2014 UI/UX Recap

Before we get into what happened in 2014 for UX (user experience design) and UI (user interface design), please peruse this simple chart to refresh yourself on UX vs. UI. I won’t get into the nitty gritty, but I will say that UI is a subset of UX. This covers a bit of both. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, on to 2014.

Big News

This year Google has unveiled the latest stage in its ever-evolving visual language manifesto: Material Design. It’s the synthesis between skeuomorphic (think beveled buttons and lots of texture) and flat design (think solid colors and two dimensions). The layouts are bold, graphic and intentional. Each animation gently and deliberately leads the user to the next experience.

materialdesign_introduction

IMAGE: Google, Material Design

The design team uses sheets of paper and material as a metaphor to explain how the user experiences software. But to develop this metaphor, the Google design team got physical. They cut and pasted paper to form icons and widgets. “We wanted to see how light moves across real surfaces, and how can we encapsulate that in the design in a way that speaks to people,” Nicholas Jitkoff explained to Business Insider at the launch event.

IMAGE: Business Insider

There are great advantages to Material Design over its predecessors. The software is much more lightweight thanks to Polymer, a library that serves up this new style as standard for mobile and web use. The use of consistent, tested text sizes; strategically placed shadows; high contrast; and bold graphics allow people with varying visual acuity and technical savvy to use properly designed websites and apps like a pro.

So that’s the biggest change in UX design for 2014, but let’s look back at some smaller ones.

hamburger

The hamburger

Not the fast food item. The three horizontal lines that indicate a menu exists somewhere off screen. It’s much more prevalent on a small screen (e.g., mobile phone). I won’t comment too heavily on this particular icon because my feelings are pretty neutral. However, I think in the future UX designers and information architects will rely less on this junk drawer solution to bulky menus and instead design sites with simpler site maps or a more intuitive, scrollable navigation.

scrolling

Scrolling

Speaking of scrollable, scrolling is now the norm. As long as you’ve got some orienting information “above the fold,” the average user knows where to get the rest of the info…by scrolling! What a relief for people who love content.

clean

Cleanliness

Digital experiences are also getting a lot simpler. Not in terms of content, but ornamentation. There are certain agreed-upon experiences that your visitor has already been trained to expect through their use of other websites and apps. If you follow those rules, there’s no need to tell them what to do. Windows has their gesture guidelines. They’re nearly the same as Android, iOS, and pretty much any other platform. That means you don’t need to TELL users what to do. Which also means you don’t need to have as many arrows or text indicators or beveled buttons. Enjoy the peace and quiet of a clean, uncluttered page. If you need some tips on how to simplify even more, check out this article on how to use transitions to orient users without visual clutter. The great part about all of this? White space increases comprehension. So in a visual clutter vacuum, your message has a much greater likelihood of breaking through.

responsive

Responsiveness

This is not really a 2014 trend but a constant, unstoppable movement. If you’re building a site that isn’t mobile-friendly, stop now. If you’re not creating any sites from a mobile-first standpoint, you might want to start. Accommodating various screen sizes is no longer optional, but we’re now considering mobile devices as the first experience and then building from there to the desktop version. If it seems upside down to you, consider a headstand. If you’re delivering a richer mobile experience, you’re on the right track.

Talking about the past is fun, but the future is much more exciting. Here’s where a few thought leaders think the future is headed in 2015 and beyond: large-scale gestures, tiny humanizing details, specialized devices or the dystopian future of the internet apocalypse.