22 expert opinions on UI design trends for 2017
Please note, there is a more up-to-date version of this article here: 10 UX design trends to watch in 2020.
Opinions ain’t worth jack and a good UI is based on solid user research, not an ability to copy experts. So why the hell do we do these things?
We don’t gather the opinions from the brightest so you can copy and paste (really, don’t)—we gather them as an exercise in critical thinking.
We take all the hype. All the trends. All the technology. Then we get some of the most experienced and skilled professionals we know to tear apart, rebuild and connect them.
This achieves a few things:
- It stimulates discussion about the general direction of the industry. For example, this series exposes a wave of new jargon… now we get to discuss whether that’s a good thing.
- It exposes previously hidden connections, encouraging new approaches to experimentation and problem-solving.
- It exposes recurring themes in topical concepts, showing potential weaknesses or strengths.
- It encourages us to focus on practical applications for trending technologies, rather than getting carried away by their shininess.
The one thing these UX expert opinions will not do is predict the future… unless… maybe if we got Rasputin to throw us a bone from the other side.
So, without further ado, get your critical thinking hats on and ruminate with our experts about the latest UI design trends!
“Walking away from in-app walkthroughs”
Lisa Baskett, Experience Architect, AustinCSI
“As 2017 progresses, I predict we’ll see more and more UI designers adopting streamlined approaches to user onboarding for mobile apps.
In the past, many apps have relied too heavily on giving the user multi-screen onboarding walkthroughs and tutorials to explain the various features and interactions. The problem with this is three-fold. First, if an app requires elaborate explanation upfront, then the designer should probably rethink the user flow. Second, walkthrough instructions are easily forgotten, so the user is either forced to go back to it or remember during use therefore increasing their cognitive load. Definitely not something you want in a mobile use context. Third, many users skip walkthroughs altogether. Users would rather figure out how an app works for themselves. If the app design does not allow for them to do that easily, they will simply stop using it.
Removing walkthroughs leaves UI designers with the dilemma of how to communicate instructions, since much of the interaction of modern apps relies on gestures, and they are by nature hidden. There are a couple of very effective ways to achieve this.
1.) Gesture hinting: As with putting navigation behind icons or a hamburger menu, gesture interactions are hidden from the user. Adding contextual instruction—through animations showing the intended action and/or explicit text labels which appear briefly, only at the point of interaction—shows users the action that’s expected, without cluttering the interface.
2.) Progressive disclosure: For apps with more complexity, progressive disclosure of content breaks up instructions that might have appeared in the walkthrough. Also, content is displayed only for the first-time use of a feature, at the point of interaction.
The advantage of both of these approaches is that they improve usability by giving instruction in context, thus maintaining the user’s focus on the task at hand.”
“Less Apple every day keeps the doctor away”
Joel Marsh, Experience Architect & Author of UX For Beginners, The Hipper Element
“I predict that 2017 trends will basically be the anti-Apple. And I don’t mean Google Material Design.
Since iOS7 came out a few years ago, Apple has been leading us through a phase of ultra-minimal, flat, white, thin-font convergence. Everybody has been trying to look like that and succeeding. But Apple is losing its sense of design leadership among designers, and there is nobody to take its place, so divergence will be the reaction.
We are seeing many companies simplify their apps to look black and white, while reserving color for special cases. I think we’re going to start growing out of that by the end of 2017.
I think the biggest difference will be typography. We will see more heavy typography (i.e. fat fonts), more serifs, and I think the bolder designers might even get into high-contrast sans serifs, like Optima (but probably not Optima). In fashion, that is already happening.
Minimalism won’t go away, but a lot more people will be designing in black (as a reaction to Apple’s pure white), and we might even see branding (i.e. style) play more of a role.
I am also seeing more people using shadows and subtle touches of ‘realism’, to make their designs easier to understand—like buttons that have some depth or ‘layered’ interfaces. Skeuomorphism won’t come back, but people are starting to realise that flat design has weaknesses of its own. I think we will start to settle into something between ‘flat’ and ‘real’.
