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How 5G Will Revolutionize IoT and Innovation, at Home and at Work

How 5G Will Revolutionize IoT and Innovation, at Home and at Work

By | ai, digital transformation, IoT, omnichannel, user experience, voice | No Comments

A full-fledged launch of 5G will drive revolutionary changes in most modern industries, cities, and homes. Although the technology is still not active in many countries, a lot of tech experts believe that 2020 will be the year we will truly see 5G innovations for new business opportunities boom.

In particular, the mobile industry and large telecommunication carriers continue rolling out 5G networks all over the world and major phone manufacturers compete in releasing devices equipped with 5G capabilities. The pieces of the 5G evolution puzzle are coming together. It is high time to start preparing for the new 5G service reality.

In this article, we’ll explain why the advent of 5G is an important milestone for any company that strives to grow and remain competitive. We’ll also make some predictions about how the combination of 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT) will innovate the way we live and do business.

What is 5G how does it work?

Simply put, 5G is the new generation of mobile networks that will augment and eventually replace its predecessor 4G LTE. Unlike previous network generations, 5G technology is forecast to have a much bigger impact on the world around us.

Besides increasing the speed of the internet, it’ll enable ultra-low latencies and ubiquitous coverage. These changes will eliminate the last barriers to the wide IoT adoption, opening the door to large-scale automation and other almost futuristic transformations.

5G mobile network
Image source: rfsafe.com

However, the main challenge is that 5G operates on three spectrum bands simultaneously. Each of them offers different data transmission speeds, has different coverage areas, and requires a separate infrastructure.

5g frequency ranges
Image source: digitaltrends.com

Low-band spectrum

The low-band spectrum consists of low-frequency waves below 1GHz. It offers relatively slow data transmission speed, i.e. 100Mbps at its peak, that practically feels like a 4G network. But the coverage area is quite broad.

This means that a telecommunication carrier needs fewer towers to ensure the internet connection over a long distance. In addition, the low-band spectrum can penetrate walls and other obstructions.

Mid-band spectrum

The mid-band spectrum operates in the 1-10GHz frequency range. It provides decent speed (the peak is around 1Gbps) as well as low latency. However, the mid-band spectrum may fail to go through physical objects in some instances.

It also covers a lower amount of space compared to the low-band spectrum. So telecommunication carriers need to install a lot of stations, i.e. macrocells, to create the proper infrastructure for it.

High-band spectrum

The high-band spectrum or a millimeter wave operates above the 24 GHz band and can deliver the internet at super-high speeds, i.e. up to 10Gbps. But since these waves are very short range, their coverage area is extremely low. They also struggle with smaller physical obstacles, for example, the roof of the car. That’s why a great number of small cells are required to fully roll out the high-band spectrum.

The ultimate goal is to create an infrastructure in which a 5G smartphone will remain connected to a high-band spectrum all the time. But the implementation of this scenario requires millions, if not billions, of small cells installed literally everywhere. For this reason, telecommunication carriers strive to ensure adaptive beam switching. It means that the phone will be connected to a different beam if the previous beam can no longer track the user.

What 5G means for IoT?

Image source: dribbble.com

The 5G wireless networks will create perfect telecommunications conditions to make IoT devices function at their fullest potential and bring the most benefits. In particular, they will enable more real-time connections thanks to high 5G speeds and omnipresence.

Low latency is another reason why 5G is good for IoT. Machines will respond faster to requests. As a result, they will be able to “communicate” more effectively with each other and the number of delays will be close to zero.

But let’s take a look at what the benefits of 5g are and the specific changes the 5G rollout may cause at different levels.

Business automation 

With 5G, IoT devices can be effectively monitored and controlled remotely with no compromises on their performance. Seamless connectivity along with the enhanced capacity of the networks will allow companies to automate a vast majority of operations that now require human intervention. This will streamline workflows, improve overall business productivity, and cut operational costs.

5G environment
Image source: KPMG

Another considerable benefit of autonomous processes is that they eliminate the risk of human error. This will enable companies to largely avoid the most common accident type.

Industrial 5G-powered solutions

With the widespread deployment of IoT platforms and 5G devices, we may expect that drones and augmented reality headsets will be among the most popular innovative solutions in manufacturing. In addition, real-time collection and analysis of big data will allow for predictive maintenance that will reduce machine downtime and repair costs.

Robotics of different types will also be used quite frequently, especially in factories. For instance, Audi already tests its 5G-powered robots in its production lab in Germany.

Smart cities 

The combination of 5G, IoT, and artificial intelligence creates a solid foundation for building smart cities. Advanced 5G capabilities will allow local authorities to detect and respond instantly to different emergency situations, making cities much safer.

Increased internet speed will help to immediately process the data gathered from traffic sensors on the roads. This will lead to solving the transportation problem and most likely result in reduced roadway congestion.

Image source: bibliotecapleyades.net

Besides, 5G also brings us one step closer to autonomous vehicles. Fast internet connection throughout large areas will allow self-driving cars to travel long distances without any limitations. In addition, the possibility to assess information in real time will ensure adherence to traffic rules. This will lower the chances of accidents and make autonomous vehicles safer for passengers and pedestrians.

Although smart cities are extremely complex networks of connected devices and we’ll unlikely see them in 2020, many communities already work towards this goal. So the future may be just around the corner.

Personal devices 

To take advantage of the 5G network service, users must have a 5G compatible smartphone. The news is bad for phone owners but great for device manufacturers. The latter ones see it as an opportunity to earn a fortune once 5G will get broader coverage. But even today, you can order a smartphone supporting 5G.

The key market players such as Samsung, Huawei, LG, and Motorola released their phones last year and more expected to follow in 2020.

On top of that, Lenovo showed the first 5G laptop for consumers at CES 2020. It supports 5G connection so you can access super-fast mobile internet from this device and download files at the speed of 4Gb/s. Chances are we’ll see other types of 5G compatible gadgets and IoT applications quite soon.

Smart homes

With 5G, more devices can be supported on one network and is likely to become a game-changer for smart homes. Today, keeping everything connected can be frustrating, as different pieces of the smart home infrastructure operate in different ways. For instance, a smart doorbell may use wi-fi while a toaster may connect only via Bluetooth. At the same time, 4G doesn’t have enough channels to ensure proper connection for a high number of devices at once.

By offering reliable coverage, low latency, and unprecedented network performance, 5G can solve this problem. As a result, it’ll be possible to create a truly interoperable system, not just have several smart devices placed in one home.

Internet of Everything (IoE)

Once 5G establishes itself, the Internet of Things will have every chance of becoming the Internet of Everything. This means that not only devices will be connected but also people, data, and processes. These connections will also become more intelligent, meaning that the right data will be transmitted to a person or machine at the right time automatically. So the IoE is more about creating a hyper-connected independent environment than just making several physical objects communicate.

Internet of everything
Image source: researchgate.net

Since telecom carriers still need some time to fully roll out 5G, we don’t see the IoE coming in 2020. However, businesses should start preparing for this change anyway because such global transformations will likely require several years to happen. This leaves plenty of room for innovation as 5G IoT applications will be in great demand.

What are the benefits of 5G?

Once 5G becomes widespread, our connectivity will reach a new level that will have a significant impact on nearly every aspect of our lives. Combined with the IoT technology, 5G will create a perfect platform for building complex smart environments in offices, factories, cities, and even at our homes. Industrial robots, autonomous vehicles, and PCs capable of connecting to super-fast mobile internet already exist. Now, everything depends on telecom carriers and they demonstrate promising advancements in 5G’s speed and reliability.

Want to innovate your business and need professional help? Contact us!

The State of UX for 2020

The State of UX for 2020

By | customer experience, design, digital transformation, interaction design, user experience, user interface | No Comments

We expect 2020 to be a momentous year in the space of UX design. New technology and user experience trends during the last decade have made competition across most modern industries tougher than ever before. Naturally, this motivates businesses to put even a greater focus on the user experience.

