This forced adaptation has affected our consumption of online resources and tools, which are now a lasting part of our lives. UX professionals do not see these new constraints as an obstacle, but rather as a means of leverage to create useful and positive experiences, in a world where physical contact is becoming limited. To begin with, let us take a look at some incredible figures from CES 2021:
- e-Commerce: increase in e-commerce deliveries (the equivalent of 10 years of deliveries in 2 months)
- Telemedecine: increase in virtual consultations (10 times more in the space of 2 weeks)
- Video streaming: nearly 50 million subscribers to Netflix (the equivalent of 7 years of subscriptions in 5 months)
- Distance learning: increase in online students (250 million in 2 weeks)
Growth in certain sectors has clearly been boosted by the health crisis. This shows the extent to which digital solutions enable us to rapidly adapt our habits when faced with an unexpected situation. It seems likely that these figures will continue to grow quickly over the course of 2021. In light of these unexpected upheavals, which UX trends are being boosted by the pandemic in 2021?
While the world was already moving in the direction of remote working, the virus sped up the trend by a dozen years in the space of six months. In order to remain in touch with our colleagues, suppliers and clients, we have had to adopt tools such as video conferencing and virtual white boards in very little time.
Video conferencing is now one of the pillars of our working lives. Including meetings, brainstorming sessions, presentations and virtual drinks, we can communicate via video and audio using a computer, tablet or smartphone. Skype is on its way out, while two other applications head the field: Zoom and Microsoft Teams. Zoom boasts impressive figures: 300 million daily users and growth of nearly 3000% since the beginning of 2020. Despite some security issues, which have now been resolved, the platform was rapidly adopted for business and personal use, thanks to its ease of use and audio-video quality. Teams saw its daily user figure grow from 32 to 75 million in 2020.
Very popular in companies, Teams is much more than a video conferencing tool, enabling users to share files, interface easily with Office 365 and use functional modules, such as project tracking and task allocation. What's more, a new artificial intelligence function known as Together can be used to display participants in a unique virtual environment, making it seem like everybody is sitting together in the same room.
Another noteworthy feature is automatic translation in multiple languages, enabling a person to speak in their native language while their contacts read the translation as subtitles in the language of their choice. Two other video conferencing software programs delivering high performance are also making waves: Google Meet and Cisco Webex.
Online whiteboard applications simulate a virtual work environment, of unlimited size, in which participants can share content, generate ideas, express opinions, vote, plan and build together. In short, it enables users to remotely conduct entire work sessions. Whiteboards all offer the same basic features:
- Several workshop templates (retrospective, kanban, user experience map, etc.)
- The ability to create your own workshop canvas from scratch or based on an existing template
- Co-creation functionalities inspired by Design Thinking good practices (ideation, voting, joint construction, etc.)
- Multi-device operation (responsive design website and mobile apps available)
- Interactions with other applications (Google Drive, Adobe XD, Dropbox, etc.)
Three main leaders have been clearly identified: Miro, MURAL and Klaxoon. Their approaches and features are roughly the same, with the exception of Klaxoon Box, which generates its own WiFi network, making it possible to use Klaxoon everywhere. Competition drives them to constantly innovate over time. Happily, these tools provide regular information in the form of contextual help and webinars (good practices, feedback, etc.). All of this naturally requires time to prepare the template used (facilitator) and to get to grips with the tool (users).
Combined with a video conferencing tool (sometimes natively integrated), whiteboards make it possible to remotely conduct collaborative work sessions that are comprehensive and fun, so much so that several facilitators and sprint masters have decided to continue to partially use the tool for their classroom-based workshops and design sprints.
Video conferencing has firmly established itself, and some users want to go further down the digital path by using immersive technologies, previously used for entertainment alone. While virtual reality and augmented reality have been around for a while, they have so far not made much inroads into the world of work. The health crisis could well change all that.
Here are a few relevant and recent initiatives in this area:
- The 2020 Game Developers Conference was held using virtual reality, including visits of the stands and chat rooms.
- Some museums and theatres, such as the Louvre and Tate Modern, use virtual reality to remain open and enable performances.
- Office digitisation solutions are flourishing, such as the impressive Spatial, which cleverly combines virtual and augmented reality.
- One of the biggest events in virtual reality coming in 2021: the opening of Facebook Horizon, which will enable users, appearing as avatars, to chat, share content and play in an immersive 3D world.
Augmented reality is not being outdone. While it is less immersive than virtual reality, it makes it possible to overlay objects and other virtual forms in the real world, using smartphones and tablet cameras in particular. Initiatives making it possible to try products at home (such as L'Oréal) offer solutions to the health restrictions encountered by stores. The IKEA configurator is winning over many customers looking to optimise their interior spaces. And not to forget Google ARCore and Adobe Aero, software development kits that make it possible to design and visualise augmented reality experiences on mobiles, whether it is for gaming, sales, learning or creativity.
Visualisation of scientific data
Medical illustrators have joined forces with UX design experts in order to enhance media information with curves, maps and other visuals that are attractive, clear, fun and sometimes interactive. The health situation is constantly changing, with the spread of the virus, vaccinations and variants. Needs related to medical data visualisation designed for the general public look likely to remain for years to come.
The pandemic means that we have to be particularly careful about physical contact with shared interfaces, such as touch screens on supermarket payment terminals and ATM keypads. Contactless interactions therefore have a bright future ahead of them.
Voice User Interfaces
Voice user interfaces (VUIs) remain underexploited in France for example. With the growing popularity of voice assistants such as Google Home and Amazon Alexa, there is a growing role for the voice in interactions with the digital world. VUIs have become one of the biggest trends of 2020. Today, more than 25% of the world's Internet users use voice searches on their mobiles.
In-Air gesture control
This technology captures users' movements, enabling them to interact with the target system, with no physical contact. Most touch interfaces can be easily replaced by an in-air gesture control system. Recent use cases of note can be found at DS Automobiles, as a replacement/complement for traditional steering wheels, levers and dashboards. It is also possible to control televisions using hand gestures, or follow a recipe in the kitchen using a digital book in augmented reality, for example.
The most precarious stages for new users to applications are often subscription, followed by the first steps. An optimal user experience is designed to remove friction/frustration points in these stages in particular (sometimes collectively referred to as "onboarding"). In view of the massive growth in use of online tools during lockdowns, particular attention is now being paid to how applications are accessed. We can see four key success factors:
- Rapid access to the application, if possible without subscribing (baskets on BtoC websites that can be filled without having to log in first are a good example)
- Simple subscription (via Facebook / Google Connect, or few fields to fill in to get started)
- Light and efficient user assistance (for example: Miro and its succinct "new features" tips)
- And last, but certainly not least, an instinctive, elegant and reassuring interface
2021 promises to be a year rich in immersive experiences and quality e-products. We can expect to see further growth in the use of video conferencing and process digitisation. Online events and trade shows will be getting creative with 3D and virtual reality to attract visitors. The need to adapt our personal and work lives in the face of the pandemic is unfortunately likely to continue in 2021, but thankfully we can count on some amazing innovative efforts using the Internet to help us do so.