The Secret Sauce: Prioritizing Innovation in Roadmaps

by Shayna Stewart

In the digital industry we all aim towards the aspirational, yet colloquial goal of innovation. Yet more and more, true innovation is harder to come by. We believe this is due to the way roadmaps are prioritized. The frameworks that product leaders use for prioritization tend to overemphasize the manipulation of features that are already in place. The metrics, Level of Effort (LOE), Scale, and Customer Value, used in the framework do not favor injecting any new concepts.

It favors optimizing existing concepts.

Recently when working with a client to prioritize ideas within their roadmap, we created what is called the Innovation Index. In this case, our client and team brainstormed on all of the possible ideas for a second phase of a recent app that was built.

The problem we ran into ranking all of the ideas was a lack of data to support one feature over another as the first iteration of the app was yet to be launched. Therefore no data had been captured and we were too early in the process of vetting more ideas to gather consumer feedback. From our need to evaluate ideas objectively in lieu of usable data, the Innovation Index was born.

To create this index, we first did some research toward an objective definition of innovation. We landed on two important pillars:

From there, we took the list of ideas generated by our client and our team and researched if any of these ideas already existed. If the idea didn’t exist, we gave the idea a score of 5. If it did exist we ranked the idea with a score of 1-4, heuristically representing market saturation. Therefore, 5 was a completely distinct idea and 1 was an idea that has a high market saturation.

Secondly, we ranked the ideas on if the proposal was a more efficient way of solving the problem. If the idea was ranked as a 5 in the market saturation scale (meaning a completely distinct idea), it automatically got a score of 5 for being more efficient. Otherwise, we evaluated the ideas if they were more efficient approach to solving a problem that has already been solved by someone else.  

That’s it, the Innovation Index is made up of two scales: Market Saturation & Efficiency. These concepts mapped back to the pillars of innovation, which helped focus our next steps on differentiation as opposed to directly competing with existing products. In the end this exercise prioritized our product planning to helping an underserved audience of about 18.6M people.

After using the Innovation Index in a roadmap with no data, I started to think about how it would apply  to a roadmap with data already in place. I discovered that without including the Innovation Index, the metrics used to prioritize a roadmap (LOE, Scale, and Consumer Value) were actually working against innovative ideas. Here we dive into just how this plays out:

 

Level of Effort

LOE asks how easy is it to bring an idea to market. The reasons for an ‘easy’ LOE estimate is slightly different for each team, but both result in prioritization of ideas that already exist.

If the idea is deemed easy by the technology team, that means they either have already done this before or that there is significant documentation already published. It also is indicative that all data elements are readily accessible. Typically, data elements that are readily accessible are already in use -- i.e. the idea is an optimization of an existing feature.

If the easy LOE estimate comes from the design team, it means that a proposed feature will  likely have a small impact to the ecosystem. Designers spend less time when they do not have to think through the way that users move through the experience. When they do not have to think through the experience, that means they are manipulating or adding something to an existing page. This type of one-dimensional change is typically not symptomatic of building a new, innovative idea. Therefore an LOE of Easy and even Medium are deleterious to innovation.

Scale

Scale measures the potential number of users reached by the idea. If it’s high, then it gets prioritized over a niche solution. However, when you think about some of the most innovative brands today like Amazon, PayPal, Etsy, and Tesla, they all started by servicing niche markets. Often when innovative technologies and ideas are first created, the full breadth of implicated use cases are still unknown. In the case of PayPal, they worked from the insight that it was very challenging for auction houses (a small but extremely active part of Ebay’s user base) to collect mobile payments. PayPal was born from this insight. Ten years later, it’s rare that you find a retailer that does not support purchases through PayPal.

Augmented reality is another recent technology that hasn’t benefited from publicly scaled use cases yet, but we see companies like Google making significant investments. There’s value in testing early and learning fast, if you encounter an idea that may be  small scale but is potentially innovative. I would recommend prioritizing it and position it to leadership as a learning opportunity for the team.

Customer Value

This metric is our  most vague as it has the potential to be defined differently across multiple Indexes or use cases. We can’t completely rule out that this metric in some cases can be aligned to innovation, but in most cases I see that it is not.

Typically it is discovered through user validation or market research. CV often goes against innovation for two reasons:

The first - you may not be talking to the right group of people. In a recent study, we identified a target persona which clearly did not want certain innovative ideas because they weren’t geared towards that particular persona. This is also a factor when you have extremely small sample sizes. The users you are talking to just may not see the value of the idea. Second, I see studies that outwardly ask users what they want, what could be improved upon. This is important to do in order to find major usability issues, but it’s not the metric that will get you to focusing on innovation. It’s best to use a metric that prioritizes building a prototype of innovative idea that solves a problem that the users didn’t know they had. Then, subsequently present the prototype to potential users (pending you feel confident in your sample) to get feedback on usability. This methodology is better than asking users what they want as a means to prioritizing what you build.

Steve Jobs epitomized this very thought and opined - 

Service Design: A glimpse into a better Customer Experience

Over the years the conversation within the creative realm, especially around design, has blurred as the industry reaches to explain the differences between the capabilities, process, and expectations of design. Our work has transformed further with the growth of digital technology. Today, we can we do anything we dream up. Fantasy is now reality. With this in mind, companies are looking for inventive ways to differentiate themselves from equally digitally savvy competition.

 

The latest trend is an emphasis on Customer Experience -- which we define as the relationship between an organization and its customers throughout the relationship lifecycle, delivering on the individual’s expectations in each moment of the journey.

Moments can be classified as an interaction with a product, the look of the application, or even a conversation with a call center representative. Basically, any direct or indirect communication with an organization will define how the customer experience is delivered.

Now, how do you design for a better Customer Experience? The design industry has aesthetics, interactions, experiences, and services -- typically conflated to align with job postings, client request, and the like. However, as a product of craft, it is critical first to recognize their functional differences.

  • Interaction Design is the detailed design of how users interact with a single touchpoint comprised of features.
  • Experience Design is the combination of interactions across multiple touch-points within a user’s journey.
  • Visual Design is the balance between aesthetic elements, aimed towards improving/enhancing the brand, and guiding users through the experience.
  • Service Design is the strategic connection of experiences across user journeys to create seamless user transitions.

Each design practice has its own set of research activities and methods to achieve its stated goal. Each holds a valuable and necessary place in the design process to be successful. One practice cannot replace the other. However, when stacked together they become an unbreakable offering for the Customer Experience.

Still with me? Hopefully, we’ve clarified some of the structure for success.

Service Design is so much more than a buzzword though. Lately, it’s been defined as a method of design-thinking, an activity to sell-in a better Customer Experience, or a process to showcase the connection between an experience and backend technologies. Designers might say it’s the combination of these things plus so much more.

In our view, Service Design looks at the entire ecosystem of an organization, both front and backstage interaction points, across the lifecycle of the Customer Experience. Having a clear view of the entire operation that makes up the organization and everyone involved will allow a design team to ideate against opportunity spaces and create a one-of-a-kind service.

