With the year 2020 upon us, there’s never been a more exciting time to work in UX. Every new technological advancement has the potential to transform the way people experience the world around them, which in turn creates some major challenges and opportunities for today’s UX designers. So what is the industry outlook for 2020? Here are five major UX trends to keep an eye on. 

1. Inclusive Design

Inclusive design has been a hot topic in the industry for some years now, so how is it that it still finds itself on a 2020 trends list? By now, most designers know what inclusive design is and why it’s so important—and most companies know that inclusivity and accessibility should be at the core of their products and services. Despite this, many designers and companies are still figuring out how to make inclusive design a reality. In fact, inclusive design still tends to be seen as a separate niche; another element for designers to consider, quite detached from the design process itself. 

In 2020 and beyond, however, the focus will start to shift from inclusive design as an abstract value to inclusive design as an actual process. Rather than reviewing and tweaking existing products for inclusivity, the best designers are building it into their products from day one. We’re hearing more and more talk of inclusive user research, inclusive user testing, and even inclusive design thinking, as advocated by Microsoft. Inclusivity is gradually becoming embedded into the UX design process, signaling a crucial shift from mere box-ticking to actually designing for all users by default. We hope that, in years to come, inclusive design won’t even be a thing—that it will simply be synonymous with good design, as intrinsic to the process as wireframing and prototyping. If the trend towards inclusive design processes continues, we’ll certainly be heading in the right direction. 

2. Motion Sense Technology

Back in October, Google released the Pixel 4 smartphone complete with Motion Sense technology. While the product launch itself might be old news, the technology poses some big questions for the world of UX. How could motion sensing technology transform the way people interact with brands, products, and services—and what does this mean for user experience design? Are we on the cusp of some kind of interaction revolution?

Google’s Motion Sense technology has been five years in the making. Thanks to Soli, a miniature motion-sensing radar that detects when the user is nearby and can recognize certain gestures, owners of the Pixel 4 can skip songs, snooze alarms, and silence phone calls with a simple wave of the hand. Google promises that these capabilities are just the beginning, and that Motion Sense will continue to evolve.

If that’s the case, the UX industry could be in for a major shake-up. Just as voice technology continues to revolutionize the way we interact with our devices, motion sensing technology will compel designers to rethink the user experience. For a start, designers will need to get to grips with users’ mental models in relation to gesture-based interactions. Ultimately, this may require new and innovative approaches to things like user research and testing. At the same time, any new technology raises concerns about privacy and security; while creating effortless gesture-based user experiences, designers will also need to ensure that sufficient security measures are in place.

It’s still early days for motion sense technology, and whether or not it will truly take off remains to be seen. What is clear is that technology is advancing rapidly, and UX designers must be ready to adapt. 

Two people looking at mobile app layouts that are cutout on paper.

3. The Rise of Product Ops

You’ve heard of DevOps—a set of practices aimed at improving collaboration between development and IT teams so that they can build and release software faster. 2018 then gave us Design Ops, an approach which seeks to streamline how designers work with developers, writers, and product managers. In 2020, we’ll see yet another take on the “ops” trend: cue the rise of Product Ops. 

So what exactly is Product Ops, and what does it mean for the UX industry? As with all the “ops” that have gone before it, Product Ops means different things to different people. For some, it’s a job title; for others, it’s an entire discipline that requires a dedicated team.

In a recent job ad for a Product Operations Manager, online payment platform Stripe described the role as follows: “In Product Ops, we’re building the connective tissue between product / engineering and user-facing teams around the world—like sales, account management, and user support. Our ultimate goal is to help Stripe deliver more value to more users, faster and more consistently.” 

Facebook, meanwhile, featured this in a recent job ad: “The scope of the Product Operations team is to improve the user experience with our products. The product specialists you would manage collaborate closely on newly released products and features to help project manage the key aspects of the launch. The specialists are also responsible for understanding the quality and user experience for our products globally. In this capacity, your team will partner and integrate closely with Product Managers and Engineering to bring an operational mindset to product development.” 

While it’s difficult to locate a clear-cut definition, Product Ops seems to mediate between the product teams, sales and marketing, business stakeholders, and the end user. With an increasing focus on data-driven business, not to mention the sheer volume of product management tools on the market, Product Ops can help to navigate that tricky space between the users, the product, and the business goals—essentially easing the load for existing product teams. Whether you believe in the power of Product Ops or see it as just another industry buzzword, it does highlight the ever evolving and often confusing nature of the UX job market. Product Ops is just one of many UX design jobs you could be doing in 2020 and beyond; as the UX industry matures, new roles and disciplines will continue to emerge. 

4. The UX Audit

The business value of good design has garnered much attention in recent years. McKinsey has researched and reported on this extensively, finding that companies that apply design best practices report significantly higher revenue growth than their less design-savvy competitors. Findings like these make it impossible for businesses to ignore the need for good UX, and are driving a key trend for 2020: the UX audit. 

UX audits aren’t new per se, but they are in increasing demand. Businesses know that a user-first approach is crucial—whether they’re providing a product, a service, or both—and so they’re turning to the experts—UX designers—to help them level up.

A UX audit evaluates an existing product or service in order to identify design flaws and usability issues. While it’s especially useful for companies who are yet to hire UX professionals, a UX audit can also offer a fresh perspective for those who are perhaps too close to the product to see its flaws. Much like the increasingly popular design thinking workshop, UX audits can be carried out over the course of a few days, culminating in a detailed report complete with actionable recommendations. 

The growing demand for UX audits opens up a relatively new niche that will need to be filled. For designers who are keen to carve out a freelance career, UX audits represent another opportunity to offer UX as a service—something that UX influencer Sarah Doody is already doing. What’s more, as design becomes increasingly data-driven, UX audits will prove crucial in measuring product performance and ensuring continuous optimization

5. Voice Technology 

Ever since the voice design revolution began, the industry has been striving to make voice technology as human as possible. According to Google: “A long-standing goal of human-computer interaction has been to enable people to have a natural conversation with computers, as they would with each other.” 

Woman speaking into the microphone of her mobile device.

As the smart speaker market continues to boom, it seems we’re getting closer to this reality than ever before. In 2018, Google announced Google Duplex, a “new technology for conducting natural conversations to carry out ‘real world’ tasks over the phone.” Curious as to what that sounds like? You can listen to Google Duplex booking a hair salon appointment on Google’s AI blog.

Amazon is also pushing for progress towards more human-like conversations with bots, having recently launched Alexa Prize. As part of this multimillion-dollar university challenge to advance human-computer interaction, selected teams are tasked with creating socialbots that can “converse coherently and engagingly with humans on a range of current events and popular topics.”

For many, these advancements represent an exciting step towards the long sought-after pinnacle of voice technology. For some, however, the increasingly human-like nature of voice assistants raises serious concerns. What if voice assistants become so convincing that we no longer realize it’s a robot we’re talking to? And how do we make sure that the lines between genuine human interactions and smart assistants as tools don’t get blurred? Where do we draw the line? When the voice revolution first started, learning how to become a voice designer was a case of adapting the UX process—for example, creating placeonas in addition to personas. As voice technology grows increasingly lifelike, designers will face a new challenge: navigating user discomfort and finding that sweet spot. 

As you can see, 2020 brings with it some major challenges and opportunities for UX designers. Are you ready to tackle 2020 head-on? Check out these five ways you can upskill as a UX designer. Not yet part of this exciting industry? Here’s how to become a UX designer in 2020.