ready to become a full bank account.
  • Atom: These guys were the first to challenge the traditional banking structure. It’s currently only offering a basic fixed-term savings account with none of the biometric or voice banking features that it is promising to add later.
  • Number26: In just over a year it has grown its European digital bank to over 200,000 customers across eight countries.
  • Starling: Its focus is to help customers with their everyday banking needs. They claim that it is inspired by Amazon and Facebook and won’t look much like a bank. However, it is all happening behind closed doors at the moment and its yet to acquire its UK banking licence, so we still need to see its real impact.
  • Tandem: I didn’t mention this bank in my predictions – but it’s worth talking about it now, as it has some serious investors. They have promised that it will give quick, easy, online access to “all accounts” working proactively to recommend services that would benefit users.

These challenger banks are still a work in progress – but I believe they will become a serious disruptive force to the banking industry when they offer everything they are promising and start appealing to the majority, rather than the early adopters. Traditional retail banks need to ensure they offer as good a mobile user experience, personalisation and account insight to keep their smartphone generation customers loyal.

The corporate banks should also start feeling the pressure, as their corporate customers will start demanding improved digital experiences and services.

5. New Interfaces: If Microsoft’s HoloLens succeeds, it will activate markets for complementary interface technologies such as ultrasonic haptics

Prediction: “The latest VR attempt by Microsoft, Hololens, could become huge. If it does, demand for hardware that stimulates other senses should start to develop rapidly.

What happened: Not much. There has been a slow adoption of VR. Most of us aren’t chasing zombies around our living room, but we can fit light switches with a virtual electrician.

This Autumn Microsoft launched its HoloLens headset in the UK, having already launched it in America and Canada. HoloLens has succeeded in having a striking and sleek design. It is however, incredibly heavy (at 579g), but the weight feels more evenly distributed than others, such as the Oculus.

While most of the excitement around the HoloLens has focused on how consumers could use it in the home as an immersive entertainment and retail device, Microsoft are choosing to explore its uses for businesses first.

The potential enterprise uses of the HoloLens’ include:

  • Medical students ‘seeing’ organs, muscles, bones and even the digestive tract in stunning detail, close up.
  • Electricians virtually taking homeowners through a step-by-step guide to fitting a new light switch.
  • Engineers fixing elevators, looking at schematics, watching tutorials and Skyping for advice all hands-free.
  • Military training in realistic but safe environments.

HoloLens has the potential to transform how we interact with the world. While many are concerned that its slow launch to consumers may leave it lagging behind competitors, by focusing on Enterprise requirements and the future of work, they are leading the current 4th industrial revolution, helping businesses to transform and improve the employee UX. You can watch RMA’s George Neil share his insights on designing enterprise applications on the Wall Street Journal.

6. Alternative Web Business Models: Ad blockers and new EU laws will force many businesses to re-think the way they generate revenue online

Prediction: Expect to see some interesting approaches to revenue generation in 2016.” 

What happened: Are online ads a thing of the past? No – companies are currently finding ways around the problem, rather than taking a new revenue approach.

Despite all the hype around Ad blockers in the media, the reality is that the majority of people are not bothered enough to install ad blockers, and the most popular ad blocking programs have all dropped out of the App Store’s top 100 most downloaded.

However, for Publishers and media companies who depend on web advertising, ad blockers could be very costly and they are experimenting with various ways to limit the impact of ad-blocking on their businesses.

2016 has seen a rise of anti-ad blockers, who sell software designed to counteract the effects of ad-blocking. PageFair, Sourcepoint, Secret Media and Admiral are all technology companies that are helping companies to recapture revenues lost because of ad-blocking. There are a variety of methods companies are trying:

  • Blocking visitors who have ad blockers switched on to their site – eg CityA.M
  • Charging ad blocker-users for access to their site – eg GQ
  • Asking users to turn their blockers off in exchange for an “ad-light” experience. If they don’t, they will be denied access to the site’s content. – eg Forbes
  • Reinserting ads and video ads into webpages by loading them in a way that is undetectable to most ad-blocking softwares – Admiral and Secret Media products
  • Only showing ad-blocking users ads which are not animated and do not track users online behaviour – eg PageFair

These approaches however, will not be the long term solutions that will boost the company’s revenues – they just reduce some of the revenue loss.

This should be the time for Publishers to force the ad industry to up its game by creating ads that entertain, so that consumers don’t chose to add ad-blockers. Publishers need to focus on improving the user experience for their readers over the revenue from advertising.

2016 has been an eventful year! Everyone has been talking about Digital Transformation, the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the Future of Work. 2017 will see more launches, changes to technology, design approaches and digital strategy. In the New Year we’ll share our predictions for the year ahead – but one thing is for sure – its an exciting time to be a UX designer.