This time last year I was busy writing my New Year’s resolutions for 2019. And I am pleased to report that as we move into December I have managed to make 3 out of 4 of them stick. The “do less paperwork” ambition was always likely to prove problematic - and so it did.

I am not a regular contributor to this blog. But as we approach 2020 I felt it might be appropriate to look at some emerging design trends for the coming 12 months. A sort of brief look at the technologies and trends that we see as changing the landscape for digital design and development over the next year.

Excited by this brief, and with a few ideas already in my head, I looked online to see what the rest of the world thought “the next big thing” might be.

It was about then that my heart sank and I decided that the whole idea was a total fraud.

I won’t name names, but reading claims that “muted palettes” will be making a comeback and that “yellow backgrounds and accents” (No, I am not making this up) are set to feature heavily online just reminds me that digital design isn’t fashion, and whilst fashions no doubt exist in any design field, we would probably do pretty well to ignore them wherever possible.

Here’s the real digital design trend for 2020: Making the best use of available technologies and techniques to deliver on the client’s business objectives.

And guess what? It was the design trend for 2019.

And guess what else? It’s going to be the design trend for 2021 as well.

That doesn’t mean we don’t care about emerging technologies or new possibilities in digital design. Far from it. In fact, I’m going to discuss a few below. But before I do get the crystal ball out I am going to say it again. We must never, ever, make the mistake of confusing what we can do with what we should do.

That doesn’t just apply to design. Prioritising cleverness and novelty over what the customer actually needs is a common enough curse in pretty much any field you care to mention. But at the same time. we do have to consider how innovation can be used in the service of business objectives.

To be clear, that means focusing on new technical possibilities and how they may add value. Not what may or may not become fashionable - which is a total irrelevance.

For example, in 2020 we might see more of the following:

  • Personalisation based on improved access to data. This has been happening for years, and really 2020 is just another 12 months in a gradual process that will take at least a decade. But there is no denying that as data becomes easier to integrate, and easier to parse through machine learning and AI, genuinely personalised experiences (that in turn drive improved engagement) will become increasingly prevalent online.
  • “Brands in motion”, meaning a new understanding of animation and motion as a core aspect of the brand. This is (obviously) particularly suited to the digital arena, and as bandwidth and technical possibilities both improve, I expect to see more dynamic brands online. If you are wondering what I am talking about, here’s a nice example from Squarespace (just don’t use them to build your website…)
  • What is possible in the area of video content also continues to change. We wrote about video earlier this year, and we are certainly finding that more and more clients want video as a central element of the site. As bandwidth and compression techniques improve, this becomes easier and easier to both recommend and implement as a strategy - without compromising user experience.
  • Expect a (gradual) rise in conversational user interfaces. As consumers we are familiar with these from our interactions with Alexa - but they are about to get significantly smarter and more intuitive. Today we think that the information on a site is inevitably accessed through some form of menu. That’s also how we used to feel about exploring the web itself, until Google came along. Smart conversational UIs will allow sites to interact in very different ways - and will have profound effects on the way in which they are designed.

  • Continued experiments with augmented reality. Again, this is one of these technologies that has been the next big thing for a while - but it will continue to add value, and value beyond simple novelty. Check out these examples from IKEA, Google and Asos. It is early days, but the potential impact on engagement and revenue should be clear. Those of us charged with thinking about online experience in all its forms should stay on top of continued developments in the area of AR

That’s probably enough for now. I don’t want to bore anyone to death after all. I hope the point is clear: it is important to know and understand what is coming down the line. But more important again is putting these developments into the service of your business objectives.

Always begin from what you want to achieve - and then find the technologies and approaches that can help make that happen. Don’t do things the other way around.

Best of luck in 2020 and beyond!

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