A decade is a long time in technology. The original iPhone’s launch back in 2007 was a seminal moment for the industry as a whole, particularly for user experience (UX), and the sector has changed and grown enormously over the 10 years since then. Seeing the success Apple had after putting the emphasis on UX, businesses have flocked to the concept. Nowadays UX is no longer a confusing acronym or buzzword, but rather an essential part of any modern businesses strategy.
Websites have become so feature-rich and integrated with other services that a site which simply looks nice isn’t enough. People focus on what they see, but what really matters is the complete experience of a website. In fact, research shows that 88% of online consumers are less likely to return to a site after a bad experience.
This is why it is more important than ever to get UX right, and as such, the demand for experts in the industry has increased.
How UX talent has developed
With the increased demand for UX professionals has come an influx of talent, both from similar fields such as web design, and from the graduate pool. Both the quality and quantity of available young talent have improved dramatically during the past decade, with many universities now offering courses specialising in UX and front-end development.
The growth of the digital community outside London through initiatives like the Northern Powerhouse, the Digital Skills Partnership and membership organisations like Manchester Digital has been fantastic, and cities like Manchester are now reaping the benefits – we’ve seen a massive influx of talent from that region over the past few years.
The mobile revolution
When the first iPhone launched in 2007, it brought about an explosion in the smartphone market, with consumers, businesses and developers all realising the device’s unlimited potential. The led to a rush to build apps, which in some cases missed the mark in terms of mobile browsing, but overall it was revolutionary at the time and brought responsive web design to the world of UX.
The first wave of these tools, developed in the technology’s infancy, saw a similar situation to the dotcom boom in the 90’s – companies just knew that they needed an app, without thinking much beyond that. As a result, the first wave of apps were more rudimentary, and poor quality from a UX perspective. However, as the technology advanced and the number of skilled developers increased, the latest generation of apps have been developed more with the user’s experience in mind, particularly in terms of accessibility.
One important change in the UK over the past decade has been the average age of our population. Government figures show that for the first time ever, the average age has surpassed 40. With this ageing population comes a rise in the number of people living with disabilities.
Businesses have now begun to look more towards web accessibility - or inclusive design as we like to call it - as a matter of priority.
While we were early adopters of web accessibility and usability as part of UX, the marketplace has become more crowded over the years as more companies realise the importance of an accessible web offering. There have been many initiatives to pursue digital inclusion (such as Race Online, UK Online centres, Go On, Digital Eagles and DotEveryone) over the past decade, and we are now seeing real commitment to accessibility, inclusion and tech for good, as well as a growing focus on diversity in the UX sector.
The future of UX
The UX industry as a whole has taken huge strides over the past 10 years. In terms of where it could go in the future, we believe we will see more “conversational interfaces” as platforms become more proficient at mimicking human interaction.
Chatbots are the main technology set to initiate this move, with the UX industry already seeing a number of larger companies such as Slack, Snapchat and Kik experimenting in this space. As voice activated interfaces such as Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri get more advanced there will be more companies that begin to experiment with these technologies in an attempt to break down the barriers separating them from the consumer. Again, it’s crucially important that the design of such interactions is inclusive, if they are to support and engage users effectively, which includes reflecting the language and culture of all groups.
Whatever direction UX takes in the future, it needs to be designed with evolving technology in mind. The future of the UX industry will be in how well designers can adapt to emerging technologies such as Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR), continuing to create experiences for users which are innovative, intuitive and bespoke to the users of the future.
By Hilary Stephenson, managing director at Sigma UK
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