Five UX Trends to Watch in 2016 / by Gavin Lau

From smart devices and wearables to connected household products, vehicles, offices, and buildings of all kind, the Internet of Things (IoT) is far more than a theory. It’s a growing reality. We’re increasing online and connected — seemingly, there’s an application for everything.

Our expectations are increasing as well. We expect applications to share data and seamlessly work together. We want more features and functionality. Mostly, we want things to be simple, intuitive, comprehensive, and overall elegant. Our need for simplicity increases as the technology around us grows and interconnects. We demand a great user experience and accept nothing less.

And for good reason, technology and software development companies want the same thing. As the Design Management Institute notes in their Design Value Index, design-driven companies have outperformed the S&P over the past ten years by 228%. Great design and user experience are rewarded with customer loyalty and profitability. User experience is undeniably tied to market success.

With those thoughts in mind, here are five trends in UX design to follow in 2016:

1. UX in Virtual Reality


Virtual reality is a concept dating back to the 1950s, made possible today by great advances in technology and innovation from companies such as Facebook, Google, Samsung, and others. By definition, virtual reality is user experience, immersing a user into a computing environment they can interact with.

UX is important to virtual reality as it marries a user’s sense of sound, sight, and touch to a game or application. For example, good design responds to a user’s movement, allowing them to look around a room at all times, while avoiding simulator sickness and reducing neck strain within experiences that require constant head movement.

We expect to see a lot of investment in virtual reality in the coming year as the intersection of technology, design, and consumer interest result in significant investments in applications and computing environments driven by reality experiences.


2. Automotive UX

There’s a large industry effort to enhance vehicle features to provide improved safety, security, and comfort for drivers and their passengers. Vehicles are increasingly equipped with advanced infotainment systems and are able to receive traffic notifications and maintenance reminders, as well as create profiles for drivers and passengers, synchronize navigation information with calendars, schedule maintenance, and much more.

But as aggressive as the industry has been integrating technology, most of it has been based on the notion of wrapping innovations with rudimentary software interfaces that replicate legacy buttons — similar layouts, shapes, and functionality of legacy automotive controls. Touchscreens have been introduced, but they’re providing little to the user experience.

Whether it’s control based on touchpad or voice technologies, and the integration of gestures of some sort, the next implementation of UX promises to reduce the need for driver attention and dexterity to control services within a vehicle. Considering the fact distracted driving is the number one cause of car accidents, great UX design is a move in the right direction and serves one of the automotive industry’s greatest need.


3. Human-Centric Design in the Enterprise

Enterprise applications have a reputation for being comprehensive and technically rich by design, but unfriendly to users, with cumbersome interfaces and confusing usability. Too often the result is a negative user experience that leads to low user adoption rates and ultimate abandonment of applications otherwise capable of serving corporate excellence. While user experience has improved over the years, until recently it has been a secondary concern in the enterprise.

As Invision noted in a recent article, poor design and negative user experience can result in loss of productivity and profitability. When 60,000 people spend an extra 15 minutes trying to log time in a retail chain, the productivity loss is considerable.

The success of smart devices, mobile computing, and SaaS applications, are maturing user expectations of enterprise application usability. Enterprise applications are increasingly compared to commercial apps in terms of ease of use and elegance. Customer experience and UX design can no longer be an afterthought or byproduct of an enterprise development.

The trend to watch is delivering tailored experiences to target users within the enterprise, similar to experiences common in consumer markets.


4. UX in Smart Homes

Our homes are becoming smart. Apple’s HomeKit is an example of what is possible today and where smart homes of tomorrow are headed — the ability to control household products and appliances throughout your home, both independently and in concert with each other, from the convenience of a smart device.

UX design is critical to the success of smart homes. Users need to be able to easily recognize the state of products and appliances without the need for prior knowledge or going through learning curves to configure and manage things in the home. In this vein, UX is critical to the acceptance of products that interact in our daily lives. Poor UX design in the home will render a development useless.

As more connected products and appliances are introduced into the marketplace, we expect to see more attention given to the design in controlling them with simple and highly intuitive solutions.


5. In-House Design Teams

Historically, UX design has been an agency-based service and adjunct function of product development. But as user experience rises in importance, so does the need to integrate design early into a development and stay involved throughout the product lifecycle. This tight and ongoing integration of UX and development leads to the logical decision to move UX design in-house, keeping it close at hand along with other strategic corporate functions.

Over the past few years, companies such as Facebook, Google, Accenture, and others have spent a good deal of money buying design companies and integrating them into their operations. We see this trend gaining speed in 2016.

Designers are now working throughout a development in cross-functional teams alongside developers, product managers, and marketing teams. Companies who invest in design are easily becoming design-driven businesses.



Thanks to the commercial success of smart devices, mobility, cloud computing, and SaaS applications, we’re beyond the wonderment of technology — it’s part of our daily lives. As a result, we expect more in terms of ease of use, interoperability, and worry-free operation. We’ve arrived at the point in time when we no longer accept anything less than a great user experience, both at home and work, influencing the development of consumer and enterprise applications and services.

The more advanced things become, the simpler they need to be, this is especially true when it comes to technology-based products and services. The need for prior experience and steep learning curves are the bane of new product introduction. Great UX design not only makes things easy to use and improves a user’s experience, it dramatically improves user adoption rates, and fosters customer satisfaction and loyalty. Ultimately, UX design leads to increased profitability, as design-driven companies financially outperform their less design-oriented competition.

The combination of user’s demanding great experiences and technology companies realizing the financial advantages of great design, we see UX design rising in importance and moving in-house, away from third-party organizations. This is particularly anticipated in experience-oriented industries and markets such as automotive, virtual reality, smart homes, and enterprises.

The value of UX design is rapidly growing, emerging as the defining factor and driving force of many technology innovations, making it one of the more exciting areas of technology investment and innovation to watch in 2016 and beyond.