And—although I don’t think it will happen—I continue to *hope* that designers will start making their interfaces more original, instead of copying each other.
In short, I think the world is preparing to break out of Apple’s shadow, and I expect that to create some diversity in UI design, in general.”
“The rise of three-letter acronyms will start feeling a lot like a four-letter word”
Conor Ward, Head of UX & Design, British Gas
“My strong feeling is that UI is about to change in a big way—and it’s all down to AI.
UI is about to revert back to its original meaning this year of a ‘user interface’.
Brace yourselves for a lot of three-letter acronyms (TLAs).
In recent times, UI has become synonymous with graphical user interface (GUI). Designers calling themselves UI designers and interaction designers. When, in fact, they are really mostly GUI designers.
2017 is the year when UI returns in its true meaning, for those of us in the technology world—i.e. any type of human-computer interaction (HCI), including VUI (voice user interface), TUI (standard DTMF relay telephone user interface), GUI . This could also include new types of TUI (tangible user interfaces) such as haptic feedback and VR (virtual reality). And we can’t forget the ever-elusive zero UI (ZUI?), which is often confused with these other types of UI.
Therefore, following that raft of TLAs, my prediction for 2017 is that AI will move us towards a zero UI environment—through rapid, contextual, personalised and smart anticipatory experience design.
For the most part, we will of course not reach Zero UI when creating our experiences this year. Some sort of interaction with our systems is still needed.
We will simply reduce our reliance on GUI design and replace it with less content, less GUI mess to wade through. Instead, we’ll craft a smarter and more human form of communication, wherever possible.
Thus achieving our ultimate goal as interaction designers—to create the least amount of human interaction possible with our systems, allowing our users to achieve their goals in the real world.
In a nutshell, let’s all work hard to get out of our users’ way in 2017 and help them achieve more with less effort.”
“The paradox of choice”
Sarah Doody, User Experience Designer and Product Strategist. Founder, The UX Notebook
“2017 will be a year when we focus on user choice.
The challenge with choice is it often introduces complexity, resulting in a cluttered interface. However, as products get smarter, they can begin to make decisions on behalf of (and with the permission of) the user—thereby minimising the number of choices. This is powerful because tasks that users once avoided, will now be achieved with ease, thanks to anticipatory and automated experiences.
For example, Digit is an app that helps you save money by automatically pulling money from your checking account to a savings account—based on what it thinks you can afford to save. This automatic saving makes it easy for the user because the decision is made for them. But, users can interact with Digit via text messages and it will send back your monthly savings. Or you can tell it to save less or save more. The balance with choice is that we can’t make decisions on behalf of people, without giving them enough control to reverse those decisions.”
“Flat design will be roundly rejected”
Paul Randall, Senior UX Architect, Evosite
“In 2017, I believe flat design will have found it’s breaking point.
Expect to see UI elements becoming ‘simpler but more obvious’ to the end user, with a continued focus on affordance. This is why mobile-first design has become so popular—it forces you to focus on the key functionality of the site and avoid cluttering up the screen as you increase the breakpoints!
Finally, one of the forms of content which probably doesn’t get the attention it deserves is original photography. It makes such a difference to how someone perceives your site. Avoid using stock photos (especially clichéd imagery) wherever possible.”
“The machines are coming… but they’ll be a while”
Kurt Henderson, Chief Product Officer, Startup Kompas
“2017, from my perspective, will be more about the biggest and upcoming technology—machine learning and artificial intelligence.
It will shape the landscape of UI and UX, the same way we saw Google’s material design invade every Android app. Although these topics are popular, advances in the industries will be slow—as they’re still maturing and need time for any potential to materialise.
Once conventions are formed concerning the less granular elements of UI/UX, these topics will become more integral notions. In 2017, foundations will be laid—like we’re already seeing with the likes of Google DeepMind.”