Today, the challenge in sensing customers’ needs and wants is no longer enough to stand out and be successful. Companies that want to win a higher market share must also be a step ahead of the herd and anticipate future UX trends.

To give you a leg up, we’ve collected the latest trends of the digital world which, we believe, will shape user experience in 2020. Give them a look and make strategic decisions before your rivals do.

Even more personalized experience

Personalization has been an essential part of experience optimization for a while already. However, as technologies continue to evolve businesses become better able to precisely tailor their offers to different users.

Besides using cookies that store only basic information about a user, website and app owners may now take advantage of the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and related technologies (e.g. advanced data analytics, machine and deep learning). They open doors to a whole bunch of new UX-related opportunities and experiences.

A great example is Netflix. This well-known video-streaming service applies machine learning algorithms to provide every user with relevant content by personalizing recommendations, push notifications, and search results.

netflix screenshot

Starbucks goes even further. It combines AI with geolocation technology to deliver a truly futuristic experience. In particular, users of its famous location-aware app receive highly personalized promo messages at the time when they are in a specific place, i.e. near the Starbucks shop.

startbucks screenshot
Image source: Build Fire

In 2020 there won’t even be a question whether to make your app user-centric or not. The key differentiator will be the extent to which you’re ready to personalize your product.

Voice user interfaces are getting to their peak

In today’s fast-paced world time is money, and its value is high. Voice User Interfaces (VUIs) and virtual assistants help users navigate through an app faster while the handsfree capabilities allow users to multitask. No wonder voice user interface interaction has been on the top of UX trends for the last several years. The question is; what will happen with Voice User Interfaces (VUI) in 2020?

Well, VUI will continue to strengthen its position as the second most popular type of app navigation after graphical user interface (GUI). Is there a chance it’ll leapfrog GUI on the list?

We don’t see that happening next year. But voice-assisted UI will definitely continue getting closer to the first position in the ranking. There is even a quite promising prediction made by ComScore in 2016 that nearly half of searches will be voice searches in 2020.

Voice search by 2020
Image source: Milestone Insights Voice Search Report

We still expect a significant shift in the quality of VUIs. As natural language processing (NLP) technology is evolving, voice interactions and voice assistants become more effective in finding accurate answers. Besides, our interaction with them will also become more natural. It’ll resemble more human-to-human communication rather than a conversation with a robot.

Alexa chatting
Image source: SnapTravel

On top of that, the array of tasks we can perform with a voice command will probably increase in 2020. For instance, Google Duplex, a new project by Google, has already enabled setting up appointments over the phone without any interaction with a person on the other end from a user’s side.

Google Duplex
Image source: Google

Introduction of a Chief Experience Officer position

Creating a user experience that is both holistic and consistent is crucial for enhancing the usability of a product and making a brand memorable. Traditionally, UX professionals or a designer together with a marketing team has been responsible for ensuring this part of the development. But the situation is quite different now.

The list of platforms today’s organizations use to maintain their digital presence is not limited to a website and mobile app. Wearables and smart devices are growing in popularity, the number of social media channels is increasing and becoming more complex. In general, markets are becoming ever more dynamic. Ensuring a positive customer experience is now a much more complex activity than it used to be. This is why a new C-level executive position is necessary.

As of the end of 2019, not many businesses introduced the position of CXO. Introducing this position to your business will give you a significant competitive advantage for your company in the coming year. In particular, a chief experience officer will help you perform a comprehensive visual audit and build a holistic UX design system.

The rise of VR & AR in fashion and e-commerce

In 2020, Virtual Reality (VR) and Artificial Reality or Augmented Reality (AR) technologies will continue blurring the borders between the real and digital worlds. The success which such pioneers as Ikea, Toyota, LEGO, and Zara reached with their VR/AR-powered apps has inspired many other businesses to take a fresh look at the way they promote and sell products.

LEGO ar app
Image source: kidscreen.com

The development of applications containing virtual reality or augmented reality elements has also become more accessible in terms of costs and availability of specialists. All these factors lay the groundwork for a boom in VR/AR that can happen any year now. Of course, not all business areas will adopt these technologies equally fast. But such sectors as interior design, e-commerce, and fashion will likely become dependent on this type of interaction design in the near future.

For instance, at the beginning of this year, Gucci launched its AR-based app that allows users to try on sneakers by pointing a smartphone camera at their feet.

Gucci AR app
Image source: designboom.com

In May, Nike released its own mobile app that uses augmented reality technology to help customers accurately define their size.

Since online shopping is an active and ever-growing niche (e.g. about 60 percent of millennials prefer it over traditional shopping), we have all reason to believe that similar functionality will become industry standard quite soon.

3D design is taking over the app world

In our 2019 State of UX article, we were writing about Memoji which had been introduced with the release of iOS12. In the last twelve months, designers have started to use both static and dynamic 3D elements more frequently. The trend of 3D design has become vivid and noticeable.

Besides being eye-catching, a 3D presentation of interfaces helps to deliver a truly realistic user experience. A study shows that modern people are online for nearly 7 hours per day. This means that we spend an enormous amount of time in a virtual environment.

A 3D view makes our stay there more natural and comfortable. That’s why leveraging the power of 3D will be a great idea for all app creators and website owners in 2020.

3d design app
Image credit: Chris Frank

In case you’re not sure if 3D elements will suit the overall visual identity of your brand, you can perform a site design audit before introducing any changes. Doing so will make it easier for you to get to grips with the big picture and make informed decisions.

Adaptability to the new foldable phones

The year of 2019 has been an important milestone for phone manufacturers all over the world. The long-awaited foldable displays finally became a reality. Practically all market leaders either expressed their interest in developing such a device or unveiled their prototypes capable of being folded in numerous different ways.

Realizing that stakes were high, Samsung tried to outrun its competitors. In April, the company pre-released its Galaxy Fold, the world’s first foldable smartphone.

Galaxy Fold
Image source: Samsung

Although the device was exposed to a number of quality concerns and Samsung had to delay its release, we have all reason to expect that foldable displays will enter the global mass market in 2020. This will naturally bring a lot of changes to user experience, for example:

  • A grip will depend on whether a person is holding a folded and unfolded device. The main task of UX designers is to make it convenient for both cases.
  • A user will have to be able to switch between different forms of a device seamlessly. That’s why app creators must ensure the continuity of an application, meaning that a person should have an opportunity to continue using it when upgrading to a new device.
  • Unfolded devices will allow users to have multiple active apps on their screens. So to create a truly outstanding user experience, designers will need to keep this multitasking capability in mind.
Galaxy Fold
Image source: Samsung

Versatile UX for device-neutral apps

Ever since the IoT technology came on the scene, the discussions about platform-agnostic applications have never left the tech community. Nowadays, our personal digital ecosystem is much richer than five, three, or even two years ago. We use mobile phones, PC, and laptops interchangeably on a daily basis but also wearables, smart home appliances (like Google home), and car dashboards (like the one Tesla offers).

For many years, responsiveness has been the main requirement of web solutions. However, responsive design is no longer optional, it’s the default. Today’s users will unlikely to tolerate an application that doesn’t adjust to screen size or platform.

responsive design
Image source: giphy.com

But, on top of that, they expect to receive an integrated experience. This means that information must be consistent across all the systems. And the process should be continuous, allowing a user to pick it up at any point on any device.

That’s why we foresee that device integration and synchronization will get to the forefront next year. Logically, creating a versatile UX design will become a huge new challenge for designers in 2020.

User control over the content

The interactive experience is another ‘big thing’ that has a huge potential to become a major UX trend in 2020. To be precise, some forward-thinking marketers had been trying to promote products with the help of interactive videos before. But this type of content, where the user interacts directly with the content, only managed to generate massive interest after Bandersnatch, a Black Mirror’s interactive episode, was released on 28 December 2018.

