Predictions and trends for 2017 / by Gavin Lau

Happy new year, wishing you all a happy 2017! We live in very exciting times when it comes to digital growth. In the last two decades we have gone from justifying “UX Design is important” to knowing that “design is the business.” B2C companies have been investing heavily in improving, even optimizing, end-to-end Digital User Experiences for a while but now Enterprise applications and B2B companies are catching up as well.

With an ever growing customer base using our fully redesigned new UserZoom product, we see organizations facing similar challenges and following certain kinds of trends. On top of this, I have personally lead Design & Research teams at product companies and for the last few years have run UX consulting organizations. Taking all of these experiences together, here are my predications and trends for 2017.


Organizational UX maturity growth across the board

Companies invest in design with the intent to improve customer’s experience. Very few companies these days debate ‘if’ they should optimize designs and improve UX. The debates are around ‘how’ to get there and ‘what’ needs to happen to improve end to end experiences.

Many companies across all industry verticals have hired UX leaders & executives – Directors & Vice Presidents – so they clearly understand and have intentions to invest in improving User Experiences. This has led to a growing shortage of talented designers, researchers and UX Leaders.

In 2017 I predict that more and more companies, large and small, B2C and even B2B, will invest in getting the right talent. This means more and more UX Leaders will have a seat at the table with their Product, Business, Marketing & Technology counterparts. As a result, most organizations will improve their User Experience delivery maturity in 2017.

The key ingredients to improve this organization maturity will include tools and methods for agile, benchmarking, analytics, various research methods, global delivery, design patterns, mobile and more.


Agile, Agile & even more Agile

After working with Fortune 1000 companies for a few years now, I can’t recall hearing any team say that they still work in a Waterfall model. Most have said something like, “We have our own Agile method or modified Agile or Enterprise Agile.” UX professionals stumbled a bit at first but over the years figured out how they would work with and deliver great design and research with a growing number of Agile scrum teams.

This is why I predict that in 2017 there will be even more teams in the Agile model and it will be up to them to determine what works best for them. That being said, there there are a few things that all teams can keep in mind while they’re developing their unique approach to integrating an Agile model to their process.

Best practices such as design teams staying a couple of sprints ahead of engineering teams, and foundational work being done during sprint 0 or discovery sprints, have helped UX teams integrate well with larger delivery teams. But in almost all cases we see teams trying to figure out what works best for them individually.

Good designers know that design is iterative. You design, prototype, get quick feedback, make some decisions and iterate a few times. In rapid 2 or 3 weeks sprints this puts additional pressure to get feedback from real users in time. Therefore it’s important to plan ahead of time, even when you don’t know exactly what the prototype will look like or what will be tested. This gives designers and researchers some time to plan for future sprints.

At UserZoom we have several clients who test every 3 weeks for a few sprints across different scrum teams. With advanced planning, design teams can build prototypes and get qualitative feedback using tools like UserZoom. The key for most teams is to plan ahead for a feedback cadence. This agile testing tends use a small sample size, get directional feedback, make some decisions, iterate and repeat.


Benchmarking: Compared with what?

While rapid iterative agile feedback is important, more and more leaders and executives are demanding UX Benchmarks. Why? Because almost all executives believe “What cannot be measured cannot be managed.”

Many of our customers use competitive benchmarking to answer “How do we compare against competitor X, Y and Z?” Some companies have brand trackers or NPS measures in place. Others have a Voice of Customer program to capture attitudinal measures. But we see a growing need for both behavioral (what they did) as well as attitudinal measures (what they say) across competitors.

In 2017 I predict a growing need for various types of UX benchmarking data using continuous monitoring of experiences (Survey, Feedback tab on website & mobile, True Intent studies) as well as observed behavioral data through large sample task-based usability studies.


Integration with analytics: Data to insights to actions to results

Most companies have an analytics platform in place and also capture a lot of transactional data. Typically, the issue is not a lack of data but connecting the dots between the results captured from the analytics with Voice of Customer or continuous monitoring of experiences and Usability data. Mature UX organizations have figured out how to connect the dots and move from data to insights to actions and then results.

How to get his done, on a consistent basis, is an ongoing challenge for many companies. In 2017 I predict more organization will be able to marry analytics data with the UX data captured from various sources.


Enterprise applications with consumer grade user experiences

This was a growing trend in 2016 which I predict will continue in 2017.

Enterprise employee-facing applications and intranet applications are usually complex and support various workflows. There has been a consistent gap between employee expectations and what enterprise applications have delivered over the years. Employees who use enterprise applications develop their expectations based on their personal use of consumer applications, such as on their smartphones, outside of work.

Hence they are demanding that the enterprise applications work the way consumer applications work. Decision makers (IT, HR, Finance executives) are increasingly evaluating software based on ease of use. Also, various startups that compete with large technology providers of enterprise applications differentiate based on User Experience because they cannot always compete on features/functions/scale alone. This means that Enterprise Applications providers are going to continue to invest in better design and improved User Experiences well beyond 2017.


Various research methods

As organizations grow on the UX maturity arch they are going to need various tools and methods. A simple 5-person usability test is usually enough to get started and get some research cadence integrated within Agile development.

But this is just the start, and organizations that grow on the UX maturity arch need various methods – card sorting, tree testing, longitudinal diary studies, moderated and un-moderated studies, in-person and remote, continuous monitoring of experiences or voice of customer, analytics & transactional data integrations with usability data and much more. They’ll need the right tool for the right job.

High UX maturity organizations have already used the right method or tool for the job for a few years, but now with increasing maturity across the board, I predict the need for various research methods will increase in 2017.


Beyond borders – meeting global needs

A lot of digital products, like responsive websites, enterprise applications, and mobile apps, go beyond borders. Limiting feedback from participants who live within driving distance of your company’s headquarters (or usability lab) is increasingly insufficient for many organizations. International Usability Testing is not new, at least not new for high UX maturity organizations.

During my 10 years at PayPal, we ran in-country in-person usability studies in 15+ countries for various projects. But getting feedback from participants in various states or countries, at scale, with limited travel budgets means there is a growing need for remote research, mostly un-moderated. In 2017, I anticipate organizations will have a need to use the various research methods listed above to reach geographically dispersed participants across time zones.


Design patterns

Companies that have various product lines or several different features tend to come up with a design language, documented design patterns and branding guidelines. It’s a constant struggle for various design organizations to be consistent across all applications while innovating and optimizing through new designs. The research challenge comes up with validating design patterns across use cases and product lines.

In 2017, I see a growing need for large design research projects that evaluate or validate design patterns and their efficacy across several applications, websites or mobile apps. Large enterprise applications, website redesigns that merge several micro sites, and responsive websites all have a need to conduct research outside of a project’s agile development cycle. This would be similar to the benchmarking initiatives listed above and can only be conducted across product lines.


Redesigns projects are here to stay

I see an ongoing need for several design and research engagements across all companies in 2017. A majority of the work we see across companies involves optimizing or redesigning existing web applications, websites and mobile apps.

There are a handful of design and research projects that are building something new for the first time, but a large percentage involves redesign and relaunch of a digital property. Redesign engagements inherently are trying to improve an original product or service. Most of these engagements can follow a redesign research playbook with several research tips and considerations.



Last, but not the least, mobile projects will continue to top the charts in 2017. Ready to feel a little bit older? This year marks the 10 year anniversary since the first iPhone released back in 2007.

Mobile research projects we see on the UserZoom platform range from mobile prototype testing (Axure, iRise, InVision), to responsive websites, as well as pre-release and post release live app testing. I expect to see more and more companies following this trend in 2017.

Looking forward to an exciting 2017! Happy New Year!