It’s a new year. You know what that means.
That’s right. It’s time for new predictions about the technology and trends that will command our attention in 2019.
As we polled our internal teams at The C2 Group for their web and digital trends to watch for, we asked them to pay particularly close attention to the problems and solutions they encounter on a day-to-day basis.
As the results came pouring in, a couple obvious themes began to emerge:
- Voice: Interaction and communication with non-humans through conversational UI/interfaces will only continue to grow, bringing with it new concerns for marketers around how they plan to anticipate voice, SEO, and monitor performance.
- Mobile: As mobile use continues to outpace desktop, teams are continuing to seek new ways to deliver great mobile experiences in a non-native format.
- Development: Great customer experiences rely on the interoperability of different best-of-breed tools. The rise of front-end frameworks are helping teams integrate adjacent technologies while expediting development.
- Design: Similarly, modular design principles are being leveraged to cut design and development time and increase speed to market.
- Adoption and Technical Debt: Teams will need to take more ownership in the tools they own. According to a C2 survey, less than 50 percent of organizations report mature use of existing platforms. As feature overlap/redundancy in business platforms continues to rise, teams may see opportunity to consolidate or simplify their tech. ecosystems to help drive adoption. This may assist in reducing technical debt an organization may incur.
Without further ado, here are the web and digital trends we expect will pique teams’ interest as they continue to deliver outstanding customer experiences, drive new efficiencies, and enter new business models:
Voice and Conversational Interfaces
Connected devices, like Amazon Echo and Google Home, continue to spread into more and more households (learning as they go). This is going to represent a significant shift in how consumers browse for information, purchase goods and services, and could certainly factor into a declining smartphone market. These interfaces are driven by “skills” that must be developed, though the complexity and cost to bring those skills to market may be less than what you think. As the user experience for conversational interfaces will only improve, comScore predicts that 50 percent of all internet searches will be voice searches by 2020.
In addition to becoming a new channel for many brands, connected home devices create a whole new challenge in how we plan content. Voice search will enable users to perform longer tail search queries, meaning organizations will need to optimize content to consider new SEO tactics based on this shift. Being on the first page of a Google search won’t be nearly as meaningful with a voice search, as either Google will pull the answer from your site or it won’t. And, consider this: what happens to those site conversions when Google is presenting your information as its own and not driving traffic to your site? Voice represents a new opportunity, and a big challenge, for marketers in 2019.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Gartner predicts that more than 85 percent of customer interactions will happen without a human by 2020. Early adopters are already experimenting and creating pilots that will help make AI real for their organizations.
It’s likely you’ve already experienced or encountered AI in your day-to-day brand interactions. Chatbots, for example, can handle common questions and provide information on a product or service. These solutions are only becoming more diverse. For example, Entelo, a recruitment automation software, leverages AI to help find qualified job candidates who may not have otherwise surfaced. To make AI real for your organization will require a vision. Simply throwing AI against a business problem won’t make it stick within your organization.
Progressive Web Applications (PWAs)
We mentioned the promise of PWAs a year ago, and with the technology becoming fully supported by iOS in mid-2018, we have reason to believe interest will only increase. PWAs are applications or webpages that provide a similar look and feel to that of a native mobile application. As mobile users continue to outpace desktop, brands are tasked with delivering great mobile experiences while combatting “app fatigue.”
AliExpress’s PWA resembles one of a native application but offers offline functionality, greater personalization, and quicker load times (Source: Google Developers).
Take retail giant AliExpress as an example. The brand had attempted to use its mobile site to convert non-app into app users. When the idea didn’t work, AliExpress leveraged PWAs to provide an app-like mobile experience from the browser. The commerce brand saw amazing results, with conversion rates for new users increasing by 104 percent . PWAs will be strongly admired by commerce brands because of the advantages they offer for low/no connectivity, quick load times, automatic updates, and personalization capabilities.
The ability to share and send data between systems is driving today’s front-end user experience. While REST represents a traditional approach to creating web services (and still offers great flexibility and scalability), GraphQL presents a new way to think about APIs. GraphQL allows teams to call out a single endpoint for fetching the exact data in need. Where REST is more of a burden in terms of latency and load times, and as teams move further away from client-side servers, GraphQL is expected to gain more traction as a means of retrieving and accessing data.