Bandersnatch
Image source: meg.onemega.com

As it turned out, fashion brands and e-commerce stores became the first adopters of interactive videos. This is because such videos not only offer an immersive experience but they also are an efficient money-catching tool. By watching them, users can shop while still consuming the content. This allows them to act on their desire to buy a product when the desire is at its highest point.

interactive shopping video
Image source: cdn.trendhunterstatic.com

Besides making online shopping easier and faster, interactive videos are also more enjoyable and captivating than ordinary videos. If you want to create a stunning visual design with a great user experience that will allow you to win over the competition in the coming year, then giving users better control over the content is definitely the right thing to start with.

Expansion of interface animations

Adding motion to button, tabs, menus and other visual elements is not a brand new thing in UI/UX design. We’ve seen it this year and it’ll continue being popular in 2020. However, as animations seem to still be in the process of gaining momentum, we’ll probably see even more animated interfaces on our screens in the next twelve months. Just like 3D design, moving objects help UX designers grab users’ attention as well as make their experience more realistic and engaging.

interface animations
Image source: tubikstudio.com

Yet, it’s important to remember that every animation you implement into the app interface should serve a purpose. In other words, you don’t have to animate everything on a page. If you do so, a user will be distracted by visual noise – which is no doubt not the outcome you’re aiming at.

Instead, you may create a feedback animation that will make app navigation easier. Specifically, it’ll show users that they’re on the right path after an action is taken.

feedback animation
Image credit: tubikstudio.com

Animated progress indicators are also a nice idea for most mobile apps. They help users understand that there aren’t any problems with the application, it just needs more time to perform a certain task.

Animated progress indicator
Image source: Dribbble

If you have doubts about whether you need to add more animated elements to the interface or not, we recommend you to conduct a design audit first.

Typography will still matter a lot

When it comes to conveying messages, companies have a wide array of formats to choose from. But while videos and images are considered the most captivating, text content remains the main and the most effective method of communication in the online world. That’s why typography never loses its relevance and, of course, it will still be in the spotlight in 2020.

What major change may we expect in the year to come? As a rule, a user gets a meaningful and memorable experience only when the design is well-balanced and consistent. Since we’ll probably see more 3D elements and animations in the interfaces, typography will have to reflect these effects too.

typography animated
Image source: andreirobu.com

Of course, this doesn’t mean that San-Serif fonts, which are now widely used in the digital space, will completely disappear during the next year. But UI/UX designers will become more creative with the way text is presented on a page. Chaotic typography with mixed sizes and patterns (e.g. filled and outlined letters), as well as experiments with text directions, will likely be quite common in 2020.

Chaotic typography
Image source: Dribbble (by Oleh Gvozdetskyi)

The obsession with dark themes

Dark Mode became the most noticeable visual change brought by iOS13 in September 2019. The feature provides the option of replacing the bright colors of an interface with black and dark grey, making it more pleasant for eyes in a poorly lit environment. During the month that followed this release, dark modes were also introduced by Instagram, Gmail, and Facebook (partially). So we can make confident predictions about the dark mode ‘fever’ that will likely expand in 2020.

iOS 13 dark mode
Image source: techradar.com

Besides aesthetic value, dark themes also improve the readability of text and are perceived as less harsh if a person uses a device at night. Whether to enable it or not is a matter of personal preference. But if you implement such a mode for your app, your users will for sure appreciate it.

Custom illustrations will fill up the interfaces

In 2020, designers will have to cooperate with digital illustrators more frequently as bespoke interface illustrations are another emerging UI/UX trend. Stock photos that have been quite popular for many years now are no longer acceptable. Stock photos simply don’t offer the level of uniqueness most brands and users seek. At the same time, digital art is much more flexible in terms of styles, shapes, compositions, and characters.

But catchiness isn’t the only reason why illustrations are so powerful. The correct illustrations in combination with other elements on a web page can help you make the right emphasis and draw visitors’ attention to the CTAs. They also make an interface more emotionally appealing and help to create the right tone and mood.

web page illustration
Image source: Dribbble (by Tubik)

Speaking about mobile development, custom illustrations have always been less popular in this sector. However, such a situation is going to change as they’re getting more and more common – not only on the onboarding screens but also at other touchpoints (e.g. error notifications).

mobile interface illustration
Image source: Dribble (by Icons8 team)

The final word

We want to give you a comprehensive review of the trends which will likely define the UX design space of 2020. We made our conclusions based on our professional experience and the latest information about technological advancements. Yet, the digital world is hyperdynamic and a lot may change in a blink of an eye.

Some innovative solutions may appear completely unexpectedly and change the rules of the game across several industries. But don’t worry. We’ll keep track of UX best practices of 2020 and let you know about all important trends.

Want to build your next product with us? Reach out!

The State of UX for 2019

The State of UX for 2019

By | design, interaction design, omnichannel, user experience, user interface, voice | No Comments

Keeping up with the current trends is important for any area, not to mention the UX design which directly influences the way your digital product is positioned and perceived by the users. In this article, we’ll take a brief look at what happened with 2018 UX trends and try to anticipate the emerging tendencies that have potential to become real big things in the coming year.

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How to Conduct a Design Audit to Strengthen your Brand

By | design, user experience, user interface | No Comments

A design audit might sound a little intimidating, after all, the word audit doesn’t exactly scream fun. But, it’s actually a very beneficial exercise. A design audit is merely an analysis of the design elements and branding guidelines in use by a company. Its main purpose is to make sure that the branding is consistent across all channels and outlets. When we say branding we do mostly mean visual design elements, however, branding is also the written and verbal communication as well as the user experience.

A good design audit will also take those into consideration, to make sure that’s consistent as well. The truth is that the need for a design audit is a sign of good things. It means a company has grown a lot and now simply needs to re-align its design efforts. Briefly, let’s discuss the benefits of design audit for companies and then let’s get right into how to conduct one.

Benefits of a design audit

No matter if you run a smaller company or a large corporation, a design audit might be in order if your company is growing and evolving. It’s a great idea because it will help you manage your visual design material and written message. In turn, this will lead to a well-defined identity and brand.

 

 

When inconsistencies in either visual style or messaging start shining through, a brand is weakened. It no longer has a solid foundation, and it starts diverging into different directions. Consistency is key, and by conducting an audit you are creating a chance to once again strengthen your brand. Think of a design audit as an opportunity to check the quality of the designs, the products, the user experience, and the overall strength of your company’s brand.

The visual branding audit

First thing first, it’s time to gather all the design assets. And we’re serious when we say all of it. Gather all the ads, the social media posts, the website and its desktop and mobile versions, the mobile apps, the letterheads, and the business cards. Include lead magnets, content upgrades, master classes or webinar slides. Include any pitch decks too. Anything that is a touchpoint for a customer. Yes, we do mean everything.

What you want to do here is to study the different collaterals to the notice patterns and their deviations. For example, you may notice that the social media ads are using the wrong logo file, or the quality of the graphics is just not what it needs to be. You may notice that you have many functionally similar sections throughout your website, but they are all designed differently.

As a result, you’re now aware of the issues. Meaning that you can now provide the people who run your Twitter and Facebook ads with the correct logo file and render final ad images in higher quality. You also now know that you will need to sit down and make sure that the footer is the same on every page, or that the custom made graphics for Leadpages use the correct brand colors.

 

 

Additionally, this might give you ideas on how you and the design team might want to update the branding going forward. Maybe you have too many or too few colors to perfectly depict the vibe your company is going for.

Tone, voice, and message branding elements

While you’re taking a look at all the visual elements, you should also consider the content itself. In the previous example, the only thing we didn’t mention was audio/radio ads because it’s the only thing that inherently doesn’t automatically come with a visual aspect too, as opposed to video.

Once again, it’s important to evaluate the actual content when performing your design audit. Read everything, listen to everything. Again notice what patterns you see, or should see but don’t. Just like with the visuals, you’re looking out to make sure that the tone, voice, and message is correct and consistent. As with all your marketing materials, it’s important to keep meticulous notes.