Service Design isn’t exclusively digital either. Most services will have an element of both physical or human interactions. Digital can be the connection between the customer and these experiences. Below are some reasons companies should leverage service design and the methods to support it:

  • Bridge the gap between the silos. Often, organizations aren't considering how an experience fits into the current-state journey and affects others who deliver on the service. Other times, it can showcase what’s currently being worked on, successes and failures, and even possible obstacles.
  • Design together by being together. When running workshops, bringing people together from across the organization allows them not only to learn from each other, but more importantly to meet for the first time, put a face to a voice, and form relationships IRL. Additionally, working together increases the speed of delivery since everyone is on the same wavelength (and timezone).
  • A helpful tool to popularize. Being able to view how future experiences work in harmony with both the current and future state of a service showcases the impact and projected results -- arming clients with the information to demonstrate the potential of the service.

Now that we have a shared understanding of what Service Design is and why to use it, let's talk about what it takes to execute.

McDonald’s Big Mac has its’ special sauce. Coca-Cola Classic has its’ secret recipe. Service Design has blueprints. To illustrate, designers use the method of service blueprinting to document the findings and propose suggestions as well as concepts to support the conclusions. Service blueprinting is just one method of many in a designer’s toolbox. However, when combined with the right design research activities, ongoing collaboration, and sound methodologies, I’d argue it’s the most useful artifact a design team can produce.

A service blueprint is the combination of experiences that explores the relationships between business goals, emotions, mindsets, pain points, touch points, and technology ultimately creating a holistic view of the current system and a shared vision of the future. This future vision aims to showcase every experience needed to deliver on the service that meets, and exceeds, the demands of the users.

Think of it as professional sports. Consider the relationship of fans watching a game and all that goes into making it happen. The players, coaches, field, uniforms, announcer, and Jumbotron are all considered the front stage. This is the first-hand experience of the fan.

The professional league, team’s owner and front-office, athletic trainers and team personnel, venue staff and vendors, camera guy for the kiss cam, etc. could be considered backstage in that they all are critical to the experience of that fan but might not be a primary interaction.

However, there’s a lot more that goes into making the event unique and might be considered more important to the fan’s experience or even than the game itself. Service Design requires investigation and consideration from the moment this person became a fan of the team. Explore the implications of the fan’s decision to purchase a ticket to this particular game and who’s else is attending. Suggest how the fan will get to and from the game and all the activities done before kickoff. Allow the fan to have quicker entry into the venue. Help the fan make the right choice on what to eat. This doesn’t stop at the end of the game either. By delivering a better customer experience the fan will have a reason to keep coming back and will tell all their friends about the experience.

This comprehensive view of the future is critical for organizations to align across leadership, business functions, and technology stakeholders setting a solid foundation to work towards collectively.

With all this said, service design and the method of blueprinting is not required for every client. If the client is expecting a defined solution from a blueprint, they may be sadly disappointed. What the client will get is a series of validated concepts that their organization can deliver against for the foreseeable future -- each with moments that deliver against all user demands and expectations. When the client starts to implement a blueprint, remind them of the importance of experience design and the research methods used. It’s not another round of research, going deep into that particular experience to understand specifics.

Clearly, defining the client request will direct you as to whether service design and blueprinting is the right practice to leverage. Service design is built around the value in research and the knowledge gained. Trust in the findings and insights is hard however. It can lead to some pretty tough conversations with organizations around misalignments, conflicts of interest, and weak links on a team. If not everyone is on board, it’s not going to be a fun time.

Everything in design has its place and purpose. You’re not going eat McDonald’s for an anniversary dinner nor will you mix Coca-Cola with a nice glass of bourbon.

One thing to remember:  A service blueprint is just a glimpse into the future and needs to be treated as a living document that can be revisioned, changed, and expanded on. Technology changes everyday in ways that can help to deliver more unexpected and delightful moments to users. The need to adapt accordingly must be baked into the service blueprint.

With the foundation set, it’s much easier to make decisions on how to approach new initiatives. If done correctly, the service blueprint will showcase gaps, both high and low, in the current service, and beyond the proposed solutions, to produce a long-term roadmap outlining the opportunity and timeframe needed for success.

How we hire people

Building a world class design team at YML

I have hired over 100 people in my career.

One of the best was a cartographer, fresh out of college — a cartographer is a map maker, if you don’t know. He was a Frenchman, lovely guy, and I remember his interview well. He said there are not a lot of opportunities in the map making world, but it was his passion. He was a talented designer, his maps were beautiful, and he knew how to code. A project he showed me was an interactive map of Afghanistan and Pakistan, showing drone strikes and the estimated number of casualties at each location. He had sourced the live data from public records, and turned it into a human story. It was very moving. I was blown away. Very humbly he asked, “What could a map maker do here, at a digital agency?” I had to think for a minute, but my answer was “We make maps of the internet.” Sure, it was glib, but it sparked his imagination and the conversation turned to mapping the abstract realm of the worldwide web. He became one of the best UX and systems thinkers I have ever met. He could visualize the tangled mess of connections, user journeys, data points, etc. and redesign them with a simple precision that made me want to cry.

Over the years I have hired many folks with different strokes: architects, fashion designers, industrial designers, even one guy—an embedded programmer—who made parking meters. And they all taught me a valuable lesson: amazing talent can come from anywhere, all they need is a compelling portfolio and a chance to tell their story.

Cool right? Here’s how.

The portfolio

At YML, before we consider interviewing anyone, we look at their portfolio—comparing it to all the other candidates’. A portfolio is your calling card—it should not just show what you have done, but what you can do, what you want to do. We have all seen plenty of portfolios and have a pretty quick read on good vs. bad ones. A good portfolio shows work that’s ambitious and inspiring, and very well executed. Thoughtful, beautiful designs, process breakthroughs, clever ideas, and slick interactions, all jump out of the screen. As do glaring errors, typos, thoughtless designs, awkward process decisions, unworkable interactions, etc.—these will all get a candidate blacklisted, struck off the list of potential hires. Great work is important, but an exceptional portfolio site should be a good user experience too. Consider the audience: busy executives. Trust me, we don’t read much, so don’t write much. Let the work do the talking, focus your words on big, significant ideas, compelling points, quotes and callouts. Curate only your best work, because one bad project gets an instant rejection. If in doubt, don’t show it, or better still, dig deeper and make it great.

Additionally, we prefer real portfolio sites. Dribbble is okay, Behance too, but if you’re shooting for a senior position, you will need a bit more vision, process and/or storytelling to support your work. At best, Dribbble can be very good place to show your interaction and visual design—but at its worst, it’s superficial eye candy. For more on this, read this fantastic article, The Dribbblisation Of Design.

The interview

Okay. So that’s how to get a foot in the door. What’s next? The interview, of course. Here’s a mental checklist we apply to interviewees, when we meet them:

1. Energy: Do you bring it? Do you take it?
For me, this is the number one criteria. I can feel it when I meet someone. Are they inspired? Do they inspire? Is this a job or a lifestyle? We work in small teams, oftentimes in small rooms, with big clients. People who bring energy, who inspire others to do great work, they are the magic ingredient for this model.

