The Future is Imminent: 9 Design Trends for 2018

Chase Buckley
Jun 7, 2017 · 16 min read
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Good evening. I’m Chase Buckley, UX Unicorn, and these are my predictions for the biggest design trends of 2018. Enjoy.


1. Synesthetic Feedback

For those uneducated graphic designers in the audience, the term synesthesia refers to the perceptual condition of mixed sensation; a stimulus in one sensory modality (like hearing) involuntarily elicits a sensation or experience in another sensory modality (like smell). A person with synesthesia might hear a bird chirping and all of a sudden smell the scent of popcorn, or taste the flavor of mint, or feel the sensation of floating.

Creative technologists are rapidly cracking the code to this rare neurological condition, implementing synesthetic feedback into their products and allowing us all to experience it and reap the UX rewards.

Facebook’s Building 8 Research Lab is already designing synesthetic feedback into their platform, converting language into vibrations:

“Through a series of electrodes, the company hopes its neural technology can reduce language to vibrations that can be read by a users’ skin. So far, this ability to “hear” with patterns of stimulation on the skin also seems much closer to a real consumer technology.” (Source)

By allowing users to “hear” language through synesthetic feedback on the skin, the internet giant is creating a platform that will soon be able to “touch” users in a whole new way.

Some other examples of synesthetic feedback being used:

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Carlsen Games, a company out of Denmark, has invented a game named “140” which induced synesthesia in users by leveraging rhythmic awareness
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The Feelies, a group out of London, are designing multi-sensory virtual reality experiences to induce experiential empathy in subjects.
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Eric Parren, a technology pioneer, is designing Synesthesia Glasses as a sensory manipulation tool to allow the wearer engage in hallucinatory experiences.
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Zachary Howard, an aerospace engineer, is creating a mask that mimics the effects of synesthesia using a color sensor, microprocessor, and essential oils. By linking a sensor worn on the finger to an Intel Edison chip on the armband, Howard’s device breaks any object’s color scheme down into the three primary colors that correspond to three scent reservoirs.

So, what does this mean for the future of UX?

As we refine synesthetic technologies in the coming months, savvy designers like Chase Buckley will continue to blur the lines between our physical and digital worlds by exploiting the subtle neurological loopholes in the brain that regulate our multi-sensory perception, just imagine:

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Unwitting users will suddenly catch a whiff of the salty, savory scent of french fries, only to follow the intoxicating odor to a shimmering McDonalds banner ad at the bottom of the page.

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A beautiful pop-up of a quaint Hawaiian shoreline will evoke the physical sensation of a tropical sea breeze at sunset, conjuring up the delectable taste of fresh coconut and roast pig, thereby compelling the user to impulsively purchase an 8-night Princess Cruises package from SF to Oahu.

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A cursor moving towards the “unsubscribe” button would invoke the taste of ash, the feeling of pain, and the harsh imagery of eternal hell fire, subliminally deterring a user from unsubscribing from a newsletter.

Look around you. The future is here. Can you smell it?

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2. Progress Spectrums

“Progress is a spectrum, not a bar.” — Chase Buckley

We as humans do not experience the world in broken-up steps, rather, our experience of time and events is fluid and organic. Lazy designers developed the progress bar as a metaphor for measuring our “progress” along a ”journey”, but in doing so they created a system that does not properly reflect the true user experience. Progress is a spectrum, not a bar.

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Popularized by uninspired design teams at SalesForce, Oracle, and other Spreadsheet-As-A-Service companies, stepped progress bars like the one above do the user an extreme disservice by representing fluid processes in rigid, incremented parts, which do not accurately reflect the true, multi-faceted user experience.

A progress spectrum is a far more natural way of measuring “progress.” Instead of breaking up the user experience into unnatural, linear, paginated steps, a progress spectrum reflects the true experience of the user, one in which progress is experienced along a broad and continuous spectrum, where one event seamlessly flows into the next.

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A progress spectrum reflects the true experience of the user, one in which progress is experienced along a broad, continuous spectrum, where one event seamlessly flows into the next.

When we shop for groceries, we don’t rely on progress bars to tell us how many steps away we are from checkout.

