Design industry in 2017

With the new year starting, let’s talk about all things design. 2016 was a great year for the design industry. A lot has happened. There are more awesome design tools than ever before, there is a greater need for better-designed products out there and designers are finally getting their respected place at the table. It’s a very interesting time to be part of this fast paced industry.

Let’s talk about what we can expect from 2017 from designer’s point of view.

What we’ll see more of

There are a few terms that were an absolute hit in the design space in this past year like conversational UI or Chatbots, AI Design and Machine learning, Design for VR and Augmented Reality, Prototyping, Design collaboration, etc. These are just some of the hit terms, that won’t go anywhere in 2017, if anything we’ll just see more of them.

Conversational interfaces or chatbots

Chatbots were all over the internet the past year. And they are here to stay (in one form or another). And there’s a reason for that.

Example for a Chatbot

Example of a chatbot. Source – Dribbble account of Valentin Salmon

Conversational interfaces are becoming more and more popular because of their intuitivity and close relation to a real human communication. The main goal in designing interfaces has always been to come closer to a real conversation with the user as possible, to make it dead simple and fast to use the products. Everything in design is a conversation between the product and the user. Today’s chatbots are one more step closer to that.

I think there’s still a lot to improve and figure out in that space, but definitely, we’re going to see a lot more from these conversational interfaces this year as more and more big players adapt this concept and start designing and developing their own versions of chatbots.

I think that we’re going to see more people doing everything through conversations and mini-apps that run within those conversations – from communicating with friends to shopping, finding information, booking travels, gaming, sharing moments etc. Think of WeChat in China or the latest updates of Facebook’s Messenger.

AI Design, Machine Learning and Automation

2016 was a big year for AI (artificial intelligence) also. We’ve seen a lot of progress done in that space and the need to design interfaces that will define the way we apply AI in the everyday use is greater than ever. We’re going to see more push of this kind of technologies in the design industry.

Maybe not this year, but evidently in the coming years a lot of the tasks that designers do on a daily basis will be done automatically – which is a good thing. Automation can improve our workflow as well as our tools. The tools of the trade today are great, but still in some aspects very primitive. There’s a room for improvement in the way we do design in general. There is still too much routine. We need to automate and simplify our work processes even more.

I think there are three key points where automation and machine learning can help even more:

  • constructing a UI
  • preparing assets and content
  • personalizing the UX

Design for VR and Augmented Reality

VR (virtual reality) is an interesting space to design for because it’s this overlap of technology, visual design, and interface design. Now would be a perfect time to brush up your 3D skills if you have any, if not, start learning. With the rise of VR devices and Augmented Reality technologies in this past years, 3D is becoming more of a necessity in your bag of skills.

Example of a VR interface

VR interface testing. Source – Dribbble account of Alex Deruette

For us, designers, this is a very interesting time to be in. As VR is emerging as a new medium with an enormous potential we have the chance to build the foundations of the interface, experience and interaction design specific for this medium.

Tools and more tools

If you are a designer, I have no doubt that you know your fair share of design tools that are at your disposal today. It is safe to say that there are tools for you to do almost anything you can imagine today.

The problem with this is there’s no seamless way to create a full web or digital experience for today’s mediums using only one software in an easy and intuitive way.

Let’s make a summary of different tools that designers used in the past year and tools I think will continue to thrive in the market in 2017.

  1. Tools for presentation / portfolio platforms / inspiration: Dribbble, Behance, Muzli
  2. Tools for visual design: Photoshop, Illustrator, Sketch, Figma, Adobe XD
  3. Tools for prototyping: Craft (by InVision), InVision, Marvel, Principle, Flinto, Framer, Proto.io, Axure, Adobe XD, Origami Studio, Webflow, Stage (by Google, launching in 2017)
  4. Tools for version control / workflow: Github (learn how to use Git as a designer), Lingo, Gallery (by Google, launching in 2017)
  5. Tools for preparing assets / handoff: Zeplin, Avocode, Inspect (by InVision), Craft (by InVision)

As you can see in this list there are a lot of different tools at your disposal. And these are only the more popular ones.

2017 will be a big year for prototyping software. Even though design tools are moving closer to code (now more than ever), the rise of this many different prototyping tools proves that we’re still far from enabling designers to bring their work closer to the developers. And the fact that none of these prototyping tools stood out as a clear “winner” and each offering something different then the next one means that we can expect a lot more from these tools in 2017.

But even with the rise of all these prototyping tools, we can see a clear pattern that we are actually getting closer to code with our tools. Look at Sketch for example, and Adobe betting big with their latest Adobe XD software. You’ll definitely want to keep an eye on what Adobe XD will offer for designers used working in the Creative Cloud apps. In times when Sketch has chosen not to add native prototyping capabilities into the app and instead relies on 3rd party tools to meet this user needs (plugins), Adobe is offering both, visual design + prototyping (interaction), into their XD software. It will be very interesting to see in what direction these two will go in 2017.

Visual trends or styles

Even if you’re not one to follow trends, as a designer it’s good to be aware of the changes going on in the design industry. So, knowing some of the trends from the last year can help you make better choices in your future work.

Minimalistic Design – This is nothing new, but in 2017 minimal layouts and complexity reduction is going to continue being extremely popular. To effectively use a minimalistic approach in your designs you should focus more on the user’s content rather than the UI.

Minimalistic design of an interface

Minimalistic design. Source – Dribbble account of Ben Mingo

Microinteractions – “Great products do two things well: features and details. Features are what draw people to the product, and details are what keep them there.” Microinteractions are those details. We use microinteractions every day in all products. When we mute our phone, turn off the alarm clock, rate a product, play music, like something on facebook, etc.

Example of microinteractions.

Example of microinteractions. Source – Dribbble account of Jakub Antalík

Microinteractions are product features (moments) that do one small task. According to Dan Saffer’s book “Microinteractions”, these moments serve several essential functions:

  • Accomplish an individual task
  • Communicate status and provide feedback to the user on their actions
  • Prevent human error
  • Enhance the sense of direct manipulation
  • Help users visualize the results of their actions

Video everywhere – the video is going to be even more popular in 2017. All of the big social media platforms are betting all on video. And the reason is simple – video is an effective way to transfer your message and a great medium for visual storytelling. Whether it’s going to be a filmed video or animation, 2017 will be full of branded videos trying to convey a message across a wider audience or trying to tell their story.

Example of video in web design.

Example of video in web design. Source – Dribbble account of Robbin Cenijn

Custom illustrations – A new trend that is more evidently that’s going to stay in 2017 is the use of custom illustrations to visually explain complex ideas, features, and products. More and more often I lay my eyes on new landing pages with custom tailored illustrations explaining the features of their products. And it works like magic. It simplifies the complex processes and help us visually understand what the products are all about. At the same time, they help in establishing a visual connection between the user and your brand. Illustrations also give designers the opportunity to create more effective animations to enhance the message.

Example of custom illustrations.

Example of custom illustrations. Source – Dribbble account of Mackenzie Child

Conclusion

As you know, trends come and go, while others stay the test of time and become fundamentals. It will be a very interesting year to see where the whole design industry will go from this point with this many challenges and opportunities for improvement.

One thing is for sure, we’ll be here to keep you in touch with everything new and shiny in the design world.