 

 

Pay attention to what no longer sounds like the company or any evolving patterns that just don’t seem right fit anymore. You might find that your company needs to have a more authoritative voice, be more playful, or use a softer vocabulary. Maybe you and your team realize that you can improve the overall tone, voice, and message of the company to be even stronger, better and relevant to the target audience.

The heuristics for usability and accessibility

Another thing a good design audit will include is a heuristic evaluation. This one focuses on the design process, examining usability and accessibility of a website or app. Usability and accessibility are crucial for a good user experience as these are the touch points between yourself and your customers. Those also help make your company and brand shine. Usability problems will affect people’s perception of your company too. They can be something simple, like a broken link, or complicated, like a confusing online order form. Accessibility problems, like missing alt tags, or low contrast between text and background, also mater.

Nielsen created a thorough heuristic evaluation guide – a standards manual if you like – back in 1994 that is still popular and reliable today. We recommend that you check out Nielsen’s heuristic evaluation guide here.

Next, you go through your website, web app, or mobile app, and little by little make a note of where the experience falls shorts of these heuristics.

For the best possible results of a heuristic evaluation, it’s best to have at least 10 people (ideally some of them should be web designers) who objectively evaluate your designs.

Utilize a design system

You can tie all of this together into a design audit system. Once you’re done with the audit it’s important to regroup. From there you can figure out what needs to go, what stays and what needs to be updated. When it comes to the visual design and brand messaging, consider implementing a design system. We’ve written a couple great pieces on how to build a design system to scale and what best to include in one. Keeping your styles in a design system will ensure ongoing consistency so that you don’t have to do a design audit every few months.

The value of a well-performed design audit

As you can see, a design audit can be extremely helpful. It will boost consistency for your company’s branding and improve the user experience. Don’t forget, the truth is that a design audit is a branding recalibration, which means that your company and brand are growing. With a professional design audit, you now know what you must do in order to tighten up your brand’s visuals and message.

Have you done a design audit before? Did you find it helpful for your company? Share any tips you might have for us in the comments!

How to build Design Systems to Scale

By | ai, design, user experience | No Comments

In our ever-growing tech world, we need the design to scale as fast as other aspects of that world do. But design doesn’t scale easily since it’s a mixture of art and science, form and content. So how to achieve this?

Design Systems can be the answer.

Let’s dive deeper into this and see what they are and how they can help scale design.

Anyone who has ever played with Lego can understand what a design system is. It’s basically a Lego-like method+process that product teams need to make design and development more consistent. In fact, a lot of folks have already come to the idea that they need design systems. 69% of enterprise companies either use a design system or are currently working on one.

The core benefit of design systems is that they help establish consistency between the design and development processes and eliminate repetitive work. In a design system, everything starting with design patterns and ending with code references for each little bit of design are being documented. As a result, design and development go hand in hand.

 

If this still sounds unfamiliar to you and you still cannot grasp the idea of design systems, just take a look at Google, Spotify, Atlassian or any other big brand. They have got their very own design systems.

 

When Spotify’s Design Director Stanley Wood joined the design team in 2012, he was shocked at the lack of consistency between Spotify’s products and features from the design perspective. And since a redesign didn’t solve the problem, he decided to find a better solution. He knew that a team of distributed designers that is spread across different time zones should have a chance to work together to create a coherent experience.

 

So, in 2014 GLUE (a Global Language for a Unified Experience) came into life as Spotify’s Design Language System. It is available throughout the company and it has helped align design across all design teams within the company.

Version 1 of Spotify’s Guidelines | Stanley Wood

Google’s Material Design is another successful design system. Note that it evolved over the last few years to become what it is today. And it’s still evolving. Do you remember how in 2011, Gmail was redesigned with flatter buttons? Then in 2012, Google Now introduced layered “cards.” These elements are now all formalized under Material design but those design upgrades back then were a part of a larger, very purposeful and deliberate process.

What has been most impressive is Google’s ambition to unify the design across a set of varied products. Hence, Material Design can serve as proof that design is POSSIBLE to scale.

Image source

But how?

Well, there are a few steps you would want to take to be able to build a design system to scale. Here you go:

  1. Check if you really need a design system

There is always the possibility that you might be carried away by the trends, the hype. A lot of us often start looking for solutions for non-existent problems. Yes, this does happen. But then, it turns out that we have not checked the problem yet. So, if a simple redesign will work for you, then there is most probably no need for coming up with a design system.

 

The idea is that you should really do your homework and see if your company needs it or not. Building a design system or outsourcing it to a design and development company will take time and money. Estimate your needs properly before allocating resources to building a design system.

 

  1. Make sure your people know what to expect

Not everyone understands the value that design systems provide. So, your responsibility will be to teach your team what a design system is and how it can help make work easier. Be the influencer, the trend-maker in your company. Call it whatever you want.

 

If you have decided to build a design system, the company is going to pay for it. So you might want to make sure all the stakeholders are positive about the idea. With this in mind, maybe it’s worth involving someone from your team who has done this before or has helped someone earlier to build a design system? Think about it!

 

  1. Develop a game plan

Remember the famous quote? “By failing to plan, you are planning to fail.” It seems obvious that you need a game plan but a lot of people don’t plan the work in advance and then they get into trouble due to unexpected circumstance or force majeure. Of course, you cannot foresee a force majeure but you can at least have plan B if it happens.

 

So, basically, the idea is that you need to define your mission or goal or a set of values and go for them. Each company has got its own industry-specific challenges, so take your time to evaluate the situation, explore the opportunities, the pain points for your team and customer in order to build the right system for your needs. And most importantly, focus on creating a design system that is consistent and scalable.

  1. Review and adopt best practices

Don’t start from scratch, it might take too much time and resources. Review existing design systems and see which one is closer to your vision. Many companies have made their design systems publicly available. So, why not take a look at them?

 

  1. Conduct a UX/UI audit

You are conducting a UX/UI audit to know what you are working with. This whole thing is pretty much about documenting what exists. This can be time-consuming, but the game is worth the candle since through a UX/UI audit you will discover:

  • Why conversions are low
  • How to improve onboarding
  • Why retention rates might be low

In other words, you will get a clearer understanding of who is using your product and what problems they are facing. After the audit, you will come up with improvement strategy based on the things you have learned.

 

  1. Do it little by little

A design system is not a project, it’s more of a product. Hence, it needs to evolve and become more refined. It’s a living document. Make sure your design system has got a roadmap and all product-related stuff. Take it through a few iterations, talk to your team to clarify what’s coming next, and then set a new list of problems that you will be solving. Iterate as much as possible until you come up with something that makes sense.

  1. Stay organized

Creative people love the chaos but it should not be the case here. Document everything! Sounds simple, right? But it’s sometimes really hard to do things the “neat and clean” way rather than the “quick and messy” way. Staying organized reduces clutter in email or Slack and helps keep the team sane and happy. Otherwise, you might end up where you started – chaotic styles everywhere!

 

Most importantly, know where you will be storing all your creations and how you are going to make them accessible to your team members.

Conclusion

As soon as you feel the need to have a design system for your company, you will want to jump into building one. If you are going to do that in-house, then make sure you communicate with your peer designers and take into account the above steps to build the best possible design product ever. And if you are thinking about delegating the work to another company, then make sure to choose a team that knows how to do it right.

 

10 priming techniques Pro UX Designers should use

By | design, user experience, user interface | No Comments

When it comes to UX design, the looks are not the most important thing even though it may appear that way. There was a really annoying trend in the beginning of 2000s, when every website tried to look as extravagant as possible. Flash player was used as much as it could be. The result was that websites looked fantastic and had beautifully animated UI. Yet, it soon became apparent that people hated using such websites. Sure, they looked pretty, but they were horrible to use. Designers got smarter and instead started focusing on function.