When we’re at the bank we don’t look to progress bars on the ceiling to tell us how we’re doing.

And when we’re walking our dogs, drinking Soylent or giving talks on thought-leadership, we most certainly don’t think about what “step” we’re on towards completion.

The same should be true for digital experiences. After all, users don’t want to be told where they are in the process. They want to decide that for themselves.

Users don’t want to be told where they are in the process. They want to decide that for themselves.

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The designers at LinkedIn are doing a stellar job at incorporating the “progress spectrum” into their profile strength gauges; one can never be truly complete, nor truly empty — rather, all profiles exist on an infinite spectrum — there is always some task left to complete.

Designers are already starting to experiment with this concept; showing that progress is not a binary, but rather an experience that exists along an infinite spectrum. One can never really “complete” their LinkedIn or Facebook profile, just as one can never truly “complete” an account sign-up process. Nothing in life has concrete steps, so why should our digital lives have them either?

Keep your eyes peeled for progress spectrums this 2018.

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3. Disinformation Architecture

“The role of information architecture is to make this complex world we live in that much easier to navigate.” — Chase Buckley

But the technologies that shape our world are evolving with ever greater complexity, and with every breakthrough comes another degree of separation between us and our digital surroundings. We are reaching a point of technological incommensurability, which no amount of architecting will be able to reconcile.

In short: The world has become too complicated to organize and make sense of. Even for Chase Buckley. Indeed, the only way that we will once again bring simplicity, understanding, and delight to our everyday experiences is through the practice of Disinformation Architecture. Allow me to explain.

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Information Architecture it refers to the practice of organizing and arranging information so that people can better understand their surroundings

Disinformation Architecture refers to the practice of organizing and arranging misleading and heavily-filtered information so that people can understand a more simplified and accessible version of reality.

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Popularized by the Russians, a common Disinformation Architecture Strategy is to spread as many conflicting messages as possible, in order to persuade the user that there are so many versions of events that it is impossible to find the truth.

Popularized by many Russian thought leaders, this tactic ensures that users don’t get caught up or confused by distracting “information,” and that they only experience and encounter the information that you want them to see — ensuring the most streamlined, frictionless, and delightful user experience.

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Buzzfeed leverages Disinformation Architecture to mask the complexities of the digital world.

Think of the commonly maligned “clickbait” article as an example of disinformation architecture. Rather than attempting to convey the extremely complex content in a headline, which users wouldn’t be able to understand anyways, misleading information is leveraged to make the article’s contents easier to understand and appreciate at a glance.

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By hiding cancellation information altogether, Stamps.com is able to leverage disinformation architecture to ensure the most streamlined service imaginable. Kudos!
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To mitigate the likelihood that users get overwhelmed and accidentally cancel their subscriptions, the service makes it exceedingly difficult to get out of

Another shining example is Stamps.com. The brilliant designers at Stamps have made it incredibly easy for users to “get in” and sign-up for this extremely valuable service. And, to mitigate the likelihood that users get overwhelmed and accidentally cancel their subscriptions, the service makes it exceedingly difficult to get out of. By hiding cancellation information altogether, Stamps.com is able to leverage disinformation architecture to ensure the most streamlined service imaginable. Kudos!

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4. Neurotic Networks

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This next generation of neural networks, truly modeled on the human brain, will not just mirror the architecture of our synapses, but will mirror our feelings and emotions, too.

Neural networks are nothing new, but bleeding-edge thought leaders are realizing that, for neural networks to truly change the course of humanity, they must become that much more human-like. This next generation of neural networks, truly modeled on the human brain, will not just mirror the architecture of our synapses, but will mirror our feelings and emotions, too. These are neurotic networks, and they are right around the corner.

Don’t believe me? In 2014, Facebook utilized neurotic networks in a series of psychological experiments on 689,003 users, whereby, through the power of mapping human emotion via neurotic networks, researchers were able to design an algorithm that could manipulate user’s news feeds to provoke certain emotions. The experiment proved that Facebook, via neurotic networks, could make users feel good or bad simply by tweaking their news feeds. (Source)

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Facebook utilized neurotic networks in a series of psychological experiments on 689,003 users.

