Top 5 2018 UX Trends

by Sharon Huber
Director of User Experience

It’s that time of year when we look to the changes on the horizon and predict how they’re going to fit into our world. The changes in technology point to all sorts of opportunities for UX research, strategy, and design. Here are the top five trends on our UX radar:

Data, data, data

While we still recommend leading your customer strategy with customer journeys, data is at the center of the universe right now. It fuels healthcare solutions, informs global politics, guides the stock market, and drives business decisions. In our corner, data drives marketing campaigns and informs our designs. Come see us during Design Week Portland in April, for a panel discussion on how data drives design. Our UX team leverages data to understand audience behaviors, define KPIs for success, and optimize the experiences we design.

Data is important in that it provides the quantitative proof of “what”—what people are doing on websites, in apps, and in media. The CMD UX perspective is to balance this quantitative data with qualitative information and add a “why” to the “what” so we can respond. For example, what happens when Google Analytics shows us that 30 percent of people start filling out a survey but don’t complete it? Our collaborative teams can come up with a hundred possible reasons why—too many questions, the server taking too long to load accompanying photos, small font causing eye strain—but only when we watch real people interact with the survey can we learn that the “next page” button gets lost in the background color of the footer, and people don’t even know there’s more of the survey to fill out.

Our POV is that data alone isn’t enough. We need to balance it with actual user feedback to be able to optimize our designs. Which brings me to our next trend, user testing.

User testing

This isn’t a new concept for 2018, by any means. But we are seeing more value in user testing, and with rapid prototyping and new testing services, we can do it earlier and faster with our target audience. At CMD, our digital teams collaborate with tools like Sketch and InVision to develop high-fidelity prototypes that we can get in front of actual users. We use testing services like Validately to recruit users and moderate user tests, and use the findings to optimize designs. And, clients are seeing the value when a full launch has proven results with real people. (You’ll see a deep dive into user testing in a future blog.)

Design systems

Another way we’re getting faster to market is by experimenting with new design systems. We are using systems and patterns to break our designs into bits that can be used across projects. These systems are cousins of style guides, pattern libraries, and even style tiles, and they allow the smallest pieces of designs (Buttons! Fonts!) to live in one place, be grouped with like pieces, and get repurposed across various designers, developers, platforms, and media. They help keep our work consistent and free our brains to spend energy on solving problems that need good thinking. And they work better with all sorts of new technology, because they break up our design into wee bits of data.

Parsing data this way also positions us for the next item, designing for voice.

Designing for voice

According to Gartner, by 2020, 30% of all web browsing sessions will be carried out without a screen.

With products like Amazon Echo and Google Home gaining popularity, designers need to enable easy access to information (and our clients’ products) with no graphic interface. The elements we’re tracking include:

  • Search practices—long-tail keywords are inherent in conversation
  • Context—different contexts (such as location) have different needs (e.g., home vs. car)
  • Conversational navigation—sign-posting and wayfinding are different if there’s not a visual
  • Amount of information—people get cognitive overload after 3-5 pieces of information for voice, vs. 5-7 pieces for visual

Like all trends, the UX team is here to help assess whether voice is appropriate for an application. Just as some tasks would be more trouble for users to do in an app vs. a website, this will also be the case for voice. Take an elevator, for instance. Pushing the floor button is easier than telling an elevator the floor you want, because the voice instruction is more complex. For example, you need three syllables to engage a voice interface. Also, in an elevator, there may be other people and noise, which makes voice not only slower, but also prone to conflict. It is simply a better experience to push a button.


All products and services are increasing their personalization. We’re looking at personalization from a few fronts here in UX-land:

  • Navigation-based, where people choose their own adventure and find their own path
  • Profile-based, where logged-in customers see targeted content based on what we know about them
  • Data-driven, where we dynamically change content based on that same profile information with the addition of data

Bonus! 3 things we’re watching

Some things still feel a bit out of reach for our client marketing projects. But we’re keeping tabs on them, so we can be ready when the time comes.

Artificial intelligence (AI)

This goes deep and broad, and it’s super exciting. And maybe a little scary. Today, we experience predictive modeling, recommendations engines, and even search engines using some form of AI. AI has its fingers in all sorts of markets and applications, and this area will see significant changes that will happen very quickly. And you know what’s at the core? You guessed it: Data. Look for a blog post or two about AI this year.

Enhanced realities

Marketing plays for virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality technology will continue to grow in applications like sales experiences, demos, in-room product visualizations, gamification of ads and coupons. There is deep UX research and design involved in the technology, with no standards yet. Some folks on the CMD dev team are passionate about this area, and we’re with them, consulting here and there, but mostly dipping in while our developers dive in and swim circles around us. We expect that to change.

Blockchain technology

This data organization model, secured by cryptography, is the crazy technology behind Bitcoin and a growing number of applications. These continuously growing distributed ledgers of info make the web look like a simple linear flow. There are implications in validating info, allowing more peer-to-peer interactions, providing amazing security, managing intellectual property rights, and so much more. I don’t even fully understand it yet, but I’m already imagining how we’re going to give people usable access to the data.

There are sure to be other things that arise in 2018 that stretch our UX minds. What do you see on the horizon?