2. Empathy: Do you have feeling? Can you connect?
We create products and experiences for people from all walks of life. We must understand them first, so we can design something they want. Empathy, listening, and responding is key to the design process. And it’s important in how we work together as well—we, of course, don’t tolerate jerks—even if they are talented.

3. Culture fit: Do you fit in, but add something as well?
We have a fantastic, inspiring, collaborative, nurturing culture of talented grownups, and we want to preserve it and enhance it. However, we aren’t seeking uniformity. Diverse backgrounds, approaches and opinions are welcome, and help make our work and our culture better.

4. Presentation: How well do you communicate your work?
We look for excellent communicators—both verbal, written and visual—ultimately entrusting them to present our work to clients and internal stakeholders. For entry and mid level positions, just going through some portfolio projects will do just fine — but for senior hires, a presentation is required. A good presentation is a clear articulation of the problem, and the path from strategy to design.

5. Experience: Do you know how to get things done?
This is definitely not a question of length of experience, which is irrelevant. Instead, it’s an assessment of the kind and quality of experience—a candidate’s understanding of the tools and processes, pitfalls and opportunities, common in the job. Inexperienced people won’t hit the ground running, or worse, they can misdirect the process, waste time and resources and negatively affect the quality of our work.

6. Attitude: Are you all in? Do you want it?
Skills can be taught. Attitude can’t. In an industry that’s always changing, someone with a good attitude looks for challenges and is constantly thinking of ways to improve and progress. We want people with positive attitudes that are upbeat, eager, and solutions focused. We find they thrive on feedback, embrace change, and they own it with a smile.

7. Impact: Will you make a difference?
Last, but certainly not least, we want people that we know will have an immediate, positive, lasting impact—on the work, on our clients, on YML. We’re building a world class design team, looking for complementary skillsets, backgrounds and approaches. We don’t want to hire the same kind of designer over and over again. We look for folks who will make our team greater than the sum of its parts.

One more thing

We definitely do not look for an Ivy League education—or any education for that matter. We simply don’t care if you went to Harvard, or never went to school, never studied, come from an underprivileged background, were homeschooled, or are completely self taught. So long as you do great work, have the right attitude, and know how to get the job done, you’re in.

And that’s it. If this sounds like you, or someone you know, get in touch. Also, any interview goes two ways. If you have thoughts on what you look for in an interview, we’d love to hear them.

Good luck!

The Power of “Defensive Pessimism” in Building Great Software

Can software be beautiful? Certainly a great looking and intuitive interface which enables people using the app to accomplish their tasks with little effort and minimal friction could be called beautiful. Software developers are privy to another kind of beauty: The inherent beauty in well-constructed software that makes it easy for a software team to effortlessly integrate disparate pieces into a compound whole. Well-constructed software can be appreciated much the same way that a beautiful painting, a sculpture, a building or a piece of music can be appreciated.

But beautiful software is not necessarily great software. Ideally, great software is great because it empowers people. It can give them what could be described as superhero-like capabilities. We definitely want people to feel like superheroes when using our software, but we want them to identify more with Superman or Wonder Woman than with The Greatest American Hero. In other words, they should be able to achieve great things, but, unlike The Greatest American Hero’s Ralph Hinkley, they should not be rendered powerless without a sufficiently detailed instruction manual.

For software to empower people in this way, it must be designed from the ground up to be anticipatory. Great software often feels omniscient. It makes the difficult look easy, even though, ironically, making the difficult look easy is really quite hard. As Steve Jobs is said to have put it, “Simple can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

As software developers, we must also strive to anticipate the events and conditions our software may be forced to deal with if we wish to create great software. The wireframes or mockups we receive from designers tend to focus on the so-called “happy path”. These are the things that the people using our software will hopefully be doing most of the time, and they include such things as writing great novels, sending money to friends, depositing checks, or collaborating and communicating with colleagues. These concepts are the things people would mention when describing our software to others.

Other events require error handling and recovery. These are the things which result from software being used in the real world. They are expected, but, hopefully, infrequent. Network requests may fail. The device may run out of memory or storage capacity. Great software accounts for these scenarios and provides a fluid though perhaps degraded experience in spite of their presence.

Finally, there are exceptional events. These are failures from which we cannot recover programmatically, and include hardware failures or assumptions about external dependencies which have held true in the past but which have since changed and upon which we can no longer rely.

Software is best constructed by taking the existence of these types of scenarios into account from the beginning instead of “bolting them on” later. To me, great software must be robust by design.

The benefits of robust-by-design software

Software that is built from the ground up anticipating the various ways things can go wrong is more likely to be of the necessary quality and to deliver a rock-solid user experience. Robust-by-design software will also be less likely to crash or behave in an unexpected manner in the course of operation.

In addition, the resulting software will provide a better user experience. Things will be more fluid, and errors, when they undoubtedly occur, will be handled smoothly. The app won’t unexpectedly jump between screens or overlay elements from the anticipated “good state” with elements from the “error state”. They won’t show blank screens or display a spinner ad infinitum. Furthermore, it will be easier to avoid these unwanted situations.

The app will also be more secure as it will not crash as often or continue to operate in an unexpected state. The software will also safely clean up after itself in these situations (i.e., close open files or overwrite memory to remove sensitive information) thereby also increasing security.

The app will also be easier to maintain as the code will be better constructed. It will be less likely that other developers will cause software to regress as these scenarios will be more explicit in the code. The app will also be easier to test as it will be structured as a collection of components, thereby helping with separation of concerns.

Creating robust-by-design software requires us to think about as many of the various scenarios that we can to make sure we cover all the things which can go wrong. This is a skill that software developers must hone. Modern software is quite complicated, and there are often many things that can go wrong at any time. But, like any skill, one can get better at anticipating these scenarios. The more we practice this approach, the more scenarios will be known to us and the better we will become at thinking about new ones.

Why being a 'defensive pessimist' matters

I often tell my colleagues that I spend more than 90 percent of my time working to make sure the software I create handles those scenarios which occur less than 10 percent of the time. A lot of that time is spent trying to find those scenarios which are not on the happy path. Thinking of those scenarios can be hard, making sure the software is able to handle those scenarios well is easier (though not easy). Making sure the software operates well in the presence of those scenarios is made easier when the need to do so is taken into account from the beginning.

Obviously there’s no expectation or requirement that we think of every possible thing that can go wrong, but the more such scenarios we think of the better. It makes it more likely that the scenarios we had failed to think of may be covered by the scenarios of which we did think. Furthermore, any new scenarios will be easier to incorporate later as we already have support for alternate paths and do not need to bolt those on well into the development cycle.

Another way to say this is that, as software developers, we should think about our software through the lens of “defensive pessimism”. Defensive pessimism is a cognitive strategy whose practitioners work through all the things which could go wrong and plan accordingly. According to a New York Magazine article on defensive pessimism, while it might seem better to expect things to go well and not worry about negative outcomes, it most certainly is not better. According to research conducted by Dr. Julie Norem, a psychology professor at Wellesley College and a leading researcher of the defensive pessimism concept, defensive pessimists actually benefit from all the worrying they do as they approach situations more fully prepared.

