You like a person. That person like you back. There is an instant connection, and the two of you get along famously – chatting through the evening. And then, it happens. Just when you had started to wish that the good time would never end, the said person abruptly stands up and leaves, without even a proper “Goodbye” – and you never hear from him/her ever again. Pretty sad, right? Similar is the case with smartphone users and mobile app retention rates.
According to a recent Localytics report, 8 out of every 10 mobile apps (on average) are not retained on devices beyond 90 days from their installation. Close to 25% people interact with a newly-downloaded app just once, and a lowly 37% users bother launching an application more than 10 times. Improving the visual appeal and overall user-experience can go a long way in boosting the app-retention levels – and in what follows, we will take a look at some important UI and UX trends for 2018:
More vivid colours and bold typography
This August, YouTube changed its logo and app design for the first time in twelve-odd years. In 2018 and beyond, many more business organizations and companies will also tweak around the visual presentation of their apps – with the focus squarely on using a brighter, more vivid colour pallette, and crisp, bold typography. Developers will try to incorporate fancy yet clear fonts in place of traditionally used structures – and the overall web and mobile app landscape is set to become more creative, more experimental than ever before. Coupled with optimized layouts, HQ images and animations, bright colours and beautiful typography can be instrumental in bolstering user-experience levels.
Material Design to the fore
Flat designs are all about being minimalistic, and they have been popular for years now. As the skill levels of professional UI designers become more nuanced, the possibilities of integrating greater complexities on ‘flat’ layouts are opening up. Google offered a glimpse into the future back in 2014, with its concept of ‘material design’. Apart from subtle animations, cool transition effects and layer depth (with the help of translucent imagery) are becoming increasingly mainstream in applications. The option of adding shadows is also making interfaces richer and more interesting. Material design should become an integral part of app designing strategies, on iOS, Android and web platforms.
Focus on First Time User Experience
Mobile users are an impatient lot. A recent research revealed that the average attention span of smartphone users is less than 9 seconds. This makes it doubly important for mobile apps to deliver top-class first-time user experience (FTUE) – to have any chances of becoming an engaging tool. The loading speed should be quick (the splash screen should not be visible for more than 6-8 seconds), the onboarding should be quick and easy – providing users with a gentle ‘learning ramp’, and designers will need to place their attention on ‘designing for zero-state’ (i.e., the state where there is nothing to be displayed). For instance, if a connectivity error happens, the screen should display the error, instead of simply going blank. There are more than 5 million apps in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store (combined) – and if an app does not manage to capture the users’ attention at the first go, it is not likely to get a second chance.
Note: 8 out of every 10 apps that do not offer good enough FTUE turn out to be failures.
Single, immersive images. Full screen videos
The trend of using multiple images in a photo carousel to represent a brand is gradually losing steam. In 2018, we are likely to see more and more mobile and web apps to use single, high-clarity, immersive photos – to showcase the brand personalities of the concerned businesses. Full-screen videos (instead of short video files embedded on screens) also have the potential of becoming a tool for providing more intuitive experiences to app users. The best thing about (most) full-screen videos is that they do not require users to scroll down and/or zoom on the screen. For telling a ‘brand story’, such videos can be really powerful.
Note: Over the next few quarters, the use of gradients in app designing should also rise.
In the US, the average adult user spends close to 90 hours every month with their mobile devices (working out to just a shade under 3 hours daily). Not surprisingly, people have started to expect that their handsets would ‘behave’ like knowledgeable companions – and with the immense advancements in machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) in the past few years, providing seamless personalization has indeed become possible (replacing the traditional, generic experiences). App developers, in 2018 and later, would make a conscious attempt to ‘learn deeper’ about their customers through their applications – and customized displays and illustrations and controls will play a big role in that. The latest development on this front is the emergence of age-responsive UIs that take into account the display preferences of users from different age-groups.
The rise of SVGs
It’s not that designers will move away from images in JPG and PNG formats drastically – but there will be a steady rise of the scalable vector graphics (SVGs) format over the next couple of years or so. This growth will be primarily fueled by the mounting need for easily scalable, high-quality images. Also, SVG images can be scaled without their quality/clarity/crispness being adversely affected in any way. For gaming apps in particular, there are several other 3D vector formats which might witness high adoption rates in mobile apps in 2018. The emphasis will be on coming up with uniformly user-centric designs (UCD), and the new image file formats will have a prominent role to play in that.
Note: On flat designs with added elements, designers add different types of geometrical shapes (patterns, circles, etc.) – in their bid to showcase their creativity.
More content and parallax scrolling
The general tendency of website and mobile app designers was to create the layouts first, and then look for content. Expect a change of approach in 2018 – with ‘content-first’ strategies taking centerstage. UX designers will have to factor in considerations of visibility and information-sharing through the screens – and as such, long-form content (simply put, greater text content) will find more favour. The challenge will greater on the mobile platform than on web – due to the much smaller screen real estate of the former (also, the shorter attention spans). To counter the problem of some content going ‘below-the-fold’, developers will also start to invest more on the parallax scrolling feature in their apps. In addition to helping people check out the entire info on a screen, parallax scrolling will let them ‘discover something new’, every time they scroll or swipe on the app screens.
