Hands up who wants to see the back of 2020 – yep, that’s everyone. To say it’s been a difficult year is an understatement, but the work we do in experience design has continued onwards and upwards. Here are 10 trends we’re expecting to see more of in 2021 and we can’t wait to explore. Happy holidays to you all – and roll on a new and better year!

Finding the right words 

In digital experiences words matter like never before. Every micro interaction builds a brand, and it’s not just the primary pages of a website or app that are crucial in engaging your audience. Think about moments of high emotion, like struggling to fill out a form or having an urgent question. The right words will leave a lasting impression, so where once the job of providing this copy might be left to a web developer or back office staff, 2021 is the year to do it properly. The best UX copy is the result of a team effort, with copywriters, UX designers, business analysts and clients working closely together so that even the tiniest piece of microcopy is helpful, human and a satisfying interaction with the brand. 

Virtually necessary events

2020 was shocking for the events industry, with large-scale in-person events from concerts to conferences cancelled across the world, but many organisations acted quickly to shift at least some events online. In 2021 the events industry can build on what they’ve learned, using VR and AR to create more immersive experiences and allowing people to feel like they’re ‘in the room’, whether watching a band or joining a corporate meeting. The last 12 months have proved that there’s a future for these technologies that goes way beyond gameplay or interactions with branded content. We may see completely new products and services, with UX designers getting the chance to turn their hand to VR experiences and AR interfaces. 

Don’t be afraid of the dark

Facebook, Google, and Instagram now have dark modes and where they lead, everyone else follows. Black or near-black not only creates an impression of sleek, stylish luxury and mystery, it also substantially saves battery power on more recent Apple and Android smartphones and some laptops with OLED screens. It’s also thought to reduce eye fatigue. BUT as every copywriter knows, large chunks of light-on-dark text are harder to read and in fact more likely to increase eye strain. So, while we’ll see the rise and rise of dark mode in 2021, consumers will always need the choice, and white backgrounds will continue to be popular for websites and apps where there’s a lot of text to get through. 

Goodbye passwords, we won’t miss you

Passwords are a daily bugbear for most of us. You need different passwords for all your hundreds of accounts, but how on earth are you supposed to remember them unless you have a ‘system’ that any low-level digital crook could crack? A future without passwords will be a beautiful thing and the latest UI trends are moving towards this already, with social media sign-in a popular option and biometric authentication such as iris scans, facial authentication and fingerprints on the increase. 2021 we’re likely to see more security measures that don’t require passwords, together with the possibility that you’ll never have to abandon a shopping cart again because you can’t remember HelloMeRs4Y6xgVVV!!

AI powers hyper-personalisation

Today’s customers expect experiences to be tailored to them. In 2021 and beyond we’ll see more and more focus on the kind of hyper-personalisation that AI and machine learning can provide. Sometimes personalisation isn’t immediately obvious to users but it’s a fundamental part of their experience, ensuring that a digital experience speaks to their needs and desires, able to predict what they might be looking for before they even know it themselves. This saves users time and reduces their mental load. In the past, customers could be wary about giving away their data, but today’s digital natives are happy to do so provided that the rewards of doing so are clear.

A gesture towards the future

Air Gesture Control is another hot trend for 2021, already in place on Samsung, Google and LG smartphones. But is it ‘a solution in search of a problem’ as some claim? And do you really want to wave your hands around while you’re walking down the street or in the supermarket? Perhaps in the next 12 months air gesture control will start to find its way, whether on smartphones – unlikely we think – or on laptops and PCs. Instinctively it feels like something that might be more useful in the workplace, for instance for 3D designers, engineers or architects interacting with technology, than when you’re fiddling with your smartphone on the bus. 

Time to get real with 3D and more

Rapid advances in technology and processing power means that it’s now possible to create hyper-realistic 3D visuals that are bigger and more detailed than ever before, building engagement and increasing user dwell time. Expect to see plenty of these in 2021, with colours so highly saturated and finely shaded that they are more 3D than ever before. Floating visuals, shadows and realistic textures like paper, wood, paint and stone are more elements that designers can use to create experiences that are subtle, nuanced and easy on the eye. Despite the ever-increasing capabilities of smartphones and laptops care is still needed to make sure content-heavy experiences don’t suffer from loading or lagging issues. 

Made by hand

Given that 2020 has left many of us yearning for human contact, perhaps it’s not surprising that we’ve become so enamoured of imperfect hand-drawn illustrations, graphics, logos and icons. It’s another way to differentiate a brand, a personal touch that reminds users of the people behind the product or service. It’s also time-consuming, the product of many hours of work, whereas slick, sleek computer-generated details can be created in minutes. With so many of us working from home and leaving the formal corporate world behind, 2021 is the perfect year for quirky hand-crafted elements to come into their own. 

Neu-neumorphism – maybe

Flat design is minimal and 2D. Skeuomorphic design mimics the real world. Material design uses cues from the real world, adding shadows to make things seem more real. So, what is neumorphism? It’s a narrowly defined design language that adds more real-world elements like highlights and other lighting effects to create a solid but soft and pleasing impression. But in its current form it’s not practical in the real world because its limited colour contrast creates problems for buttons and fails on accessibility. In its current incarnation, neumorphism isn’t viable, but it’s just possible that some bright spark will evolve it into something that is not only satisfying to look at but works for everyone.  

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: voice commands

It’s the trend that slowly rumbles on, with a predicted 50% of searches made without a screen or keyboard in 2021. Yes, voice user interfaces are on the rise but perhaps not taking over quite as quickly as some people thought. Still, virtual assistants and voice-based chatbots, powered by the capabilities of AI and machine learning, are likely to become more and more common – and perhaps with lots of us still working at home, we’ll hit the predicted numbers for voice search, as your colleagues won’t hear you asking important questions like ‘Siri, why does my cat like sitting in boxes?’