That’s exactly what we want to do when developing software. We could be optimists, and assume that everything will work out okay, but we will quickly find that that’s unrealistic in practice. We could be pessimists and assume everything will always go wrong, but then we’d never write any useful software.

Instead, we should strive to be defensive pessimists who create beautiful and useful software that is robust enough to remain beautiful and useful when the inevitable happens and things go wrong.

Software which anticipates our next action can feel magical. As software developers, we can create a more solid foundation for our software and make it more likely to achieve that vaunted status if we work on anticipating all of the various scenarios it may have to deal with and incorporate that support from the beginning.

As the saying goes, the devil is in the detail. In other words, the details are from where that beauty comes. Getting these details right will make it more likely that the software we create is in fact great software.

SEE ALSO: The power of permanence in a "Command Z" world>

The Factors That Affect How Long It Takes to Develop a Healthcare App

When it comes to healthcare apps, a variety of products fall under the umbrella. Vida Health pairs patients with wellness coaches. PillPack allows users to manage their medications through one easy-to-use interface. Microsoft HealthVault makes it simple to organize your health records.

All these apps serve different purposes. What they have in common, though, is value. Healthcare experience apps are often successful because they simplify a crucial aspect of everyday life for customers. Your company can take advantage of this niche market by releasing your own healthcare AI product.

However, as you begin planning, you may wonder what it takes, and how long it takes,to develop this kind of app. It’s difficult to answer that question, in a general sense.

The length of time it takes to develop a healthcare AI project will depend on a variety of factors, including the types of hardware the program is being developed for, the impact of laws and restrictions, and the amount of data the app will process. That’s why it’s important to work with a development team that stresses an agile approach. You need to coordinate with professionals who can understand your needs in order to efficiently build a quality product, while also being ready to make necessary adjustments.

Here are a few of the factors involved in developing an app that provides a healthcare experience:

Factors to keep in mind when creating digital healthcare experiences

While we can’t give you a definitive timeline, we can lay out the many different factors that affect the process.

One major one –  the FDA, the federal agency that will require you to go through a  process to receive the proper approvals if your product is deemed as a “medical device.”

healthcare AI

You also need to keep technical elements in mind. What type of hardware is your product designed for? Smartphones and tablets? Smartwatches? Virtual reality headsets? The hardware you rely on, as well as the requirements of the software itself, will play a major role in determining how long it will take to develop your product.

Many healthcare apps also store large amounts of data in the form of patient records, prescriptions, and physician notes, to name a few. The more data your app must accommodate, the longer it will take to build.

Because of these factors, if you are serious about creating a healthcare app, consider hiring a professional healthcare app development agency early on.

Why Healthcare AI is so crucial today

Although you will have to devote some time and money to a healthcare app project, doing so is worthwhile in the long run. These products aren’t novelties. As technologies like artificial intelligence continue to improve, apps that leverage them offer substantial value to their users. It’s highly likely that many companies and organizations in the healthcare industry will soon release their own apps that offer an AI healthcare experience. To stay relevant, you should do the same.

Already, patients and physicians are turning to digital products to boost the quality of their healthcare experience for patients. Apple device users may soon be able to maintain all their health records through the native iOS Health app. Products like DoctorOnDemand and HealthTap allow patients to consult with physicians through their mobile devices. In some instances, doctors can even prescribe medications using these apps.

Again, emerging technologies will only serve to expand the capabilities of healthcare applications. For instance, augmented reality can help patients describe symptoms more accurately when conversing with doctors remotely. It helps train surgeons more efficiently, and it can even help people find nearby defibrillators.

The rise in popularity of wearables has also contributed to healthcare by helping to monitor vitals, store health information, and even alert both patient and physician if any irregularities are detected

As the market continues to grow,healthcare organizations t must take advantage of tech innovations to serve its customers effectively.

The Power of Permanence in a Command Z World

Command-Z may save you during your day job, but that lower back tat is forever. What the digital age can learn from an industry where there is no “undo.”

Making that final decision and moving on is something we all struggle with, including myself - and for good reason. Many times, when we make mistakes, we grapple with the reality of those mistakes, and we want to go back and correct them. Seems fair. But with the new wave of convenience via tech, we have become lazy. Relying on “undo” as a crutch to our erratic and myopic actions. We no longer make true commitments, or really take the time to think before we act. Everything has become impulsive, in 140 characters or less. And for many, this behavior can get us into a varying scale of trouble. If being careless and impulsive as some of us are with social media somehow leaked into other areas of our life, it could have very lasting effects. For me, that dose of reality comes in the form of tattoos. And take it from me, impulse tattoos may be a great conversation starter, but there ain’t no command-z here:

digital experience - tattoo example

Yep, thats me. #Trampstamp #forever.

This is as much a thought piece as it is a personal introduction. Many know me as a designer, many know me as a tattooer, and my parents, of course, still don’t have a clue what I do. One thing most people know, is that I’m detail-oriented. I always pay attention to, and sometimes overly stress the small things. This is ultimately how I’ve been able to navigate and connect, making bridges between my seemingly opposite interests.

During the week, I work in a fancy office, in a big fancy building, in glamorous Midtown Manhattan. I was lucky enough to be sent here a few years back by the Silicon Valley tech company I work for in California. And to many here in New York, I’m that guy - a designer in the tech industry, or colloquially, just a “techy.” But there’s a less connected version of myself that only some know, and fall victim to outside of my daily grind.

digital experience - tattoo studio

My Brooklyn studio @saltandnail_tattoo photo cred @awoophoto

When the work week comes to an end, I’m in a Brooklyn basement using a piece of technology that has gone virtually unchanged since its invention in the late 1800s - my beloved tattoo machines. The ultimate permanent marker. And with what started off as a less-than-steady income job as a tattooer has quickly become one of the most valuable aspects of my growing career as a designer. While tattooing, you are forced to make clear decisions, and commit to them with confidence. Maybe obvious for some, but apply that simple concept to your day job, and you’ll have yourself a damn good day. It not only boosts your self confidence and attracts the attention of a room, but also manifests a critical way of thought, making each move and decision intentional.

digital experience - tatto artist

Process before the act. Photo by Ashley Woo @awoophoto

Unfortunately, I tend to notice more critical thought when taking on new tattoo clients than I do from most of the professionals flooding my inbox on the daily. And in our current social media frenzied society filled with trigger happy startups, I’ve further witnessed the sheer contrast between my two worlds in some interesting ways.

Most noticeably, how some choose to think deeply about each decision they make, carefully considering how it might impact their life, and how others will do or say pretty much anything without a second thought, knowing things can be edited later. This shot-in-the-dark agile mentality has become the norm for most new businesses in tech in the formulation of a digital experience strategy. Consider Facebook’s original mission statement, which underlined a “move fast and break things” kind of culture. And with many success stories, it has become a very intriguing and potentially game changing strategy for many. But this is Facebook we’re talking about. Imagine applying this type of thinking to more consequential aspects of your life. Or even more, to the wellbeing of a nation's people. Is a “bull in the china shop” approach always the right answer? Are we losing touch with thoughtful design and relying too much on the ability to undo/redo when things ultimately come crashing down?