The UX designers of today are very different than a decade or two ago. We were still in the nascent stages of UX back then. Now we know that UX can make or break an application or a website. Look at the uproar that is created if Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat make a change to their UX. There are cries about how the app is now ruined and people want the old thing back. That is why the experience is the number one thing that pro designers focus on. However, the true top level designers aren’t trying to just make things easy to do – they are trying to influence the actions of the user.

This is something which salespeople have been using for a long time and designers are finally getting comfortable with. It is called priming, and it will change the way you think about UX.

Understanding Priming and Its Power

Before we get into how you can use Priming to make people do what you want, let’s focus on what it is. Priming is a term you may be aware of – it means something that is used to make an action happen. Priming, in psychology, can be understood as the act of subconsciously making a person behave in a way you want.

Basically, in the context of UX, it means designing user experience in such a way that it helps the users to complete actions you wish them to take. Note that priming isn’t about telling people what to do. If you see a sign that says ‘Caution – Wet Floor’, you are being told what to do. Priming is subconscious, it means you guide people the right way by giving their minds little hints which they can subtly pick up.

If you have ever played video games you will know priming. Ever played Doom or the countless games inspired by it? Ammo and guns were hard to find. However sometimes you would enter an area full of guns, ammo, and health. You weren’t happy – because you knew that this meant you will have to fight a huge monster now. It worked so well that you would dread it every time the game gave you some ammo and health. They primed you into understanding when you need to put up a serious fight. There were no signs, no videos, no captions – just elements that spoke to your subconsciousness.

The real power of priming is seen when people go against priming – because then you can see why priming is important. Imagine a shop had an exit sign and an entry sign, like many shops do. Now, imagine if the exit sign was green and the entry sign was red. This would cause everyone to do a double-take. Even though it still says Exit and Entry it feels wrong without priming. Our brains are primed to ‘’red means stop’’ and ‘’green means go’’, and these colors are used in this manner everywhere.

Why Priming is Important for Companies

Priming is important because of the impact it makes. Priming is based on the science behind how our minds work. We like to think that we are rational beings that make decisions based on facts, but we all know that we are beings of perception. What matters to us isn’t what is in front of us but how we perceive it, and the perception is based on observation. We often do things because we have been primed to do so, without even realizing it.

Priming has been used in brick and mortar stores for a long time. You may have noticed that the things you need to buy the most in grocery stores – things such as bread, milk, eggs – are almost always places in the back of the store. You may be annoyed by it – why don’t they place the most bought items near the counter, decreasing the time you need to spend in the store? The answer is simple. They have intentionally placed the goods people want the most far away, so they have to walk past everything else in the process. Most of us end up picking something else along with the necessities, such as a juice or a snack.

Priming is also very commonly seen in museums. You may have seen the ‘’Exit through the gift shop’’ sign in many museums. Museums literally build gift shops that need to be crossed to go to the exit. Now, you don’t need to buy anything from the gift shop, and you will have probably not even checked out the gift shop. By making you go through it they increase the chances of you liking something and buying it.

Priming in UX

In the context of UX priming means designing an interface which guides the customer, subconsciously, towards a certain action. It means giving a person the signals that subtly influence them into making a purchase, signing up for a service, or any other action you may desire.

The reason these 10 priming techniques should be taken seriously is simple – they come from cognitive psychology. These techniques are based on scientific findings of trailblazing scientists trying to get a better picture of how the mind works. Each priming technique has been tested and proven multiple times.

Before we begin – The Ethics of Priming

It is important to understand that priming is very different from manipulation. Manipulating a customer into doing something is definitely unethical but that is not what priming is about. Priming means helping the customer make the right choice without explicit instruction. When you use priming correctly you do not end up fooling people into buying your products. Priming is used to make the user experience intuitive so you do not have to give instructions, which leads to people falling in love with the experience on your website or application.

We all go through this problem. When you sign up for a new service there is confusion in the beginning. It is the first time you are using the website; it makes sense that you will not know what option is where. If you use priming correctly you can guide people to do the right thing without them even knowing it.

One of our favorite examples of priming in real life is by Apple. There were a lot of complaints about the way the wireless Mighty mouse is charged. The charging cable connects to a port on the bottom of the mouse, making the mouse unavailable for use when being charged:

Now, when you look at it you can see that it looks very stupid. You may be wondering how Apple could make a design decision this bad. Well, they didn’t. The Mighty Mouse 2 is intentionally designed this way to prevent people from leaving it wired. Apple knew that people would just attach the charging cable and leave it attached, then be annoyed by it, which will lead to a dissatisfying experience. The mouse can go up to a month without being charged. Charging it for 2 minutes gives you enough battery for 9 hours. Leaving it on charge is also bad for it, since the battery used deteriorates if the mouse is needlessly left connected to the charger.

Apple didn’t write a warning on the mouse to not use it while it is being charged. They didn’t write it in the instruction manual – there are no warnings. They just made the design decision to make it inconvenient to leave the mouse on charge. The result? Everyone only remembers the great wireless experience and is never annoyed by the wire.

There are no ethical considerations here because the customer isn’t being defrauded or manipulated in any way. Yet the perfect user experience is maintained without giving any instructions. That is the ultimate aim of priming.

 

Priming technique 1 – Availability heuristic

Availability heuristic refers to our brain’s tendency to weigh easily and recently available information, more than old information. The memory that is the most easily available will be the most affective. We assume that the thing we thought of first may be the most important. For example, if you see a news story about an accident you start driving a bit more carefully. The chances of you being in an accident haven’t actually increased, but the memory of the news story of the accident is easily accessible in your brain, and it thus becomes important information.

Remind a user of a problem they face, and they’ll consider it a problem worth solving. Try these two things to keep their problem easily available to their mind and thought process:

  1. Designing a website make sure you will talk about the problems your product solves, not what it does. “Get wireframes build faster” is better than “Wireframes build online.”
  2. Manage users expectations, giving them a feedback when they solve a problem, and remind them what it was. “Congrats— only two questions left” is better than just “Congrats!”

Priming technique 2 – Attentional bias

Our thoughts aren’t as free as they seem – they are controlled by the other things we may be thinking about at the time. Attentional bias means that the recurring thoughts in our brains change how we perceive reality. You may have noticed that usually the person who hates something is the first one to notice it. The person most bothered by cockroaches will be the first one to see one. This happens because they consider cockroaches a threat and thus their brain is on the lookout for such things.

You need to look at what makes people think of the wrong thing and remove any mentions of it. For instance, do not talk about how you will not send a customer spam when they sign up for an email. Now you’ve planted the idea of you sending spam in their mind, and they perceive it as a threat and will not sign up.

Look at the difference between these two landing forms. Impact mentions the privacy policy, while the Wistia knows that mentioning it will make people think about it, and omits it. The same privacy policy applies to both, but Wistia knows there’s no need to bring attention to it:

On the other hand, Impact adds a special link to the privacy policy on the text box to enter your email address. This immediately brings you attention to the fact that giving them your email is different than giving them the rest of the info and makes you feel slightly uneasy. It makes you think about what they could do with your email.

Priming technique 3 – Illusory truth effect

The illusory truth effect is, quite frankly, a bit too powerful. The illusory truth effect is that a statement is considered the truth if it is repeated often – regardless of whether it is actually true or not. For instance most people will say that their country is the best. This isn’t dependent of their country actually being the best – it is just what they have heard repeated around them, and they believe it simply because everyone says it.

Using this for your UX is dead simple. You need to repeat the good things said about your company. If you keep calling your product ‘’The city’s favorite product’’ enough times, people will eventually just accept that it is. Simply saying something again and again makes it true in the minds of people.

Look at how Microsoft is using this technique to make people shift from Chrome to Edge. If you use Windows 10 on a laptop you may have seen the following notification:

They keep repeating it and you know what happens? One day you wonder if it is really true and try it. You find it to be good enough – note that you don’t actually measure the battery usage yourself. Yet, since Microsoft knows Edge is a good enough product if people try it, just getting you to try it is a victory for them.