“Tackling the difficulty of achieving simplicity”
Rob Whiting, Head of Product Design, The Spencer Group
“A key UI design trend for 2017 will be a move towards simplified, focused user interfaces.
Virtual and augmented reality UI, and conversational, natural language interfaces lend themselves to this goal. I think this will become more pronounced in the design of graphical user interfaces.
I don’t think things will go as far as the brutalist website trend – take a look at brutalistwebsites.com for some great examples—but they will follow this style of subdued colours, large, easy-to-read typography and simple, task-focused interactions.
2017 will be the year when those involved in UI design will see how difficult it is to achieve simplicity. Interesting times to be involved in UX ツ”
“Looking beyond the (smoke)screen to find deeper interactions”
Jonathan Lupo, VP of Experience Design, EPAM
“When it comes to design, we must be careful not to be influenced too much by what’s ‘trendy’.
We must, rather, pay close attention to core brand values, as well as service promises and propositions being delivered to customers. Additionally, the brand likely has an established visual and experience language which need to be followed, to provide a consistent experience to across customer touchpoints.
That being said, it is important for designers to understand what digital tactics and interaction paradigms are ‘current and contemporary’. ‘Being modern’ is likely a goal for companies which are evolving their digital experiences.
Looking to the future, designers must think beyond the screen for interaction conventions—especially in relation to Internet of things (IoT) and immersive experience platforms.
Here are a few examples:
· In VR, designers must think about audio cues that enable users to feel more connected to the environment
· In AR/VR, designers must understand new navigation and interaction paradigms, like ‘Air Tap’ and ‘Gaze’ (which are gestures being introduced by Microsoft HoloLens)
· In IoT devices and AR/VR, designers need to expand upon natural language patterns for voice commands, which will become prevalent (as illustrated through Amazon Echo)
· In wearable tech, such as Apple Watch, knowing when to incorporate ‘Force Touch’ or ‘3D Touch’ into digital experiences will enable greater potential for functionality, without cluttering screens.
· In autonomous transportation, providing intuitive alerts, smart driving assistance and information via the heads up display (without requiring the driver to lose total control), will become increasingly important.
In short, pay less attention to visual design trends du jour and more attention to the experience promised to customers by the brand. Understand the likely behaviors and tasks of consumers as they are empowered by new technologies.”
“Bye bye, UI”
Andy Budd, Managing Director, Clearleft
“I think the biggest UI trend in 2017 will be the lack of UI—or at least the lack of a visible one.
It won’t have escaped your attention that VUI (or voice user interface) was huge this Christmas. In fact, I suspect many of you either found an Amazon Echo under your tree or grabbed one in the sales.
Voice concierge services are only going to get more popular in 2017, with the roll out of Google Home. We may even see Apple wake from its 5-year slumber and join the party, with a slightly less shit version of Siri.
At the moment, the app or API eco-system is pretty small. But you can bet every large supermarket, bank, news outlet, and travel brand is working on its own voice strategy, to varying degrees of success. So expect a flood of new VUI products coming your way.
“A little more conversation, a little less action”
Zeina Farha, Head of UX, Somo
“Whether it takes the the form of chatbots, AI, voice assistants, or a combination of the above, the current trend in UI is simple, human conversation.
It wasn’t long ago that the idea of talking to a robot or computer was a thing of Sci-Fi movies. But with rapid improvements in AI and voice recognition technology, this is quickly becoming a reality.
The appeal is obvious—handsfree completion of tasks when we would otherwise have to use a traditional interface, button, knob, dial, etc. This saves us time and provides immediate results.
Of course, this new frontier creates for designers different challenges—without screens, how do we present feedback to users in an easy-to-digest way? What is the right personality or tone of voice for our bot? How do we handle edge cases which we previously didn’t consider? How do we make sure users don’t accidentally order a dollhouse?
Combined with the rise of VR/AR/MR, the definition of UI is certainly going to be diverging and evolving, once again, in 2017.”