This lack of commitment and permanence in our actions need to be made evident. With more than four hours a day spent on our devices on average, it’s clear that smartphones are the planet’s newest widespread addictions.

But I don’t believe the problem is that we engage too much with technology. I think the problem is that we are starting to use it carelessly. If great responsibility comes with great power, then our world of convenience should come with a heightened sense of intentionality and thoughtfulness.

digital experience - tattoo artist in action

One thing that tattoos always remind me of with each process - whether receiving or giving them - is that each of us has to live with every decision we make, everyday. Whether doing body mods or posting that tweet. Yet we seem to have flipped the process. We’ve begun to act first, then scramble with a combination of select-delete and command-z to change direction when we do finally pause and think. Well, call me old-school, but I like the process that most use when getting tattooed - and that is to think before you act. Then act 100 percent.

I’ll end my rant here, and invite you to join this one little exercise - a challenge you could say. If you work as a designer, writer, photographer, or simply have to deal with outgoing emails constantly, I challenge you to spend just half a day, and consciously limit the act of “command-Z” (or select/delete). Make mindful decisions, as if they were permanent. Move every pixel with purpose. Type every sentence like it's handwritten in ink. Take every picture with the selectiveness and concentration that doing so with expensive film could only encourage. We need to remember that in life - real life - there is no “undo.” So be intentional, weather designing a digital experience, answering an email, or finally getting that skull and dagger tattoo across your chest. Hold yourself accountable, and take responsibility for what you do and how you do it. Make each decision with a sense of permanence. Without the cushion of command-Z.

*Postscript: I am in no way advocating against iteration, proofreading, or editing - that’s one of the marvelous and critical abilities we have with new tech. And to be honest, I lost track of how many times I used command-Z while writing this. It’s simply an insight and exercise in conscious thought and meaningful action. Now go do some cool shit, and tell me how full-of-it I am down there in the comments \m/

How Companies are Bringing Digital Experiences into Consumers’ Homes

Boosting brand awareness requires marketing to potential customers wherever you can find them. Until recently, however, it was difficult to reach customers in the one place they spend most of their time: their homes.

That’s no longer the case. Innovations ranging from virtual reality to artificial intelligence have made it easier than ever to provide engaging omnichannel customer experiences, no matter where users are.

The following examples demonstrate how companies have already used technology to design a user experience that was once unattainable

Brands Are Using Virtual Reality to Design In-Home User Experiences

It’s worth noting that, to some degree, reaching customers in the home hasn’t been impossible in past decades. Just consider TV commercials, magazine ads, radio spots – all mediums that are able to provide a “digital” experience and remind consumers about your brand while they’re in the home.

However, the optimal customer experience management strategy put the emphasis on the mobile world and new digital technologies because they offer far greater possibilities for brand interaction than traditional advertisements can.

customer experience management - in home

That’s why businesses like Volvo are leveraging technology to design a user experience that changes what in-home marketing is capable of achieving. The automotive company released an app for Google Cardboard that allows users to take a virtual reality “test drive” of a new car. This product showcases the new vehicle while also offering customers an exciting, branded mobile app user experience.

Volvo isn’t the only organization taking advantage of VR tech. Fashion brand Rebecca Minkoff developed VR headsets so customers can “attend” a fashion show, taking in an almost 360-degree view. This innovative approach to digital experience design highlights new seasonal clothing lines in order to boost brand engagement by letting users feel like they’re active participants in the fashion industry, turning them into possible brand loyalists.

Brands Are Leveraging Artificial Intelligence in Mobile Apps to Improve the User Experience

Artificial intelligence isn’t science-fiction anymore. AI is now a powerful tool that can enhance the mobile app user experience by bringing the in-store shopping experience directly to a customer’s home.

For example, consider Sephora’s strategy. Via Kik, Sephora launched an AI-based chat feature that asks customers specifics about themselves, such as their tastes, preferences, and goals. After gathering the relevant information, the AI bot offers the same type of beauty advice a person might get from a cosmetics specialist at one of Sephora’s stores. Of course, the AI recommends products customers can purchase directly from Sephora’s mobile store.

The feature drives mobile sales, not to mention also allows the makeup behemoth to gather data about customer tastes and cultivates a sense of brand loyalty. Additionally, users tend to enjoy a digital experience design that feel personal.

Knowing this, fashion brands like Diane von Furstenberg are also using AI to track online customer behavior patterns and curate product suggestions tailored to the specific tastes of each individual customer. It’s not unlike having your own personal stylist in the comfort of your home.

The Omnichannel Customer Experience is the Future

Test-driving a vehicle, attending a runway show, getting beauty advice, browsing a curated product selection are all experiences that used to require leaving the house. However, as these examples demonstrate, it’s now possible to offer customers the ultimate mobile experience with truly dynamic digital designs, regardless of where they are in the world.

Why a Digital Customer Journey Map is So Crucial

When developing and marketing a digital product, knowing how your customers interact with your brand is essential. That’s why approximately 63 percent of marketers rely on customer journey maps.

A customer journey map essentially lays out how an individual initiates, cultivates, and maintains a relationship with a brand. It covers the milestones along a person’s journey with a brand, from first interaction, to engagement, to complete loyalty.

A customer experience management strategy is so important today because the customer has more power than ever. Thanks to online reviews and social media, “word-of-mouth” advertising – the ones from the people who already use your products and services –  are the ones that will matter the most. Current consumers are also  the ones most likely to introduce it to others. You need to understand why they engaged with your brand in the first place, and what you can do to ensure other potential customers have the same experience.

What Goes Into an Intelligent Customer Experience?

To develop a digital customer journey map, you need to include certain crucial elements. They include the following:

  • Personas: Identifying the types of people who become customers of your brand allows you to more easily map out their journey. By assessing customer behavior, you can determine what types of people engage with your brand most often, as well as why they do.
  • Touchpoints: Touchpoints are the various significant interactions customers have with your brand; these should include substantial details. A touchpoint isn’t simply “customer learns product exists,” it’s “customer learns product exists after seeing ad on Facebook,” for example.
  • Actions: You want customers to take certain key actions during their journey with your brand, whether that be downloading an app, buying a product, or sharing your information on social media. Creating a clear list of actions you want users to take keeps goals clear and concise .
  • Barriers: There’s no guarantee that all customers who interact with your brand will remain engaged with it, or become loyal followers of your brand. List potential barriers that may prevent a person from becoming a loyal customer. That way, you can strategize the best ways to overcome these barriers.

customer journey map

To better understand what a final customer experience strategy should include, review this example from Forrester, which include essential elements like

You should also consider how others formulate their intelligent customer experience. The following case studies demonstrate how major brands have already used this method to better serve their customers.

Staples

Working with YML, Staples developed an intelligent mobile experience for customers.