While your typical graphic designer may have a hard time grasping the complexity of such “invisible” technologies, smart designers will realize that neurotic networks are invaluable to the arsenal of design tools at our disposal.

But be careful — never before has a technology given us such control over the emotions of others. And so, to quote the Dalai Lama, “with great power comes great responsibility.”

“With great power comes great responsibility.” — The Dalai Lama

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5. Mood As Interface (MAI)

The idea of Mood As Interface is as simple as it is intuitive: interfaces are becoming increasingly personalized, responsive, and customized per user, and now, with cost-cutting advancements in Wireless EEG technology, design pioneers can leverage brainwave biometrics to create highly customized interfaces that are shaped by user’s moods and emotions.

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At the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, Acura, in partnership with the lovely Bradley G Munkowitz, created a “mind-bending interactive driving experience” that was powered by user’s brainwaves and biometrics to create a unique driving experience for each and every participant.

User’s were connected to fourteen electrodes via an EMOTIV headset, and placed inside of a virtual-reality simulation of an Acura NSX driver’s seat. From there, the “driving experience” was controlled solely by the user’s mind, where 30 sensory inputs captured brainwaves, pulse, and facial expression. These emotional inputs were leveraged to then create a responsive virtual-reality simulation that fluctuated and adapted in real time with the user’s innermost feelings, be they serene, relaxed, amazed, intrigued, focused, or excited.

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Soon, these Mood-As-Interface technologies will enter the main stream, enabling user’s to control their content like never before:

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Find exactly what you’re craving by allowing your Mood to navigate the GrubHub interface for you.

Users with difficultly making decisions can rely on their moods to guide them through processes like ordering food off of menus; GrubHub could enable a plugin to allow user’s to place orders based on their gut feelings.

User’s could automatically conjure up the content they want on their newsfeed based on how they’re feeling; with Mood-As-Interface tech, someones experience of Facebook or Instagram could change wildly to console them.

This has radical applications for e-commerce as well, where custom advertisements, look-books, color pallets and filters could be automatically applied based on how the user is feeling at that particular moment.

All of a sudden the personal computer has become a whole lot more personal. How are you feeling?

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6. Bowling Bumpers

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Through the practice of failure-mapping, designers will begin to utilize a new tool, bowling bumpers, to ensure that even the most senile, incompetent, and technologically illiterate of users are able to complete digital tasks without error. In the great game of bowling, barriers, aka “bumpers,” are placed on either side of the bowling lane, preventing bowling balls from ending up in the gutter every time.

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By using bumpers, your user is sure to bowl a perfect 300!

This same principle can be applied to our digital apps and experiences, whereby bowling bumpers (digital barriers) can be used to prevent bowling balls (users) from rolling into the gutter (making critical errors). And, just as many modern bowling alleys have retractable bumpers which can be automatically raised and lowered depending on whose turn it is to bowl, so too can apps and websites raise and lower digital barriers depending on the competency or age of the user.

From user onboarding to to e-commerce checkout, there is virtually no element of the digital experience that is immune to failure. But with the introduction of bowling bumpers, failure is no longer an option.

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7. Design Feeling

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Design Thinkers at work.

The problem with design thinking is that it relies almost entirely on thinking. Rooted in analytical reasoning, logic, ontologies and systems — design thinking is a left-brain endeavor. It may have the word “design” in its title, but don’t be fooled —this cult-like methodology is little more than a trick used by engineers to sound creative.

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Design Thinking has led us to a world of depressing homogeneity.

It is no wonder that the “designs” of today are so homogenous and dull; the prevalence of design-thinking, with its strict adherence to reason, has resulted in a generation of products that are fueled entirely by logic but completely devoid of passion. Everything has become templatized. What we end up with is a world full of generic forms, lifeless products, and soulless “innovations”.

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Design Thinking is responsible for the extraordinary “sameness” of every single web design.
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Everything has become templatized. What we end up with is a world full of generic forms, lifeless products, and soulless “innovations”.

