Like everything else, UX design changed a lot during the pandemic. User Experience is the science (some would say artform) that governs how users interact with the digital world, and during COVID-19 the digital world suddenly became the only world most people could reach. Voice interfaces continued their surge, minimalist UI and negative space became the hot new aesthetic, and brands everywhere had to pivot their entire business model online. For many UX Designers, 2021 was all about simply surviving the turbulence of COVID. Experts are hoping the industry will calm slightly next year, and we can get back to creativity and experimentation, rather than simply running flat-out on an endless scroll wheel.
Here are some of the big trends set to shape the UX world in 2022.
1. Dark Mode
Dark Mode isn’t necessarily new – Apple and Android have enabled a high-contrast Dark Mode for years now – but more apps and websites are beginning to lean into the trend. It’s probably a push against the endless, snow-covered fields of white web space, which have been the dominant UX aesthetic for at least a decade. There are several user advantages to Dark Mode, too, besides simply looking cool. Dark Mode reduces eye strain, particularly late at night, improves visibility for some visually impaired users, and helps conserve device battery power (especially handy for mobile devices and OLED screens).
2. The Metaverse
Facebook’s choice of ‘Meta’ as its new name really shouldn’t shock anyone: sure, it’s a cynical PR move, but it’s also a sign that Facebook (and other big tech companies) have seen the future – and the future is virtual. VR and ‘Metaverse’ design will probably shape the course of UX over the next five years, as more and more companies move towards fully remote ways of working: virtual meetings, virtual WIPs, virtual team bonding, and so on. UX designers will have to give thought, not just to screen ratios and different devices, but to how their layouts will translate to Oculus VR headset display and Horizon Workrooms.
3. 3D animations
For a long time, UX designers have been constrained by speed and infrastructure: simple design and minimalist web pages were, in some ways, a logical response to limited download speeds. There was no point investing in animations or 3D objects if all they’d do is cripple page load times. But with the rise of 5G, that’s no longer such an issue, and UX will likely embrace 3D design in 2022. We’re already seeing signs of this, with Microsoft launching their new 3D Windows 11 backgrounds in June, and Facebook pushing their new 3D Meta logo (although not everyone’s been a fan of that one). 3D logos, 3D animations, new illustrations, interactive 3D elements – expect all these to feature heavily in web and app design next year.
4. Freelance potential
With the ‘great resignation’ in full swing, and UX course enrolments on the rise, it’s no surprise that UX designers are looking at new ways to monetise their skills. The good news is, this should be even easier in 2022: social media companies are starting to offer subscription tools for creators, designers can easily launch their own online courses, there are paid UX communities, UI kits for sale, and even NFTs as a potential source of income. The UX landscape is looking more fragmented, in some ways, with experienced designers striking out on their own, and newcomers using sites like Fiverr and Upwork to get their foot in the door. SEEK is predicting 12.9% growth in Australian UX jobs over the next five years, so we can expect the industry to keep booming for a while yet.
5. Large screen design
This is the big one. The one everyone’s talking about. With Google updating their design system, Material, UX will need to be ready for the transition to larger screens. The changes essentially mean that Material-based apps will be able to scale to all form factors (that’s phones, desktops, TVs and beyond), and Google has hardwired component responsiveness into their design documentation (you can grab the updated Figma design kit over here, if you’re interested). Android app designers will have to think bigger next year, making their layouts work for folding phones, car screens, desktop computers and TVs. That’s in addition to wearable devices, tablets and mobile, obviously. Interface design just got a whole lot more complicated.
6. Keeping it simple
One interesting tech trend we’ve seen in the last few years is the rise of so-called ‘Super Apps’. Tech companies consolidating several apps into one all-encompassing application. Google has done it with Gmail, Twitter added Spaces (presumably to take down new rival, Clubhouse), and YouTube launched Shorts as a direct response to TikTok. Apps don’t do one thing anymore, they do several things, and the rise in complexity has led to a drop-off in user experience. UX Designers will need to cut through the noise in 2022 and help simplify complex service offerings, keeping the interfaces clean and intuitive, while still providing robust functionality. Always a tricky balance, but it’s another reason good UX designers will always be in demand.
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