Understanding the persona of a Staples customer was key. People who shop with this brand seek efficient, practical solutions. They need useful products to accomplish their daily tasks. This understanding drove the customer experience strategy.

The result? Using lean UX, Staples and YML released a a friction-free mobile shopping product that combines intuitive UX and UI so customers can make purchases quickly and easily.

L’Oreal

It can be difficult to develop a digital customer journey map when your business serves various customer personas. Although L’Oreal’s SalonCentric brand only serves licensed cosmetologists, that category covers a wide range of potential customers.

Knowing this, Y Media Labs focused on defining customer personas early in the product development phase. This made it easier to create an app that consistently generates business for the company.

The Bottom Line of Customer Experience Management

The more you understand what’s important to your customers, the more equipped you are to serve them. That’s what makes customer journey mapping important. You need to know who you’re working for when you create a product and let that direct your customer experience strategy.

Whether it’s an app, website, or virtual reality experience, the product is much more likely to be successful if you kept the customer in mind throughout the development process.

What Exactly Does A Creative Director Do?

It never fails. When I tell people I work as a creative director at a digital agency, the next question is typically some version of, "so, what is it that you do exactly?”

Many people think a Creative Director’s role involves sitting in an ivory tower spouting design direction to their underlings. Others seem to think the role is obsolete, a relic of traditional ad agencies. While it’s true that the Creative Director often holds the keys to the proverbial creative gates, the modern day Creative Director’s role is more integrated, subtle, agile, and collaborative.

On a typical day, it is equal parts creative facilitator, design advocate, team cheerleader, and idea defender.

Below, I've laid out what my typical day as a Creative Director looks like:

Good morning, Sunshine at 7 a.m.

I’m not a morning person by any means, but my dog Marshy seems to think otherwise. She wakes me up at 7 a.m. on the dot every morning so that I can stumble out of bed and feed her.  Not only does my dog dutifully act as my daily alarm clock, she also serves as a source of stress-relief and pet therapy whenever days are draining and chaotic. In fact, it is scientifically proven time and time again that pets help lower your blood pressure as well as cortisol levels, a natural hormone triggered by stress. After some light stretching and a brisk walk around the block with my furry friend, I continue on to my morning routine of showering, getting dressed, and eating a hearty breakfast, usually consisting of a bagel, eggs, and fruit, to prepare for my day.

digital agency - Creative Director dog

In the office by 9 a.m.

About two hours after stumbling out of bed, I roll into the office, grab a steaming cup of joe from our fancy espresso machine, check emails, and make a mental checklist of what I want to get done for the day. In the fast-paced environment of a digital agency such as YML, it’s important to always have a game plan for what I want to accomplish. Whether it’s brainstorming with team members or preparing a presentation, I want to be as efficient and intentional as possible with my time.

digital agency - office

Getting my hands dirty by 9:30 a.m.

Creative Directors do a lot of delegating when it comes to actual design work, which makes sense given the amount of projects and people one must oversee. However, while I do delegate the majority of the designing and crafting to my team, I jump at any opportunity to get my hands dirty. Whether its helping to define a product concept, prototyping a new experience, or animating a slick interaction, I stay involved in the creative process.

After all, being creative is why I got into design in the first place. I still remember staying up late into the wee hours of the morning designing and coding websites as a prepubescent teen, gleefully discovering the joys of creating something tangible out of clicks and keyboard strokes. I try to make sure I never forget the reasons “why” I do things — that’s what drives us, differentiates us, and yet simultaneously, also connects us.  Designing is my passion and I constantly remind myself that I’m blessed to be able to do it for a living.

Creative ideas are brought to life by 11 a.m.

The Creative Director’s role requires combining technology, strategy, and design in order to bring an idea to life. It’s often a push and pull, both internally with your team and externally with the client. It’s getting that delicate balance just right; the one where you can give your team autonomy, manage expectations, and encourage innovation.  All of this necessitates constant communication and collaboration, and I like to do it in the form of whiteboarding, internal reviews, and client working sessions. Here at YML, this creative process often takes the form of a Design Sprint, a week-long jam session of solving business problems through designing, prototyping, and testing ideas with customers. This is the ultimate crucible of creativity where your design, critical thinking, and problem solving skills are put to the test. In a recent Design Sprint, a startup in the Cryptocurrency space called Nimiq came to us with a challenge. How might we create a product that helps to differentiate it from the plethora of cryptocurrencies in a unique and engaging way? We debated, we slogged, we struggled, but ultimately we came up with a viable solution that was worthy of testing.

Which takes me to my next point: the role of a Creative Director is hardly glamorous nor is it often visible. It is usually messy, with dozens of ideas scrapped before landing on “the one.”  If you’re doing a good job at it, your role can seem invisible, elevating your team and making the whole creative process look easy and seamless.
digital agency - computer

Taking the time to eat a proper lunch at noon

My days are usually pretty jam-packed but I try to make sure I set aside time to eat a proper lunch. I try to keep it light with a salad or a small sandwich in order to avoid the afternoon food coma slow down. Lunch is also the best time for me to connect 1:1 with coworkers or have team bonding with folks that I don’t interact with on a daily basis.

digital agency - lunch

An inspirational walk at 2 p.m.

I make an effort to step away from my desk at least once a day to go outside on a short walk. I’m lucky to have an office located right next to a beautiful lagoon that was once the home of Marine World. Not only do these walks help clear my head, it also sparks ideas whenever I’m feeling a creative block.

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan found that taking a walk among trees and nature—as opposed to an urban environment—can improve your short-term memory by 20 percent.  In another study by Jerome Singer, intentionally allowing your mind to wander allows it to access memories and meaningful connections, helping to lead us to those coveted “lightbulb” or "aha!" moments when we least expect them

digital agency - go for a walk

Always searching for new talent

Recruiting is a big part of my job at our digital agency, so I’m constantly talking to potential hires. I typically try to do this later in the afternoon, around 3 or 4 p.m. after I've completed the bulk of the day's work. Aside from their portfolio, the most important thing to me is whether they’re a good cultural fit. Maintaining the culture and health of the team is always top of mind for me.

I’ve been lucky to be able to see the team grow over the past four years from a handful of designers to a team of 17 across two offices. This is one of the most rewarding aspects of being a Creative Director: building a team of wonderful, creative folks who you’re able to watch grow to spectacular heights.

Spread the word: 4:30 p.m. is playtime

We often have random activities in the office to break up the work day.  It might be an ice cream social one week, cocktails and karaoke another, and a few rounds of Mario Kart in-between.  It’s important to carve out some time for play and to give the brain an opportunity to replenish its creative juices.

digital agency - party time!

Closing time is 5:30 p.m.

I usually try to wrap up whatever I’m doing by this time and make notes of what I need to do the next day. I try not to make a habit of working too late as I believe it’s important to maintain a balanced life. I’m a big believer in the mantra “work smarter, not harder.” Dedicating a good chunk of time hanging out with family, exercising, or just vegging out on the couch is super important in order for me to feel recharged and motivated to do my best work the next day.