“The power of words”
Chris Callaghan, UX and Optimisation Director, McCann Manchester
“I expect to see more emphasis on the power of words when creating interfaces. Not just images, buttons and aesthetically over-engineered dropdown lists… but meaningful and useful words.
We’ve had Siri for a while now, but I always feel like there’s some sort of social barrier to talking to your device when out in public. However, with the likes of Xbox, Amazon Echo and the mics which are integrated into the PSVR headsets, voice commands will become more commonplace in the home, and possibly more comfortable to use in private.
With the buzz of chatbots, I’d hope to see us move away from visual or surface design (which the industry labels ‘UI’), and get back to the core elements of user interface design—affordances, feedback, orientation, learnability, etc.”
“Cut through the wireframe to enter the future”
Adam Babajee-Pycroft, Managing Director & Head of UX, Natural Interaction
“For over a decade, interaction designers have produced wireframes. This has been the default way to begin describing screen-based interactions. In fact, according to research by the Nielsen Norman Group (NNG), 90% of UX professionals produce wireframes ‘often’.
In 2016, we saw the meteoric rise of Alexa—Amazon’s voice controlled assistant. Unlike earlier versions of the technology, such as Apple’s Siri, Alexa seems competent and capable. It makes far more sense to say ‘Alexa, turn on the lights’ than to unlock your smartphone, start the app and tap the button.
In 2017, we’ll see voice become a mainstream interaction method. This means UXers will spend less time wireframing and instead rely on other methods. As a community, it’s important that we use this opportunity to change how UX is perceived. User experience design is about improving interactions people have with organisations. It’s our role to understand user behaviour and define the path which serves both the user and client. User testing everything we create, so we can validate our assumptions, remains important. Now, more than ever, we need to recognise the best solution may not be a traditional website or app.”
“The era of the buddy bot”
Per Axbom, Designer, Writer and Coach, Axbom Innovation
“New relationships will be formed with chatbots, voice-controlled agents and data-powered assistants which act on our behalf.
This has the potential of bringing us even closer to those people we endearingly refer to as ‘users’. Hence, the question every modern-day cyborg designer is pondering: Are we ready for this?
For now we must realize that each and every user is an individual, with all the quirks and emotions that this entails. Inadvertently using someone’s middle name won’t cut it anymore—you need to be on solid, buddy terms. What we build must not simply appeal to needs, but build trust in the form of a long-lasting friendship—and all the while never overstepping boundaries which we still have not defined.”
Wouter de Bres, Director of Product Design, Degreed
“One trend I expect to see in 2017 is that our industry starts realising good design isn’t about trends.
Good design is about making a user understand your product and how to interact with it. We’ve been all too eager to ride the UI trend train in the past years—with long shadows, flat UI, big shadows and gradients… not to mention the overly complicated Disney-film worthy animations.
Let’s stop and think again—what problem is my design solving and which design solution fits this particular situation the best? Not saying digital design will ever be timeless… but I expect this year that our industry realises design isn’t about trends, but about solving the user’s problem.”
“The app is dead, long live the app!”
Stef Ivanov, UX/UI Designer, StefIvanov.com
“Mobile Internet usage surpassed desktop for the first time in 2016 and this has affected us all.
Responsive and adaptive design has been around for ages, but I think 2017 will be the year we put it on another level. It’s getting harder for brands to persuade users to download another app and this trend will continue. Recent research showed that the average American smartphone user downloads zero apps per month. Yep. Zero!
So what does it mean? I believe designers will start making mobile web apps look and feel like native ones. Progressive web apps are the future and they have to be designed to look perfect on social, messaging apps and all browsers.
Popular native apps will still be around for a while, of course—but they’ll work as our main ‘start’ point. I’m expecting more and more brands to focus on building features and tools to integrate their products with the big players, rather than spending thousands on standalone apps. Smart UX is definitely becoming more important than impressive and beautiful UI. You want people to use your product, not just to admire it, right?”
“RIP traditional web design”
Edoardo Benedetto, Co-Founder and UX Architect and Experience Designer, Oval Money
“The end of traditional web design has come and 2017 will be a pivotal year. Web designers will need to become experience or service designers, rather than focusing only on UI.