 

Priming technique 4 – Mere exposure effect

The mere exposure effect is very important for UX. The mere exposure effect is a cognitive bias where we favor things which are familiar, even over a better alternative. People like what they like not because they have assessed it in any way but simply because it is familiar. UX can employ this priming technique in great ways. You can make your UX similar to UX with which people are already familiar, and they will love using your UI.

This is already how we do it, subconsciously. Most websites use a similar pattern, with menus on top or left and content in the center. Here’s something to ponder: imagine that you can rework the whole philosophy of web design and come up with a new template. As far as you can see, the new template you have come up with makes actions faster because one has to jump through fewer hoops to accomplish them. You make people try this system out and they will hate it and will accomplish the task in a much longer time. Why? Because as long as the design is familiar, their brain already knows what to do and how to do it, even if this is their first visit. Without that mental key, things are not going to be easy for them.

Priming technique 5 – Context effect

Everything is relative to us. The human brain doesn’t keep things in isolation – all pieces of information are stored in relation to each other. This means that simply by changing the relation you can change the way a thing is perceived. For example, you can have a great romantic dinner date at a restaurant which provides the right context. The seats are comfortable, the aroma is great, the service is good, and the food tastes fantastic as well. This will make you like the person you are on a date with more, because you are meeting them in the right context.

You can go on a date with the same person but in a bad context. Maybe it was too hot and both of you are sweaty now. Maybe the restaurant isn’t that good. You are on a date with the same person, but because the context isn’t as good, you may not like that person as much. This is why some of our best memories of our loved ones are from holidays or adventures.

Context matters a lot when it comes to UX as well. Want people to feel happy about something? Put up graphics of balloons, confetti, and cakes and people will feel good about it. Want people to be afraid of something? Add a few pictures and warning signs. Note that you do not even need to relate the things directly to what you want them to dislike – simply placing it in the right context will do the job.

Here is a mistake people often make: they give negative feedback to the users. We have all experienced this when filling out forms on the internet. You are choosing a username and the box goes red because you used the wrong character, or the password box goes red because your password appears to be too simple. Do not make customers feel punished. If they keep getting similar feedback from your form it quickly becomes frustrating. Instead of a harsh red go with a soothing orange which turns to green when corrected. Make it feel like you are guiding people, not correcting their wrongs.

Priming technique 6 – Cue-dependent forgetting

We have talked about how our memory works – it is all relative. Memories aren’t stored as individual objects, but as connections and relationships. You may have a tough time remembering an outing. Your friends will be talking about when you went to a club, and you won’t be able to remember anything. Then someone says ‘’Remember, we also ran into Dan outside the club?’’ You remember meeting Dan and suddenly all the memories of the club, which you couldn’t access a minute ago, come rushing into your head.

You can make people remember the things you want them to remember by giving cues. Does your client sell anniversary gifts? Add a lot of wedding cues, make the users remember the day they get married and feel the same way again. You just have to provide a cue and memories start rushing in.

Look at how Facebook now reminds you of specific days and events – it gives you cues which take you back to when you were a more active user of Facebook.

If you use Google Photos you get the same option. Often you are told to ‘Revisit’ a day. You are shown all the pictures you took at an outing. It creates a very positive emotional experience which in turn makes people more ardent users of Google Photos.

Priming technique 7 – Mood-congruent memory bias

Your mood affects how you perceive and remember things, much more than you may think. Our brains can be primed into feeling a certain way depending on factors and memories we may not even be aware of. For example, if something bad happens to you on a holiday, then every time the holiday comes back you will remember the bad thing. Eventually, everything that reminds you of the holiday will result in a bad mood, simply because of the connection that has been built in your brain. When you are enamored with someone new, they look like the most beautiful person in the world. When you think of them the feelings you get are positive.

If you break up with the same person in a few months, your memories of them will be very different. The same memories which resulted in a good mood will now result in a bad mood. It works the other way around too. When we are in a good mood our memories seem better. The same memory can seem worse if our mood is worse.

Thus, UX designers need to set the right mood. You need to pick a mood that goes well with the website you are designing. If you are designing a sports website you need to make it look frenetic and active. If you are making a spa website, you need to make it look comfortable. Set the right mood and capture people’s minds.

Look at Amazon during the 2 weeks before Valentine’s Day. Instead of highlighting specific products, they are highlighting general items and situations related to Valentine’s Day. They are putting user into the right mood, they are connecting to your positive emotions. In this moment, instead of rationally thinking about your budget you are thinking about your loved one. This eliminates the discomfort you feel about going over your budget.

Priming technique 8 – Frequency illusion / Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon

Have you ever noticed that once you read a new word and learn its meaning you end up seeing it used everywhere? It may be a word you have never heard before but once you read about it you start hearing it again and again. This is called the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, where something appears to be happening more frequently once you learn about it.

The reason this happens is very simple – our brain works at recognizing patterns. It picks up things it deems useful and ignores the rest. The word isn’t being used more often around you – it is being used as much as it was before. However, since you have learned about it only recently it remains a fresh mark on your brain. Thus every time your brain detects the pattern it highlights it to you.

You can use this to make people think the way you want. You can really get into the heads of users with this one. Introduce your product to them by highlighting the problem it solves. Every time they encounter the problem in real life, they will now think of your solution. It may be a problem they may have never even noticed, but you talked to them about it, and now they can’t help but notice it. In UX you can do great things by introducing new iconography or symbols and employing them in similar ways again and again.

This is especially important for SaaS providers. When you are a SaaS provider you cannot list your features – you need to convince people that your product is useful. Sure, you may have terabytes of storage and an unbelievable amount of computing power, but that doesn’t excite the user or tell them how you will be useful to them.

Priming technique 9 – Empathy gap

The empathy gap refers to our inability to understand how many factors affect our decision making. Sometimes when you are in a bad mood you do things which you regret once your mood is fine. You keep thinking ‘’Why did I do that?!’’, and there is no answer. This is because your brain in a good mood cannot empathize with your brain in a bad mood, and vice versa.

This is very important in priming. You can change the way people act by priming them with the right feeling. This is why politicians give such bombastic speeches. They get the people riled up and angry and then start talking about the opposition. In a similar vein, making a person feel better will make them more compliant. So, if your UX has elements that improve the mood of a person, it will result in them being more receptive to your marketing and content. You can use mood music, you can use pictures, or even soothing colors. You can also get people riled up when it comes to sports and other such events. You can make people feel the hype simply through visual cues.

Disneyland’s website is a masterclass in this. Now, their aim is to convince people to go to Disneyland. That is only happening if the customer is in the right frame of mind. That is why their website does everything to create the right mood. They did not build a functional website that easily lets you book a Disney vacation – if we were purely logical thinkers the functionality is rather poor. The functional parts of the website, which allow you to buy tickets and make reservations are all located in a small bar.

The rest of the page is designed to overload you with Disney magic. There is a video playing right on the main page which shows you the spectacle of Disneyland. Right below it is a picture of a father with his son on his shoulders, both happy. Each and every picture makes you feel the same way – my kids will love it when I take them here. Disney knows that Disneyland vacations are fueled by parents deriving happiness from giving the joy of Disneyland to their children. This is how you prime people. You don’t give them discounts, don’t write a 1000 word essay telling them you much fun they will have. You show it to them, you make them feel that way, and you make them imagine how much their kid will love going to Disneyland.  

Priming technique 10 – Base rate fallacy

When given general information and specific information people tend to value specific information even more, even when it gives the wrong answer. Here is an easy way to think about this – there is a competition going on where you win prizes hidden inside chocolates. You know that 10% of all chocolates have prizes in them, this is the base rate. Your friend comes to you later in the day and tells you that he bought 10 chocolates and 5 out of them had prizes in them.

Now, how much of a chance do you think you have of winning a prize if you bought 10 chocolates? Even though you know the base rate, you will assume that you will get better odds like your friend did. Even in the presence of actual facts, an anecdote can change the way you think.