The Ultimate Mobile Design Trends for 2018

As 2018 gets underway, the tech landscape is already remarkably different from just a  few years ago. Mobile is ‘large and in charge’ now, as the following mobile design trends will confirm.

A study from IDC estimates that more than two billion of the 3.2 billion people on the planet who access the web in 2016 will do so from a mobile device. Mobile design hasn’t just caught up with desktop—it’s crushing desktop in terms of sheer user numbers.

With mobile and user experiences being front and center more than ever, designers are looking to perfect their mobile-design skills for clients. By studying app design trends, they can be inspired by the best UI design ideas, and then create their own innovative and upgraded versions.

When it comes to mobile UX and UI design, they have to prioritize the user experience,.Designing native mobile apps that offer a richer experience than mobile web apps is the way to go. While there’s our list of the best mobile app design trend blogs to help you with some mobile design inspiration, native mobile app design is a constantly evolving thing, which is why future-proofing any piece of code is so important.

With that in mind, here are the 10 hottest mobile app design trends in 2018 that we predict.

1) Both Native Mobile Apps and Web Apps Will Surge

For some time, there’s been a dispute over what type of mobile app works best: native mobile apps that you open by tapping on your smartphone’s home screen or mobile web apps that you access from mobile versions of browsers like Safari.

app design trends

Designers and developers in the question of native vs. web app would argue that native mobile apps are superior because they’re faster for users, can be monetized in places like the App Store, and offer users access to mobile operating system features like the camera, contact lists, etc. That’s definitely true!

However, recent research by Google’s product director, Luke Wroblewski, indicates that there’s great demand for both types of mobile application designs, in spite of the apparent limitations of web apps. According to his data, native mobile app users spend 18 times longer on native apps than on mobile web apps…yet to add fuel to the native vs. web app fire, mobile web apps see almost 9 million monthly visitors compared to native apps’ 3.3 million monthly visitors.

Average monthly minutes per visitor of native apps compared to mobile web apps.

Therefore, mobile audience growth is based on mobile websites, so developers will have to continue serving that market with mobile web apps, too, while continuing to prioritize mobile native apps that have a better UX.

Therefore, mobile audience growth is based on mobile websites, so developers will have to continue researching UI design ideas and serving that market with mobile web apps, too, while continuing to prioritize native mobile apps that have a better UX.

2) The Increasing Influence of Wearables in App Interface Design

Wearables are gadgets like the Apple Watch, and they take the concept of mobile application design and development to a whole new dimension. Gartner predicted at that start of last year that the 2017 wearables market would rise to 310.4 million units sold, which is a 16.7 percent increase from 2015 sales.

app design trends 2018 - Apple Watch

So how does this affect UI design ideas? Not only is the screen smaller than a traditional mobile device, but wearables also encourage people to use mobile technology in different scenarios than smartphones and tablets, leading to necessary changes in the touch screen interface design.

For instance, the way you’d tap the screen of a smartphone to open a native news app is different to how you’d have to reach over with one hand to touch your Apple Watch to use its features.

Here’s a video to better illustrate how the Apple Watch works.

app design trends 2018 - Apple Watch Apps

As a result, 2018 will see wearable designers and developers race to create intelligent, user-friendly native and web apps that are unique to this type of mobile device, especially by adjusting their touch screen interface design.

3) Better UI Design Ideas for Gestures

What’s a gesture? In mobile application design, it’s divided into two groups, according to Google:

  • Touch mechanics (what your fingers do on a screen)
  • Touch activities (what they accomplish, as a result)

Double-Touch Drag

For example, if a user taps on their iPhone’s native mobile mail icon, they’ve produced a touch mechanic, that in turn creates the ensuing touch activity, which is their inbox opening.

With projections of smartphone users at more than 6 billion globally by 2020, it’s high time that designers explore new UI design ideas to better accommodate a range of mobile gestures.

Touch screen interface design mechanics include:

  • Touch (tap)
  • Force Touch
  • Double touch
  • Drag, swipe or fling
  • Long press
  • Long-press drag
  • Double-touch drag
  • Pinch open
  • Pinch closed
  • Two-finger touch
  • Two-finger drag, swipe or fling
  • long press with two fingers
  • Two-finger long-press drag
  • Two-finger double touch
  • Rotate

Some native mobile apps, such as Starbucks’ use an unappealing mobile UI design that makes, for instance, validating a free drink reward more cumbersome than it should be. If you have a free drink, you have to actually shake the phone by using your entire hand to get the barcode to appear on the screen for it to be validated.

app design trends 2018 - Starbucks App

It’d be much better to integrate a different touch screen interface design that allows the user to simply tap or swipe to get the barcode to appear.

With the number of mobile devices ever-increasing, mobile application designers have no choice but to create a better mobile UI design that uses a wider, more intuitive range of gestures for a better UX.

4) Multi-app Split Screen Catches on in Android UI Design

Multitasking or task switching is ubiquitous in our always-on world, so why shouldn’t this be the case in our mobile world? The multi-app is split-screen work flow that allows users to do two things at once on their screen, That means you can be on on your Evernote native mobile app and email colleagues at the same time or be tweeting and looking something up on the Internet simultaneously. The convenience of this UI design idea is beyond amazing, as it saves users the time and trouble of tapping the home button, looking for the native mobile app they want, and then constantly switching between two (or more) open app windows.

app design trends 2018 - iPad Pro

With the iPad Pro outselling Microsoft’s Surface tablet and similar offerings from Samsung in the last quarter, it’s clear that impressive mobile UI design features such as split-screen capability have made all the difference for consumers.

With Android fans clamoring for, and wondering when Google’s finally going to introduce the mobile split-screen feature on its devices, the time seems right for designers and developers to focus their efforts on finally producing split-screen multitasking for Android.

app design trends - Android Split Screen

Google seems to already be making baby steps toward this Android application development innovation right now, so it’ll be interesting to see what they come up with later this year.

5) Material Design Captivates the Mobile Application Design Community

Unsurprisingly, Google will be a big player in influencing native mobile app design trends this year. Material design is not completely flat anymore because it uses techniques like gradients, shadows and other subtle, 3D effects. As a result, this slightly different approach to native mobile design has people excited because it’ll drastically improve the UX on mobile devices.

Material Design UI - Mobile Design Trends 2016

Though material design was slow to be adopted to various Android apps last year— we’re talking Gmail, YouTube, Google Maps—that’s changing in 2016, as more native mobile apps from companies outside of Google take note of this app design trend and join the material-design bandwagon.

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 11.04.10 PM

Facebook’s popular Messenger app is getting a material-design makeover on Android while IMDB’s Android app has material-design touches added to its navigation, search and action bar.

Beyond mobile application design, Google’s Chrome browser is also set to incorporate material-design touches in its interface, and Google is all set to unveil its new material design-influenced Chrome browser soon.

Look for more popular apps to follow this app design trend and adopt material design as the year progresses.