But the monotony that pervades the world of technology and design may be nearing its end. As technology becomes more and more commoditized and undifferentiated, thanks to the soulless handiwork of design-thinking, companies are looking for new methodologies to innovate and distinguish their products. Many, including visionaries like IDEO’s Tim Brown and InVision’s Clark Valberg, are realizing that they should be thinking less, and feeling a whole lot more.

Design Feeling calls for a return to what is natural and intuitive. It is a movement that puts humanity back into design. It is about feeling problems out, not analyzing them. Its about sensing solutions, not testing them. And, unlike the wretched processes of design-thinking, design feeling is rooted in impulse, spontaneity, desire, passion, feeling, imagination, and indulgence. It represents creativity at its core. Design is not a process. Its an art.

“Design is not a process. Its an art.” — Chase Buckley

In an exclusive interview I had with Tim Brown, IDEO’s CEO famous for bringing design-thinking to the masses, Tim confessed that Design-Thinking has led to the hideous state of design that we are burdened with today. After providing Tim with one-on-one lessons on the virtues of design-feeling, he confessed to me, “so much of my life has been wasted prostrating myself before the false idol of design-thinking…I should have been thinking so much less, and feeling so much more..”

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Design Feeling is already being used by the world’s most bleeding edge game changers, and soon enough, if you want to keep your job, you’ll be using it too.

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8. Rumble Strips

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A rumble strip is applied along the direction of travel following an edgeline or centerline, to alert drivers when they drift from their lane.

There are literally millions of parallels between road safety infrastructure and user experience design, and rumble strips are no exception. Perhaps this explains why Eastern Europeans, and other such countries lacking in modern day infrastructure, have difficultly grasping the full breadth of UX design. With that said, allow me to explain the two primary use cases of Rumble Strips:

A.) Rumble Strips as Alerts:

Users will be able to install rumble strips on their browsers so that, whenever they are veering towards a negative experience, be it a virus or an unsavory pop-up, their device will vibrate and rumble to alert them to “stay in their lane,” so to speak.

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Building on the role of pop-ups like the one shown above, rumble strips will be able to alert users to malicious software and other unsavory content.

B.) Rumble Strips as Remedies to Fatigue:

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By sprinkling rumble strips throughout their digital products, UX Designers will be able to send intermittent haptic cues to users to “wake” them up and help them better engage their social medias.

Haptic rumble strips will help users to navigate the web that much more seamlessly, safely, and efficiently. Smart UX Designers have already begun implementing rumble strips across their products, and in due time, so will you.

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9. Rogue Personas

And while user personas are invaluable to the artful practice of UX, they are far too narrow to be helpful on their own. While personas help us to understand our ideal user, it is just as important in this day and age to understand our non-ideal users; our trolls, our phishers, our poor, our elderly. Our rogue personas.

Rogue Persona A:

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Facebook aims to be the largest, most inclusive social network on earth. Their headquarters undoubtedly house room upon room of binders full of user personas, but still, there are many rogue personas they have overlooked. Just look at this exchange between Denice and the Dollar Tree. Denice, clearly bewildered by the intricacies of Facebook’s interface, has shared highly sensitive information with the Dollar Tree. If Facebook had designed affordances for Rogue Personas like Denice — elderly personas who have trouble understanding the cultural and technical etiquette of Facebook — then this exchange could have been avoided and Denice could have instead consulted the proper authorities for advice.

Rogue Persona B:

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A common Rogue Persona that many juvenile UX designers fail to account for is the notorious internet troll. Designers have been playing a longstanding game of cat and mouse with these trolls since the dawn of the internet, and yet still, the impact these goons have on our products and services is very rarely addressed in our personas. Whether its trolls exploiting Greenpeace’s voting system to name a whale “Mr. Splashy Pants,” trolls hijacking an online poll to send acclaimed rapper Pitbull to an isolated town in Alaska, or trolls hacking a contest to name the next Mountain Dew beverage “Diabetes,” its clear that countless incidents could be averted if only people had thought to design for these all too common edge cases and devious personas.

Whether it is to prevent abuse, fool-proof our user flows, simplify our interfaces, or streamline our instructions, developing rogue personas to address non-ideal users will be a key task for the UX designer of 2018.

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