Design trends are constantly in flux, changing with user preferences, social media influences, technological advances, and the growing number of devices and platforms that have come into existence.
Recently, four trends in particular have established a foothold in design, leading to products and services that strike a unique balance between productivity continuity, intelligence, and convenience that we’ve never quite seen before.
Though we used these trends in our recent work at Adobe Document Cloud, they can really be utilized across any digital experience design project — be it a website update, mobile app, or an entirely new system design across platforms or devices. When combined, they allow for smarter and more efficient workflows, while also adding ease and agility to the user experience.
Trend 1: Continuity of experience.
A lot of people design for UI consistency — across disparate platforms, operating systems and devices. The result might look consistent, but in reality, the products don’t function exactly the same — or as effectively — across all platforms.
With as many devices as there are out there, it’s unreasonable and virtually impossible to have a single UI work seamlessly across every single one and still deliver a great experience. Different operation systems define different design components or patterns for the same functionality. In some cases, certain UI components and interaction patterns are pre-built in the system that general users might already be familiar with, and designers and developers do not need to make extra efforts to design or build to fit those.
For an example, look to the inherent differences in iOS and Android devices. One has navigation bars, and the other action bars. One has alerts, while the other has toasts. Trying to design a single UI that somehow functions effectively across these very different systems results in a clunky product at best. The better approach is to optimize for the exact tool the application is being used on, and focus on continuity of experience — not just individual features or interfaces.
Trend 2: Simplicity in approach.
Today’s digital products are getting more and more complicated, with advanced capabilities and functionalities that are unparalleled. Unfortunately, this has led to increasingly complicated user experiences as well. Though consumers certainly want all these added features and components, they don’t necessarily want them in their face or cluttering their screens at all times.
This is where simplicity in design is key. Designers need to laser focus on identifying what users’ critical pain relievers and gain creators are, and then address only the ones that are of best interest to users. Visually, users are looking for a concise, minimalist, and pared-down design that allows them to not only explore and discover the true power of the application with little cognitive and physical loads, but also to make that experience more enjoyable and more efficient on the whole. It’s the notion of “simplicity” from both a friction-free workflow perspective and a concise visual perspective.
Trend 3: Predictive intelligence.
Thanks to artificial intelligence and machine learning, design can now tap into a user’s intentions, predicting what they might do next and which tools they may need to get there. This allows us, as designers, to help guide users more efficiently through their document lifecycles and workflows.
Using data from the documents, PDFs and other projects a user is currently working on, we can intelligently detect and suggest subsequent actions — I call these “contextual actions” — and thereby improve their overall outcome and experience. To picture this, imagine you’re at a networking event. You’re handed a business card, which you then scan using a handy app on your phone. If that app has built-in contextual actions, it might pull data from that scan and prompt you to create a new contact on your phone. It may even ask you to send a follow-up email from your device’s inbox or schedule a calendar event for an upcoming meeting.
And this is just the bare minimum of what contextual actions could do and mean for a user. With the right application and timing (as well as thorough testing), these intuitive design features could potentially improve outcomes for both the user and the brand whose products they’re utilizing. The user, of course, gets a more efficient and convenient workflow, while the brand gets customer loyalty and, ideally, future product adoption.
Trend 4: Cross-device connectivity.
We can no longer expect users to start their work and finish it all on the same device. Given the rise of the remote workforce, as well as the sheer number of devices the average user has, we can assume that the vast number of documents are going to be accessed on a variety of screens, devices and operating systems.
Current design should capitalize on this. No matter what point a user is at in their workflow, they should be able to seamlessly pick back up where they left off, regardless of what device they’re using. It’s about reducing friction, making work easier and improving the overall user experience from start to finish — even if it means changing tools or programs in the process.
The Future of Design
My team and I recently incorporated these trends into our work on the most recent Adobe Document Cloud release. And judging by the more efficient, effective and delightful experience their combination has been able to offer consumers, I expect we’ll see more of these trends from other brands in the near future.