6) Moving Animation in Native Mobile Apps

People are naturally programmed to take notice of movement, so incorporating movement into a mobile UI and UX design can be the perfect way to highlight a specific product. This app design trend makes moving animation a superb tool for e-commerce sites. This also has a secondary, more useful purpose: Letting users move products around on the screen before they buy it makes it easy for them to inspect it from all sides…almost as if they were in a real, tactile store.

app design trends 2018 - Moving Animation on Smartphone

With Web Designer Depot proclaiming that “animation is no longer a novelty for web app designers…it’s becoming the basis of effective interaction design,” moving animation is set to take off in a large way this year as designers increasingly realize that movement helps tell a story, and that helps the UX.

app design trends 2018 - Bugaboo Mobile Site Urban Stroller Product Page

Bugaboo’s mobile site features moving animation that lets customers examine its popular strollers from all sides, which beats merely looking at still pictures to make a buying decision.

Bugaboo’s mobile site features moving animation that lets customers examine its popular strollers from all sides, which beats merely looking at still pictures to make a buying decision.

7) A New UI Design Idea: Subdued Color Contrast

You’ve probably been taught that contrast should be high and loud to facilitate an easier reading experience, but 2018’s app design trends go against the mainstream conventional wisdom by toning things down a bit.

app design trends - Weather Apps Color Contrast

The usual typography contrast is black font on a white background—there are even various color-contrast calculators on the web (like Contrast Ratio) to help you find good contrast for readability.

In 2018, though, contrast is expected to get more subtle, which is actually easier on the user’s eyes and  has real mobile UI and UX design advantages in that it facilitates a better reading experience. Some of the the biggest companies in the world are already moving to this subdued form of color contrast for their websites.

Airbnb Mobile Site Homepage

Take Airbnb’s mobile site as a web example of this app design trend: Note how many of the fonts on the homepage are actually faded black or all-out gray and how the white space around the blocks of content and images is really gray space. As a result, there’s still exceptional contrast for easy reading, but it’s easier on the eyes.

8) Flat UI Design 2.0 Begins to Replace Flat UI Design

One of the few, but big, criticisms of flat design is the lack of signifiers on things like icons and buttons, which fail to adequately communicate functional design elements. This touch screen interface design has a negative impact on user experience since what users can click and tap isn’t necessarily obvious at first.

app design trends 2018 - Flat Design UI

This might not seem like a big deal to veteran users, but the point of good native mobile app design—mobile and otherwise—is to make the UX design easy enough that even novice users can find their way around your native app or mobile website.

Flat design 2.0 is like Material Design in a sense because both use more 3D UI design idea effects like shadows, gradients and lighting effects. However, whereas Material Design is more of an aesthetic and design philosophy based on paper and ink (read: tactile elements), flat design 2.0 is an actual response to and way of addressing the shortcomings of flat mobile application design.

Evernote Android Screen

As 2018 wears on, look for more mobile sites and apps to retain the flat look in their touch screen interface design, but with noticeable shading to indicate subtle 3D elements. These will make it easier for users to figure out where to tap and slide, such as Android Evernote’s native mobile app above.

9) Micro-interactions on Native Mobile Apps Become More Prevalent

Micro-interactions are focused on the UX design of a native mobile app. They’re subtle tasks that work around four elements.

  • The Trigger
  • The Rules
  • Feedback
  • Loops and Modes

Slack is an awesome example of this native mobile app design trend that is replete with great micro-interaction examples.

app design trends 2018 - Slack Direct Messages

I tap the “plus” sign next to Direct Messages. This is the trigger because it starts the micro-interaction. Now, I get to communicate directly with my Slack collaborator, which forms the rules or the way the interaction functions. How do I know this? Because, thirdly, the feedback Slack gives me on-screen shows a “New Conversation” box opening up, where I can chat directly with her. Finally, the length of this micro-interaction—or loop—is as long as I want it to be, as I can close the new message when I want to.

app design trends 2018 - Slack New Conversation

As you can see, these micro-interactions in app UI design let people instantly observe the results of their on-screen actions by providing helpful and understandable feedback. This greatly improves the mobile UX design. As more mobile application designers see this innate value to users, micro-interactions will get more widespread.

10) Increased Tracking in Typography Improves Mobile UI and UX Design

So much of the mobile web today deals with readability. One of the most important aspects of readability is tracking, or the consistent space between all letters in a word. The greater the tracking, the easier the word is to read because users don’t have to squint to read the word.

app design trends - Tracking in UI

With the big focus on native mobile app usability, designers need to look at increasing the readability of their content.

Typography authority Typewolf released its list of the most popular fonts of last year, and the big app design trend for this specific area is spacious and generous tracking between letters of the most popular fonts, which will continue into 2018. With Gartner predicting the number of mobile devices increasing in 2018, readability is going to be increasingly vital to mobile UX and UI designs that will attract native mobile app users in even greater numbers.

app design trends 2018 - Dell Mobile Homepage

Note how Dell’s mobile site uses this generous tracking evenly in between the letters of the type on its homepage.

Bonus: Mobile Design Trends That Have Died!

We didn’t get to where we are in mobile application design without some significant mobile design failures. Here are some notorious mobile design trends that simply died off.

1) The Flip Design

Remember that old Motorola Razr phone your buddy had? It featured and popularized the flip mobile device design that everyone at the time thought was cool…yet it failed to stand the test of time. For some time several years ago, people thought it was trendy to whip out their cell phones and flip them open before talking. Now, the instant gratification of the touch screen interface design of iOS and Android smartphones that you can just whip out for talk and data rule the day.

app design trends - Motorola Razr Flip Design

Confirming the death of this mobile design trend for good is news that Lenovo, Motorola’s new owner, is actually going to completely remove the name “Motorola” from its phones. Oh well. It was good while it lasted.

2) Push to Talk

Another mobile design that was popular before Apple and Samsung popularized their version of smartphones with unique touch screen interface design, push-to-talk was essentially turning your phone into a walkie-talkie. Its selling point was letting users talk to an entire group of their friends at once instead of just one friend at a time.

app design trends - Push to Talk Nextel Phones

However, as the years wore on, designing phones for this service became so unpopular that it’s now a relic of a bygone era.

Confirming the death knell for this outdated mobile design trend was the Sprint announcement, four years ago, that it would totally kill off its Nextel push-to-talk network. Goodbye!

3) Infrared Ports

In the early 2000s, many cell phones had infrared or IR ports. These offered wireless transfer of your data over very short distances, and they demanded that your devices had to be side-by-side for it to work.

app design trends 2018 - Infrared Ports

Because IR ports were restrictive, it was no surprise that Bluetooth and Wi-Fi soon came along and banished this mobile design trend for good.

Today, you’d be hard-pressed to find many phones with this feature.

What the Future Holds for Mobile Application Design

Look for these trends to dominate the native mobile app design landscape as the year progresses. It’s clear that now is the time of mobile design, as evidenced by mobile users now completely outweighing desktop users…. Don’t hold your breath waiting for these stats to reverse.

With this focus on mobile application design, it’s no surprise that the design community is looking for increasingly interesting app design trends to improve the user experience and get people on native mobile with greater comfort than ever.

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