Top 12 UX trends 2021
Get a grip on the latest news and developments in the realm of user experience.
An increasing number of people and organisations get their eyes opened for the importance of user experience (UX). Emerging trends also show that organisations intends to continue to create more user-friendly solutions than before.
So what can you expect to see more of in the coming months? Here are 12 UX trends in no particular order that will make an impact in the immediate future:
1. Rich web UIs
Rich front-end frameworks make it easier for you to construct a smoother, faster and better functioning experience for your customers or visitors. Traditional websites can be made into a more app-like user experience, where all actions and elements work on a single page.
Learn how to start building a design system:
2. Design systems
An ongoing trend not seeming to wither away soon is the design system. A design system maintains the visual and functional elements of an organisation, fulfilling brand principles and user experience through design, realisation, and development of products and services.
With a design system, your organisation essentially gets a sketch library, style guide, pattern library, organisation principles, best practices, templates, and ready-made code to quickly and securely implement your UX across several digital experiences.
Learn more: Best practices for building a design system »
3. Full-service customer journeys
Customer journeys are intrinsically linked to user experience. Bad UX leads to bad customer journeys, while good UX may lead to good customer journeys. A great way to ensure a good customer journey is to empower the customer in every way and along every step. I.e. remove those obstacles and enable usability!
Every digital touchpoint in a customer journey should be fully self-service, either if it’s signing up, applying for an insurance, changing a subscription, or paying for a gadget. Let the customer take his needed time and decide on each step for himself—and always be helpful along the way.
Nothing beats a good story, and one emerging UX trend than can give you a competitive edge in business is storytelling, according to Inside Design Blog.
Offering good UX is not enough—it is no longer a unique selling point because consumers expect everything to just work smoothly. So what can you do? Become more memorable through storytelling.
Humans have always been enchanted by stories, and our brain’s activity increases fivefold when exposed to a story, as compared to graphs or dry facts. In order to stand out in the future, you need to enhance your UX by telling stories that really matter about your products and services.
5. Voice UI
Before we could write and read, we spoke. The rise of voice UI is in a way like going back to our roots, by enabling our interaction with digital experiences to become more like a natural conversation.
Imagine visiting a site or an app, and just “speaking to yourself” about what you would like to do: “I would like to order a pizza” or “what are the financial results from last quarter?”—followed by an instant response to your organic query.
With over a quarter of searches online now being performed by voice and the number rising quickly—and with the advent of voice UIs like Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri—the road is paved toward gearing your UX for voice as well as text.
When Tom Cruise walked around shopping malls in Minority Report, we were awed by the personalised ads he received from the billboards. Fast forward from 2002 and the future is already here.
Muzli points out that with the rise of machine learning and artificial intelligence, organisations now have an opportunity to personalise their offerings and experiences based on the behaviour of their customers.
You already know this feature from streaming services like YouTube, Netflix, and Spotify—but you can expect to see it in other areas like finance and news now and in the future. Any organisation with a focus on great UX should keep up accordingly.
7. Simplified authentication
Muzli also brings up another important UX trend: simplified authentication. As the years online have passed and the number of services and websites have risen astronomically, so too has the number of passwords we have to contend with.
Some services demand more and more complicated combinations of letters, numbers, and characters, thus making it still more impossible for you to actually remember a password for a given service. And it doesn’t always help to let the browser store the password either.
As a result, we might witness new forms of more UX-friendly login methods, like biometric authentication, temporary passwords, or magic links.
8. More powerful browsers
Web browsers themselves are becoming more powerful than ever before, and are able to cater to most advanced UX ideas that have come forth.
UX Planet lists the following strong points:
- Browser benchmarks and performance tests prove significant performance boosts for most popular browsers.
- Increases in speed due to streaming compilation impact design big time. Mozilla reports the new compiler to be 10–15 times faster than the previous optimising compiler.
- All modern browsers support WebGL 2, which allows for a whole new level of 3D texture and object rendering, fragment depth, and vertex array objects.
9. Dark mode
The ancient Greeks believed existence and history was a cyclical process—repating themselves forever. The fashion industry seems to take this to heart in the cyclical repetitions of popular clothing styles, and now the turn has come to the digital world.
In the early days of web, dark themes on websites and software were widespread and common, before becoming unpopular by a web desigenrs preferring light and airy designs around the beginning of the 2010s. Now the darkness returns, in the form of dark mode. Slack, Messenger, Facebook, Google Docs, Instagram, and Twitter, as well as operative systems like Windows, Android, and iOS embrace the option of dark mode.
The influx of battery-driven units have made people far more aware of battery life, and bright apps and websites do nothing to help in that endeavour. Having dark themes saves battery power, especially for OLED and AMOLED screens, and additionally looks cool and reduces eye strain.
Augmented reality is already a thing, but new UX trends are emerging also here. Having been a gimmick or a supplement in the past, AR is looking to become a core part of many business and digital interactions.
eSellerCafé details how Shopify's Size. Link tool allows customers to visualise how products fit in their own homes, while e.g. IKEA is known to do the same for their kitchen planner. For UX designers, the abandonment of UI fixed screens means designing digital experiences to align as much with real-world environments as possible.
As for virtual reality, this technology has seen its application in the video game industry for decades already, but recently technological progress has allowed for many exciting use cases pertaining to UX.
For the healthcare industry, the experience of phobia treatment in patients or intern training can be greatly enhanced by VR. RubyGarage highlights how VR can improve UX in real estate, by e.g. offering virtual property tours.
Microinteractions is all about the details. According to Business News Asia, the all-pervasive microinteractions "allow the consumer to engage with the platform in a different way that is not necessarily essential for the platform to operate effectively."
Facebook is used as an example, where the expansion of the like button with emojis are touted as non-essential for the platform to function, but as an example of microinteractions that provide a more complete user experience.
Whether it is the comment section, like buttons, or something else entirely, tweaking and enhancing these small points of interactions can serve to make or break the UX as a whole.
12. Asymmetry and split screen
Business News Asia also highlights the returning UX trend of asymmetry and split screen. Asymmetry makes UX design more edgy and interesting, demanding attention in a subtle, yet striking way.
The asymmetrical design trend has never truly been gone, but an increasing number of trendsetters like Louis Vuitton, Chanel, and Gucci have introduced asymmetry into their web design. Speckyboy graciously provides even more examples.
Split screen is a related design trend, where the screen of a digital experience is divided into two separate blocks. Business News Asia writes that in "2021, split-screen is set to make a comeback to visually provide a more appealing way to present any type of information."
Having a better vehicle is worthless if the driver is not up to the task. Get your developers, both UX and others, up to speed on trends to take full advantage of the technical possibilities—allowing for greater user experience.
Originally published 5 June 2019, updated 16 Desember 2020.