Websites won’t be able to get away with simply looking beautiful, without taking into account user experience. They will need to be designed around the user stories and experiences.
This will lead to websites that are truly responsive, and adapt to mobile and desktop smoothly.
Another huge trend will be animations within websites and apps. The types of animations will vary but the key will be the designer’s use of animations to help users understand the product or service being sold by a company.”
“Product-UX tag team”
Daniel Elizalde, Founder, Instructor and Author, techproductmanagement.com
“2017 will have a strong focus on voice-controlled devices and bigger adoption of virtual and augmented reality.
These technologies will enable more natural interactions between users and devices. On the flip side, they will create a new set of challenges for product people. As these interfaces gain traction, users will want them as the ‘new normal’.
At some point, it becomes very hard for companies to support all possible form factors and interaction models (desktop, web, phone, tablet, watch, voice-activated, VR, etc). So it will become more important for product management and UX to understand use cases, and the technology or approach which best suits each use case.”
“VR in the real world… Or are we?”
Sergi Arévalo, Lead UI/UX Designer, Justinmind
“2017 is definitely the year that VR will take off.
Lots of companies will invest in developing apps for VR gears this year, and this will open up opportunities around app usability.
Mixing mobile apps or games with VR could also provide interesting challenges around usability. It wouldn’t be the first time that it’s been tried but we’re in the perfect moment right now.
It would be a great experience to design the UI and UX of a virtual world.”
“Back to the future of information architecture”
Barry Briggs, Senior UX Architect, BBC
“I believe there will be a renewed interest in areas like information architecture (IA), as we realise how integral a solid IA is to conversational user interfaces (CUIs) that work well.
For most users of digital services and products, interactions have always been focused on visual interfaces. Although language has always played a key role in these UIs—in the form of headings, labels and other artefacts of IA—the whole interface is now language, meaning the role of information architects (and, potentially, newer professionals like UX writers) is likely to increase.”
“Choosing our words carefully”
Fabricio Teixeira, UX Director at R/GA and Editor at uxdesign.cc
“Responsive Design is just an example of adjectives that become unnecessary over time.
We don’t sell an experience as being ‘intuitive’ — we prove it through user testing and positive feedback from customers.
We spend less and less time arguing whether a piece of content should live ‘above the fold’ or ‘below the fold’—the plethora of screen sizes we see today are making concepts like ‘the fold’ outdated.
Quickly, our vocabulary shifts and evolves to let us focus on new design challenges.
What words are you crossing out of your daily lexicon in 2017?
What new words will you be adding?”
“Experimenting with simplicity”
Stephen Perry, Holistic Designer (Industrial / Product / UX), Amazon
“This year looks to be one when we’ll take simple statements and present them boldy, in a broken down, digestible and layered fashion.
Expect UIs to lean heavily on unashamed typography, laid over video backdrops and parallax effects. This means more information is displayed through a progressive reveal, rather than an all-in-one braindump (hint: you’ll probably be scrolling more).
A movement away from baseline grid design to more experimental layouts will complement the layering of content. This, in combination with bold and bright colour palettes, will make for a fresher, as well as more optimistic and experimental year for UI design.
(All thoughts expressed here are my own and do not reflect or represent Amazon in any way.)”
“They took ‘er jobs!”
Caio Braga, UX Designer and Editor, uxdesign.cc
“Design Automation is generally associated with the futuristic idea of artificial intelligence designing websites and apps. This might be still far from reality, but automation has started to happen in a much more subtle way.
A few examples? Sketch add-ons to bring real data to mockups or easily create several versions of a page; tools like Zeplin to create specs without a bloodbath; InVision integrations aiming for seamless collaboration; and the new kids on the block, Figma and Subform.
Think about how we were working 5 years ago and how these tiny workflow automation tools have completely changed our work dynamic today.
You can imagine how different things will be in 5 years.”