The base rate fallacy is a great way of dealing with any bad statistics or press. All you need to do is provide them with a slice of information which suggests otherwise. You can tell the story of a customer who had great luck with your products – better than average. You don’t mislead people at all; you tell them the actual odds, and then tell them of a customer that beat the odds. You are telling people how much a chance there is that the same will happen to them but they won’t care. They will consider the anecdote to be a better barometer of how things will turn out instead of the base rate.

 

Conclusion

Priming techniques are a good way of understanding the full breadth of your users. And while they’re not the only techniques a designer should use in his/her toolbox, priming is a meaningful way to drill down into the microlevel of what makes users tick in regards to visual communication and design.

 

 

 

Voice Interfaces: New Era Of Human-Computer-Interactions

By | ai, interaction design, user experience, voice | No Comments

Voice interaction is the ability to speak to your devices, have them proceed your request and act upon whatever you’re asking them. Today voice user interfaces are everywhere: we can them in smartphones, TVs, smart homes and a range of other products. The rapid development of voice interaction capabilities in our daily lives makes it clear that this technology will soon become an expected offering as either an alternative or even a full replacement to, traditional graphical user interfaces.

According to Gartner, by 2018, 30 percent of our interactions with technology will happen through conversations with voice-based systems.

Amazon Echo
Apple’s Siri, Amazon Echo and Google Now, which have been available for a few years, prove that this technology is no longer in its infancy.

Voice interaction is the next great leap forward in UX design.

In this post, we’re going to explain why voice interfaces will be the next big thing and what does this trend actually mean for designers of the user experience.

What Are Driving Forces Behind Voice Interaction

Before we dive into the specific implications of voice interaction systems or design aspects for them, it’s important to understand what’s lead to rapid adoption of this new interaction medium:

Technology is Ready

It’s clear that improvements in natural language processing have set the stage for a revolution. In 2016 we saw a significant breakthrough in natural language processing, and we’ve reached a point where advances in computer processing power can make speech recognition and interaction a viable alternative to visual interfaces. Another important thing is a number of devices that support voice interaction – today almost a 1/3 of the global population is carrying powerful computers that can be used for voice interaction in their pocket, and it’s easy to predict that a majority of them are ready to adopt voice interfaces as their input method of choice.

Mobile app and voice input
Image credit: Samsung

Natural Means Of Interaction

People associate voice with communication with other people rather than with technology. This means that voice interaction systems can be a more natural way of interaction for the majority of users.

Voice interaction chart
Image credit: Google Mobile Voice Survey 2014

People Want a Frictionless Experience

To interact with a voice interaction system all users need to do is to simply speak to the devices and be understood. In comparison with graphic user interfaces (GUI) where users have to learn how to interact with a system, voice interaction systems can significantly reduce the learning curve.

Windows 10
Even the most advanced graphical user interface still requires humans to learn a computer’s language.

Opportunities For Business

Adding Personality To Branded Content

Companies can leverage the medium of voice interaction as an extension of their personalities. Gender, tone, accent and pace of speech can be used by experience designers to craft a particular customer experience with their brand. For example, kids may finally get to talk directly to their favourite cartoon characters.
Branding

Make Experience More Personalization

Using voice-based system it’s possible to create a deeper personal connection to the system. Even today if you look at the online reviews for Amazon’s Echo speaker, it’s clear that some people establish a close bond with their device in a way that more resembles a pet than a product.

Samantha from Her
Samantha from Her

Voice Interfaces Aren’t a New Direction, They Just a New Step In UX Design

If you are new to designing voice user interfaces, you may quickly find yourself unsure of how to create great user experiences because voice interaction represents the biggest UX challenge since the birth of the iPhone. They are very different from graphical user interfaces and designers cannot apply the same design guidelines and paradigms. But while designing for voice differs from traditional UX, classic usability principles are still critical to the quality of the user experience.

Understand The Basics Of Human Communication

To design great voice user interfaces, you must handle the expectations users have from their experience with everyday conversations. And for that, we must understand the principles that govern human communication: how people naturally communicate with their voices.

Understand User’s Intent

Voice-based interactions between a user and a machine can lead (potentially) to infinite possibilities of commands from a user. While designers may not be able to predict every possible user command, they need to at least design an infrastructure that is contextually driven. For that, it’s important to start with a use case (a reason for interacting in the first place) and try to anticipate users intent at each point in the conversation (to shape the appropriate response).

User Intent
The processing flow of a comprehensive speech interface. Image credit: API

Provide Users With Information About What They Can Do

While on a graphical user interface, a designer can clearly show users what options they can choose from, it’s impossible to do this on a voice interface. In voice user interfaces, it’s almost impossible to create visual affordances. Consequently, looking at a device that supports voice interaction, users will have no clear indications of what the interface can do or what their options are. Therefore, it’s still possible to provide the user with the options for interaction. For example, if you design a weather app you can make it say: “You can ask for today’s weather or a forecast on this weekend.”

Limit the Amount Of Information

While with graphic user interfaces you can present a lot of different options, with verbal content, you need to keep the information brief so that the user does not become confused or overwhelmed. It’s recommended that you don’t list more than 3 different options for an interaction.

Craft Meaningful Error Messaging

Error handling is an essential component of designing thoughtful voice interactions. The wide variation in potential responses places much more emphasis on the importance of crafting meaningful error messaging that can steer the conversation with the user back on track if something goes wrong.

Use Visual Feedback

It’s recommended to use some form of visual feedback to let the user know that the system is ready and listening. Amazon’s Echo is a good example of this: on hearing a user say ‘Alexa’, the bluish light swirls around the top rim of the device, signalling that Alexa’s ‘all ears.’

User Input and Amazon Echo
Image credit: thewirecutter

Conclusion

Voice is the next big platform – it represents the new pinnacle of intuitive interfaces that make the use of technology more natural for people. Properly designed voice interfaces lead users to accomplish tasks with as little confusion and barriers as possible. And the good news is that UX designers already possess the skills they need to design effectively for voice.

What You Should Know About Internet of Things

By | design, IoT, user experience | No Comments

The “Internet of Things” (IoT) is the addition of internet connectivity and other sensors to physical objects. Broadband Internet becomes more widely available, the cost of connecting is decreasing, and more devices are being created with built-in network adapters. This movement creates a “perfect storm” for the IoT. That’s why IoT begins to move from ‘next big thing’ to something more and more of us are living with and it’s going to grow even more in coming years and eventually, most of us will use IoT technologies.

Gartner forecasts 21 billion connected things by 2020. That’s approximately four devices for every human being on the planet.

By 2020, more than half of major new business processes and systems will incorporate some element of the IoT. And we, as designers, should be ready for this moment. In this article, you’ll find everything you need to know about the increasingly connected world.

Where Can We Find IoT?

IoT isn’t just one group of devices, the term is used for a big range of connected tools, devices, and services. Technologies are infiltrating the everyday life and things around us are becoming smarter. Common categories of IoT today include:

  • Connected home technology (these are products and services that make home life easier or more pleasant, such as smart thermostats, lighting, and energy monitoring)
  • Nest smart thermostat
    Nest smart thermostat
  • Wearables (such as activity/fitness trackers and smartwatches)
  • Apple watch
    Apple Watch
  • Connected cars
  • Tesla Model S embedded system
    Tesla embedded system
  • Urban systems (such as city rental bikes and parking meters/sensors)
  • Citibike in New York
    Citibike in New York

On a broader scale, the IoT can be used to create “smart cities” which can help us reduce waste and improve efficiency for our environments (e.g. energy use). Take a look at the visual below to see what something like that can look like.
Smart cities

5 Principles To Remember When Designing for IoT

Design is the critical component that bridges IoT technology’s potential with meeting real human needs. And it’s not surprise that IoT is a hot topic for designers today – it opens the door to a lot of opportunities but also to many challenges. While there are a huge array of things to consider while developing a IoT product, you’ll be more likely to gain traction if you keep following 5 principles in mind:

1. Design IoT Only If It Enhance User Experience

Just because something can be connected to the internet doesn’t mean it should be. IoT design requires a sharp focus on user needs because IOT products succeed only when they solve real problems and make users’ lives easier. Thus, if you want to connect something to the internet, you should have a clear answer on the question “Why do I want to do it?” User research should be a critical early step in any solid IoT UX project. Using insights gained from your research can help you explore the interaction contexts well before your team is burning hours designing or developing.

