Binoculars

 

Experts and professionals often attempt to predict what the next big trends will be. But do they get them right? I’ve had a look back at articles and headlines which all contained UX predictions for 2016. Here are 3 of the biggest predictions that caught my eye and how they really did.

Top 3 UX Predictions 2016

1. The Rise of Virtual Reality

It was known going into 2016 that consumer-level virtual reality would finally be available. We had previously experienced low-tech VR devices like the Samsung Gear VR or the even lower-tech Google Cardboard. However, these would be the first VR headsets which didn’t require a mobile phone. Facebook’s Oculus Rift, HTC’s Vive and Playstation’s VR all posed new and interesting design challenges.

 

2. Chatbots

Methods of communication are continuously evolving. However, our favourite digital method still appears to be a good-old text message. Quick and straight to the point it seems like the most natural way to engage in conversation. Chatbots unlock the ability to provide personalised, interactive communication. If done correctly, it can feel just like talking to a friendly sales rep. But at scale for much cheaper than call centres.

In 2016, it was anticipated that chatbots would make a big push into the mainstream. But how would this be accomplished? (hint: Facebook had the answer)

 

3. Micro-Interactions

Giving users a greater sense of control and freedom will always be at the forefront of design. Micro-interactions are key to achieving this. They are visual cues that occur when a user performs an action. Perhaps one of the most recognisable micro-interaction though is Tinder’s swiping actions. The incredibly simple and fun swipe of a thumb has become iconic since its release back in 2012. These small changes in state will always be important but what part were they expected to play in 2016?

 

What Actually Happened

Virtual Reality

 

Virtual Reality

 

In truth, 2016 was not ‘the year of VR’ many had hoped for. You could say it was the year of the start of VR. The big tech companies released their offerings – Oculus, HTC, and Sony. All of which were clearly the first of their generation. The pricey technology was of course snapped up by the early adopters resulting in severe stock restrictions. However, once these had been resolved the rest of the market never really reacted. Everybody who wanted one – the early adopters – had one. According to a report by SuperData, 98% of the nearly 89 million headsets sold in 2016 were for mobile phones. As for seeing true VR headsets in every home – it just didn’t quite happen.

I remember my visit to the digital festival here in Edinburgh back in August. Engaging with my first experience of virtual reality was just brilliant and surprisingly immersive. I mean I was actually spacewalking along the ISS!

It was clear to see though why perhaps VR didn’t make a bigger mark in 2016. Much of the content created for these devices appeared to be short-form and experimental. Resolution on videos appeared soft and blurry, in some cases the stitching between screens was evident. Even the games available were few in numbers and in some cases unfinished. The issue we had with our VR experience was an overwhelming sense of vertigo afterwards! It took some time to knock back the dizziness and readjust to the real world.

My Prediction for 2017…

The exciting UX challenge though is how best to deliver these immersive experiences. I have seen applications from entertainment to education and health care. For that, i’m positive VR will make its mark over the next few years.

 

Chatbots

 

Pizza Hut Chatbot

 

Eating my own words, 2016 was the year chatbots went mainstream. I previously thought of them as a bit of a gimmick. However, continuous advancements in AI has quickly put that idea to rest. For many, completing a form or waiting on hold to a call centre is just too much to ask. What is natural though is the ability to hold a conversation.

The proliferation of messaging apps such as Slack and Facebook Messenger have provided ideal platforms for chatbots to thrive. With over 1 billion active users, Facebook’s Messenger app ruled the roost in 2016. Launching its full chatbot API, Messenger lets businesses create their own bots and put them in the hands of literally billions of people.

 

“I don’t know anyone who likes calling a business. And no one wants to have to install a new app for every business or service that they interact with. We think you should be able to message a business, in the same way you would message a friend.”  -  Mark Zuckerberg at F8 in 2016.

 

Almost anything can be researched and purchased through the conversational interface. The Guardian is delivering news, Dominos and Pizza Hut are taking food orders, and KLM’s flight assistant hosts flight times and boarding passes. Even the pope has his own Messenger Bot! 

My Prediction for 2017…

Chatbots really seem to have taken off in 2016. I think thanks to the likes of Facebook letting people access them at zero inconvenience, chatbots will continue to catch on.

 

Micro-Interactions

Facebook Reactions

 

In my opinion, 2016 hosted the riskiest micro-interaction upgrade of the year. Facebook altered their talisman ‘Like’ feature and changed the way over 1.5 billion people interact with content.

Facebook launched ‘Reactions’ globally in February of 2016 which was an emotional upgrade to the Like button. The update saw the addition of five reactions; Love, Haha, Wow, Sad, and Angry. These additional emojis provided a new way for Facebook users to better communicate their emotions. Filtering the vast range of human emotion into a single row of emojis can’t have been a simple design problem. However Facebook appear to have nailed it. Making the feature one of the most notable micro-interaction and UX progressions of 2016.

My Prediction for 2017…

With this in mind, I expect other content publishers like YouTube, Instagram and even news sites to follow suit over the coming years. Enhancing the way we interact with digital content will always be a fascinating problem to solve. Facebook may have just made the first step in making these interactions richer.

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