A new year means new innovations and services that present challenges for user experience professionals. Each year, UX finds a boundary to push that matures, grows and betters our industry. This past year, we saw the exponential rise of artificial intelligence, whether that was battling Internet trolls or requesting a rideshare through Alexa. As 2017 came to a close, I began to ponder what 2018 would bring us and our industry. I gathered some of today’s best new voices from many areas of the user experience spectrum. It was interesting to see distinct themes emerge organically. This is part one of a three-part series highlighting their voices and thoughts for 2018.
Giving all the fux: fast user experiences
In web performance circles, we once discussed how designers could be reckless with performance. The irony then that as a developer, I was also once reckless. I adhered to classic performance doctrine – speed – and disregarded user experience.
As performance protagonists, we lived by rigid numbers like, in our case, the
onLoad. A 6s page load was better than 8s. The numbers didn’t lie. Or did they? This past December was the 27th anniversary of the original web browser, and the modern web clients have come a long way, thankfully. But so have web pages. They are more complex, more dynamic and unique as ever. Provisioning the delightful UX has now become an engineering priority as much as a design one. And this is what lies ahead in web performance: transitions from hard metrics, to softer measurements of the user experience.
Page A and B could have identical load times yet offer vastly different user experiences. In fact, page C could have a faster load than page D yet still be perceived as slower. We look to quantify visual feedback displayed by the viewport. This is the Gordian knot that is now modern page loading. It led to concepts like the speed index, the film strip, critical rendering path, but also to more significant advancements in metrics and browser APIs.
For one, the familiar and updated Performance Timing APIs are du jour, but a number of new timings are making their way. The Paint Timing will expose the
first-contentful-paint, the experimental Hero Element Timing API will target key elements in a page. Things like time to interactive and the possible addition of the
img tags, will both address bottlenecks and the main thread. There isn’t going to be any single one of these items to provide the solutions. Nevertheless, a macédoine of these metrics tailored to your user’s needs will provide the successful user experience you require for a burgeoning business.
Have we solved the omnipresent user experience? No. Yet, research continues and moving forward, we have shiny new tools to help make more informed and bespoke decisions to satisfy teams across an organization, and more importantly the user and their experiences.
More customization and inclusiveness
We’ll see a move toward more customization in user experiences in 2018. We are starting to recognize that not everyone has the same needs for accessibility, and it’s easier to allow people to choose how they want to interact with an experience rather than working to make it universally accessible. Some accessibility needs clash. For example, it’s hard to design something that works on an older smartphone and has high contrast/high visibility and tab navigation. It’s possible, but it might be more efficient to let users choose how they want to experience your site.
Our emphasis on APIs for consuming data and experiences will only increase, and we’ll expose more and more things that we now think of as “internal calls” to external partners and customers. That’s going to require us to get much more consistent in naming, behavior, and interaction. I expect 2018 will be the year APIs iterate for usability in addition to new functionality.
It also may be the year that we finally start using UX linters more seriously. We can’t put out all of these interfaces and keep them consistent without some kind of style guide, and no one likes enforcing style guides as a job, so we’ll automate that job. Developers will start getting messages declining their commits because they haven’t specified ALT tags or whatever the style guide linter alert is set.
If 2017 was the year of flat design and voice command, 2018 has the possibility to be the year of inclusive design and customization.
Accessibility trends are changing
In 2018, we will finally have freedom from Internet Explorer and still be accessible. Until now, IE has been the most popular browser for screen reader users because of compatibility issues with Microsoft Edge.
In the last WebAIM Screen reader User Survey, half of the screen readers on the most common screen reader/browser combinations list used IE, including JAWS, Window-Eyes, and ZoomText. Since JAWS has always been the most common screen reader, we had to choose between ignoring IE and being fully accessible. To do accessibility testing well, we’ve had to include JAWS and IE into or test plans.
In little more than two years, this has shifted significantly in both screen readers and browser. The most recent WebAIM Screen Reader User Survey, released in December, shows Firefox has overtaken Internet Explorer as the most popular web browser, with 41% of users claiming to use it most often. Also, the screen readers that paired with IE are all losing popularity. JAWS is now the only screen reader used with IE in the common screen reader/browser combinations list, and while it is still popular, JAWS use has declined. Tools such as NVDA, most often used with Firefox and Chrome, and Voice Over, commonly used with Chrome and Safari, have gained appeal to rival that of JAWS.
Additionally, popular screen readers are now working to support Microsoft Edge. Freedom Scientific has announced that JAWS 2018 with have Edge support, and NVDA, is working to be Edge-compatible as well.
What do you think?
Let us know your thoughts on UX in 2018 in the comments below.
Universal design considerations increasingly comprise a prudent approach to design and development for the web. Interaction designer Andrew Maier details some of the broader implications this has for user-centered designers.