Making the ‘thing’ an IoT make sense only if it solves a real problem for the user. If connecting a product to the internet doesn’t enhance the experience, then don’t do it.

2. Create Good Onboarding

In the world of IoT getting your users up and running isn’t as simple as in a world of web or mobile apps. In addition to account creation, IoT devices usually require a proper configuration. Without a good onboarding experience, the setup phase might be really hard for the first-time users and there is a great possibility of user frustration or failure. That’s successful IoT product (like Nest) have set a relatively high bar for onboarding.

3. Prevent Glitching

Everyone experience occasional glitches in digital products. One common example is slow loading time on websites. Of course, it’s definitely frustrating when loading takes ages, but we are used to this. By contrast, we won’t expect real-world objects respond to us with glitches. When we turn off the lights in our room, we expect an immediate response. However, when we interact with a physical device over the internet (e.g. smart lighting system), that interaction might have the same latency issues as the website. So there’s the potential for delays in response. This could make the real world start to feel broken. Just imagine if you turned your lights off and they took two minutes to respond or failed to come on at all. As a designer, you should prevent all possible situations that can lead to glitch.

4. Make Sure It Works Locally

When designing for IoT, don’t assume always-on internet connectivity. In real life, IoT devices are often intermittently connected. Thus, it’s good to design for no internet connectivity at first, and see how much functionality can be done locally. Also, UX designers have to ensure that important functions (e.g. home security alarms for IoT Smart home system) continue to work properly when some devices go offline.

5. Design For Security and Data Privacy From the Outset

Security is a big issue. Recent high-profile hacks have raised the spectre of IoT-related security risks. More and more users are examining IoT devices for information about security. These consumers may be increasingly cautious about exposing personal information, especially when it is connected to physical spaces (such a local Wifi network) in their homes. Users might have questions like “Will someone be able to hack into my fridge and thereby get access to my entire network?” It’s your job, as a designer, to alleviate such fears. Always help users understand the security of your service by providing this information upfront.

Conclusion

A new generation of IoT is going to enhance our lives dramatically. We will spend less time on monotonous, boring tasks and will have more time to do what’s really important – like spending more time with our family or friends. I really hope the principles mentioned above help get your IoT effort aimed in the right direction.

What You Should Know About VR

By | user experience, user interface | No Comments

In the last few years, we’ve witnessed an explosion in virtual reality (VR) devices and apps for them. VR is emerging as a new medium with the potential of having as strong an impact as radio or television did in the past century. According to the Heather Bellini of Goldman Sachs:
“We expect virtual and augmented reality to become an $80 billion market by 2025, roughly the size of the desktop PC market today”

Oculus Rift
Oculus Rift is the first high-end virtual reality headset sold on the retail market.

With the increasing popularity of VR, a design is evolving to incorporate its requirements and new capabilities.

Where Can We Use VR

VR is giving birth to an entirely new arena for entertainment, education, collaboration, communication and marketing. The following are some general categories that will merge with VR:

Gaming

All types of entertainment activities can be amplified with the integration of VR. VR makes it possible to put your users into a 100% designed space with predetermined tasks while giving the user total control of moving, exploring and learning within this space.
VR for gaming

Learning

VR can have tremendous implications for education — education can be both more engaging and effective. VR can be used for educational classes, labs and demonstrations. To make education experience truly immersive, designers should consider how users may interact with objects.

VR for learning
Microsoft Hololens for medical education

Training

Using VR, training simulations for professionals like drivers, pilots, doctors and police officers can become more accurate, complex and cost-effective.

VR for training
Image credit: Wareable

Big companies like Toyota see the educational potential of VR. The latest training simulator from Toyota – TeenDrive365 system – is focussed on teaching new drivers about the risks associated with distracted driving.

VR for training
Toyota driving simulator.The driver is in a fully immersive virtual environment – and that includes passengers, traffic, buildings and roadway obstacles.

Prototyping

VR can greatly enhance prototyping and testing phases for engineers, with all types of projects from a handstick design to new car designs.

VR for training
The hologram and the object on the screen are synchronized and this makes spatial application part of the production pipeline, not just an isolated island. Image credit: Solidsmack

Communication

Communicating will drastically change with the help of VR. VR makes it possible to create a brand new experience for video conferencing services, such as Skype.

VR for communication
Remote collaboration using avatars.

Shopping

VR makes it possible to blend the online and offline shopping together. Instead of looking at a 2D image of an object online, shoppers in VR will have the ability to pick up an object and look at it in detail. Alibaba Group, Asia’s biggest e-commerce company, divided into virtual reality later last year.

VR for training
Alibaba’s VR shopping. Buy+ technology allows customers to browse 3D images of products and make real-time payment in a virtual mall as if they were shopping in the real store.

Creating VR Experience

Creating a VR experience is much more complex than traditional 2D experiences, which presents designers with a whole new set of challenges. There are currently 4 core considerations for the design of virtual reality experiences:

1. Make Sure Users Don’t Get Motion Sickness

The most important quality to creating any successful UX design is ensuring that users are comfortable throughout the experience. This is especially true in the context of VR experience. Motion sickness (when physical and visual motion cues give a user adverse information) is one of the most common problems of VR experiences. Humans evolved to be very sensitive to vestibular ocular disparities (disparity between the movement and what we’re seeing). So reducing motion sickness is very important for VR systems. The keys to preventing users from getting motion sick while using VR are

  • Always maintain head tracking. VR software should constantly track the user’s head and eye movements, allowing the images to change with every new perspective.
  • Prevent performance degradation. If the system freezes even for a split second that’s going to trigger a lot of motion sickness.

2. Develop Easy-To-Use Controls And Menus

Same as for traditional UI interfaces navigational menus and other controls should be easily accessible and user-friendly. Unfortunately, there’s no universally accepted way to designing menus for VR interfaces. This is a challenge that designers are still working on. However, this doesn’t mean that we can’t transfer existing (2D) practices to 3D. It’s absolutely possible to place the menus on the user’s VR hands. One of such menu interfaces is Hovercast. All menu actions – including navigation between levels – are controlled by simple hand movements and reliable gestures.

VR navigation menu
Hovercast is 2D menu interface for VR environment. Hovercast radiates from the palm of your hand and you can interact with menu items using the index finger of your opposite hand.

3. Ensure Text Is Readable

All text elements should be clear and easily legible, preventing eye strain. The resolution of the VR headset is pretty bad. Because of the display’s resolution, all UI elements in VR will look pixelated. This means that text will be difficult to read. But you can avoid this by using big text blocks.

VR text
Consider the readability for different text section in this VR game. Instructions are almost unreadable. Image credit: Mozilla

4. Use Sound To Create Immersive Experience

As designers, we often don’t think about sound and audio. When we do that we miss an opportunity to communicate more information through a different set of senses. When we have audio sources attached to the objects we create much more realistic environment — if you’re telling a brain that it can see the object and it can hear the object then the object must be real. Try to build a mental image of the environment via sound:

  • Introducing the user to the environment via soundscapes. The audio can be used to give the user the illusion of being in the middle of a particular environment.
  • Guiding the user with sound. By applying positional audio and 3D audio effects to VR, the user will know the direction in which certain sounds originated in relation to where they are.
VR sound
Music and high-quality sound effects are a pivotal feature to encourage experience immersion. Image credit: Google

Conclusion

The possibilities for VR are endless. Soon, all types of companies will be seeking to extend their brand presences into this space. I hope I’ve made the VR space a bit less scary with this article and inspired you to start designing for VR your project.