Growth of voice-based UI
1 out of every 5 search activities on mobile took place with voice technology in 2016 (according to Google). By the end of next year, around 30% of all interactions with technology platforms will be conversation-based – i.e., through voice UIs. The widespread popularity of mobile virtual assistants like Siri and Google Now and Cortana have shown that people indeed find it convenient to interact with their handsets through voice technology (as opposed to the conventional method of typing). We can reasonably expect more and more third-party app companies to come up with innovative new applications with speech-recognition features. Operating them will be quicker and, more often than not, simpler – and people will be able to get work done with voice-instructions, while performing other tasks.
Note: The challenge on this front lies in the security and authentication part. App makers have to ensure that the speech technology integrated in their software is actually able to accurately ‘recognize’ the authorized user(s).
Borderless displays are the new in-thing
Bezelless phones are here to stay – and the recently launched iPhone X has revolutionized the very concept of edge-to-edge displays. There have been other high-end bezelless phones too this year, like the Xiaomi Mi Mix 2 and the excellent Samsung Galaxy Note 8. More of such devices will be launched by different vendors in 2018 – and designers can ill-afford to stay static with their highly restrictive grid-based design concepts (which admittedly, still works great for websites). While working on the mobile platform though, they will have to think beyond grids, and add motions, transitions and depth – to add more verve to the borderless displays. The importance of leaving enough whitespace to ‘let the content breathe’ should also be highlighted at this point. Apps optimized for bezelless phones need to provide holistic digital experiences to end-users…a requirement that designers will try to resolve in different ways.
The year of the password-killer?
Oh well, we do not expect passwords to be completely gone by the next year. However, with the volume of app-usage and the amount of sensitive data being stored by smartphone-users in their applications going up all the time – the need of the hour is for faster, and more secure, authentication processes. In the near future, apps can come with biometric identification, fingerprint identification, or even face/iris recognition (Face ID of iPhone X probably lays down a blueprint). Authentication codes and OTPs, which would be sent to the same devices, can also effectively replace passwords. With these alternatives, the average user will no longer be burdened with the task of having to remember scores of passwords.
Designing for the device-agnostic app user
A person can start booking a cab on his/her Amazon Echo, and confirm the booking on an Android device. With the internet of things (IoT) ecosystem expanding by leaps and bounds and the number of smart devices in our lives increasing exponentially – it’s high time for UI/UX designers to gradually replace their ‘mobile-first’ strategies with a clear eye on providing uniformly optimal ‘multichannel app experiences’. The likely behaviour of users while using an app (user-interaction) should shape how it should be designed – and designers should do well to remember that people are only interested to get at their goals (in our example, booking a cab), without any ‘interruptions’ due to change of mediums/channels. Providing seamless omnichannel UX is going to be an exciting challenge for app developers in the next year or so.
Identifying and removing irritants
In a 2017 survey, it was found that over 70% of the respondents removed apps from their phones due to repeated, annoying notifications. The onus is on graphic designers and UX developers to find out what might ‘disturb’ the user – and remove all such ‘potential exit-points’. The much-loved ‘hamburger menu’ of Android is also likely to give way to the more easily viewable tab view of the different menu options. The overall in-app navigation has to be smooth, and there has to be help available (say, in the form of chatbots) at every point. Every screen should highlight the primary task users have to do on it (e.g., making a choice, or giving a feedback). As a rule of thumb, it should not take more than three interactions for a user to reach the screen/page (s)he is looking for.
Note: In 2018 and beyond, more importance will be placed on minimizing the chances of ‘false inputs’ – by ensuring that all tappable areas can actually be accessed/tapped easily. The size of average ‘touch areas’ should be 7.5-10 mm.
13. Augmented reality to make its mark
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg predicted at this year’s F8 conference that all screens will make way for augmented reality (AR)-powered lenses in the foreseeable future. With the latest flagship smartphones having cutting-edge camera features, excellent processor power and HQ displays – the opportunities are with UI designers to integrate the technology in their new software applications. The real-world scenarios have to be accurately and interestingly depicted, with the virtual elements having contextual support. Users will be able to get immersive AR experiences, without having to perform two many ‘actions’ on their own. Of course, the technology will be best enjoyed when the user is moving around.
The importance of smarter animations
From displaying the system status and app loading status, to highlighting navigational transitions – functional animations can make a mobile app ‘seem alive’. The trick here will lie in not piling on too many effects and animations just because it is possible – making the app ‘too heavy’ in the process. Instead, designers should try to help end-users get an idea of the Why, What, and How of changes on a screen. In other words, subtle, well-placed animations can intuitively represent the logic-flow of an app, and give people an idea about the status of any tasks. Zooming effects and cute little animations while providing answers to on-screen questions all add up to the visual appeal.
App icons are set to become more interesting too, with small animations and minimalistic outlines. New tools and software like Kits and Adobe XD will enable designers to create better user-experiences, while Google Optimize will make the task of performing A/B split tests easy. While not particularly innovative, card-based designs will remain popular too – thanks to their ability to neatly categorize and showcase large volumes of information.
Android will continue to be the first preference of mobile app designers (at present, ~78% designers prefer working on the Android platform over iOS). The app marketplace is immensely competitive, there are no paucity of good applications – and in many cases, it is going to be the app designs and overall UX that will make a difference.