Mobile UX trends to watch out for

Writing an article that tries to predict trends in the ever-changing landscape of mobile UX design is always a fraught exercise. Trends, by definition, go in and out of fashion quick, and that’s even truer for trends in the tech industry.

But let’s not allow that to hamper this attempt at peering into the crystal ball. Forgoing further fluff, let’s dive in and try to see what the future holds for the field of mobile UX design.

1. Motion design

Motion is eye-catching. It can be used not only to hold a user’s attention, but also to delight. Motion design isn’t exactly a novel concept. But for a long time, it was primarily in the domain of explorations peppered across Dribbble and Behance.

That has (thankfully) changed now. Designers have increasingly started using motion in interfaces to engage users and offer a more delightful interface.

via Dribbble

2. Navigation patterns

Until recently, moving through an app has been handled in largely similar ways that are used in different permutations and combinations.

Depending on the app we’re talking about, you either go down a single, linear path while completing your task (like you do with Ola and Uber), use a bottom navigation (like Facebook or Instagram) or swipe-based top navigation.

But if you’re unlucky, you try to navigate your way via a hamburger menu. A well-designed navigation doesn’t require you to jump through hoops before giving you what you’re looking for. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what a hamburger menu does. But the good news is that it’s been on its way out since the last couple of years and that trend will continue this year.

Prime examples of this are YouTube and Spotify, both of which moved away from a hamburger menu to a shallower navigation that allows for better discoverability and engagement.

And there are newer things on the horizon too, like parallax scrolling (Google Maps and Yelp have already implemented this). More nonlinear navigation patterns that allow a more customizable experience for different types of users based on how they interact with the app are also likely to emerge over the year.

via Dribbble

3. Leveraging AI and machine learning

AI and machine learning have been buzzwords in the industry for a while now. But it’s only since the last two years that they have started making a real impact when it comes to aiding and informing user experience design. This trend is likely to hold in the foreseeable future.

Companies like Uber, Facebook, and Google have been mining tons of user data since ages. Machine learning algorithms are finally coming of age and we can see the power of Big Data being put to good use with applications like Google Now, Google Maps, and Google Translate.

While some might be using this power for ethically-flexible purposes (cough *Uber* cough), the rest of them usually allow for an enhanced user experience.

With Google putting real emphasis on promoting Tensor Flow, we can expect smaller up-and-coming apps to also make use of machine learning. This will allow these apps to learn from the user over a period of time and provide a customized experience.

via Android Authority

4. Conversational interfaces

Another instance where machine learning and AI are proving their mettle is powering conversational interfaces (chatbots). Since the end of last year, chatbots have been all the rage and companies have been trying to tap into the trend left, right, and center.

Small wonder too, given that a conversational interface allows connecting with users in an easier and more engaging manner than traditional user interfaces. Who doesn’t like an interface that’s approachable and friendly?

Chatbots are versatile and can be used for a variety of purposes. One of those is on-boarding new users. A friendly assistant is always welcome when you’re exploring something new.

I’m not talking about you, Clippy.

Communication apps like Flock have used a chatbot to create a more welcoming experience for new users.

But on-boarding isn’t the only area where chatbots can be effective. There are tons of other interesting implementations out there. For instance, apps like Luka allow you to carry out whole conversations with chatbots on a variety of topics, including nuclear physics.

via Cheatsheet

With the range and flexibility chatbots bring to the table, we can expect them to pop up increasingly over the rest of the year.

5. Split-screen app interfaces

Android (since Nougat) and iOS have both started supporting split-screen apps. Given that devices sport ginormous screens these days, we’ll finally be able to use all that real estate to run more than one app at a time.

A few apps like Google Maps and YouTube on Android N already support split-screen view, and we can expect more apps to jump on the bandwagon soon. So if you own a phone with Android N, you can finally play that music video while texting your friends or discussing that all-important presentation at work.

Messaging and collaboration apps like WhatsApp and Flock also support split-screen functionality on Android.

via Phandroid

6. VR and AR interfaces

Like machine learning and AI, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) have also been buzzwords for a long, long time. Both technologies have the potential to bring about a paradigm shift in the way we approach user experience on mobile.

And there has been a real push in these two fields since the last year or so. That’s because both AR and VR need vast amounts of processing power and until recently, that kind of power just wasn’t available on most handsets for AR/VR apps to be commercially viable.

With flagship phones like Google Pixel (that ships with an optional VR headset — the Daydream), and several devices from Samsung, HTC and OnePlus, this kind of power is now available to our devices. OnePlus even went so far as to stage a VR launch of the OnePlus 3 last year.

There are still a few hurdles to cross (like the annoying grid effect on VR headsets) before AR and VR become truly mainstream. But there’s tons of potential to utilize the wide field-of-view available with AR/VR, and it’s limited only by a designer’s imagination.

via InVision

Let’s wrap this up

UX design on mobile goes hand-in-hand with the fast-changing landscape of mobile technology. With the advent of game-changing technologies like VR and AR, we are already witnessing a massive shift in how mobile UX is (and more importantly, can be) imagined and designed.

But that doesn’t mean that incremental advancements like motion design and split-screen interfaces will lose value anytime in the near future.

The field of mobile UX has always witnessed a huge amount of experimentation. Upcoming apps can and will utilize newer variations in navigation and interfaces, while using machine learning and AI to keep improving user experience.

Customization and personalization will gain importance as users become more discerning and harder to retain.

These, and other trends will likely continue to hold sway over the field of mobile UX in the near future. Of course, it’s also likely that a few months later, I’ll be using the wisdom of hindsight to kick myself over my lack of foresight.

But then, that’s how technology works. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


-Authored by Ankush Saxena, a product manager and interaction designer at Kapow and Flock who spends too much time trawling the Interwebs for tech and UX trends.