An interpretation of fetching data with multiple REST trips vs. one GraphQL request (Source: Apollo GraphQL)
The idea of headless CMS isn’t necessarily new, it’s the maturity of headless CMS products that has caught our attention. Headless in this context effectively means chopping the front-end (“head”) from the rest of the solution. As largely a back-end content repository that leverages an API-first approach, a headless CMS provides new opportunities to create and present content across multiple channels. The rub lies with some of the more “traditional” content management features, such as content previewing and workflow and asset management, but headless CMS products have continued to mature to the point where many of these functions have now become standard. Content is a great differentiator for your brand and should be treated as a service that supports the channels most important to your business. To this end, headless CMS products deliver.Visual interpretation of Traditional and Headless CMS API. (Source: Episerver)
Adoption and Technical Debt
In C2’s report, Assessing Digital Maturity, less than 50 percent of IT and marketing employees said their organizations enjoy mature use of business systems and platforms. This reiterates an observation from Episerver Chief of Staff James Norwood, whose company’s own research indicates that businesses are only using 20–30 percent of the software tools they’ve acquired. As great digital experiences require the participation of adjacent tools and technologies, this further blurs the line from where one solution starts and where another ends. The introduction of redundant or overlapping features, or loosely coupled systems, and hastily developed solutions can further compound adoption issues (we call this “technical debt”).
While new features and requirements get much of the attention when talking about technology, it’s successful and enthusiastic adoption of the solution that makes value real for an organization. We expect to see teams double down on what they own, focusing on core capabilities and removing excess, waste, and overlap to simplify their tech. ecosystems.
The future of outsourcing support is set to dramatically increase, with a reported 70 percent of organizations planning to increase their use of outsourcing in the next five years. With demands for more from digital teams, we intend to see more businesses augmenting teams with outsourced support to fill in missing talent gaps — most commonly across UX/UI design, digital strategy, data analysis and QA testing, and web and mobile development.
Becoming increasingly popular for their flexibility in costs and breadth of support packages, ongoing retainer contracts with digital partners give teams expertise and resources to digital needs like web development, UX design, analytics, CMS, cloud and DevOps, and project management. While in-house teams will continue to drive day-to-day business, we expect to see businesses continue to move towards business models that increasingly leverage outsourced digital support.
As digital transformation initiatives serve to make digital teams more agile and responsive, design systems promise to not only increase design efficiency, but decrease long-term development scope as well. Design systems are a series of components that can be reused in different combinations. Design systems allow you to manage design at scale. With examples of design systems like Material from Google and Lightning from Salesforce, more businesses are beginning to understand the benefits of working at scale, and increasing consistency and efficiency with a design system.
Think of a design system almost as a Lego set for designers and developers. For example, from one set of Legos, you could build a car, a plane, and a boat — without needing or building a new set of Legos. This is a great option for scaling design and development, and has been an effective approach for multi-brands seeking to unify brand teams on a common solution. This still affords brand teams the control they crave over look and feel, promotes a cohesive experience across corporate properties, and cuts time to market from years to months, and in some cases, weeks.
“Thumbs” Up for Mobile
To ensure a design that isn’t awkward or “all thumbs” for your users, consider these statistics: 49 percent of mobile users use only one hand, and 75 percent of mobile interactions are thumb-driven. As mobile screen sizes increase, designers are moving away from traditional dropdown mobile menus for sticky or bottom sheet menus. Bottom-positioned menus stay within the “thumb zone” and can offer both vertical and horizontal orientation to scroll for additional content. Forget “above the fold”, at least for mobile, and keep information within thumb’s reach.
Thumb-zone mapping for left- and right-handed users. The “combined” zone shows the best possible placement areas for users using both thumbs. (Source: Smashing Magazine)
Emulating Depth in Design
One trend you’ll see in 2019 is a shift toward adding depth to interfaces. Apple popularized flat design, which gives page or UI elements the appearance of laying on a single surface. Flat design placed more emphasis on message than the nuance of a particular design. While still stylish in terms of resolution, flat design is difficult and can cause usability issues if not implemented well. One well known example of this shift toward depth is Google’s Material design system. As users often get confused from the excessive flatness of objects, Material design introduced depth with a set of well-defined guidelines and principles.
Shadows help depict functionality through shadows to show depth and dimension. (Source: Infinity Marketing)
In a flat design, clickable elements can be confused with non-clickable objects and text. Material design incorporates shadow to provide depth and give users the intuitive notion that an element can be interacted with. With usability and user experience a chief concern for digital teams, adding depth to digital interfaces promises to offer easier and more intuitive user interactions.
If you have questions, or want to learn how to make these predictions a reality for your business, we’d love to hear from you. Drop us a line here, and let us know what you hope to accomplish in 2019.