Product Design

SXSW 2016: Five Trends You Need to Know About

Additional Contributors__Peter Centofante, Matthew Hewes, David Murray, Jeremy Stern

1. Bots, Digital Assistants & Conversational User Interfaces In addition to the popularity of voice-controlled digital assistant personalities like Siri, Alexa, and Cortana, there is a significant shift towards interfacing via text with intelligent chatbots. Apps like Lark and Quartz deliver wellness and news content via a conversation with a friendly, knowledgeable, and fun “personality.” Slack (a popular work chat platform that we use here at WillowTree) allows bot integrations to perform basic tasks such as submitting a support ticket or updating timesheets. Bots are big business: Slack is investing $80m in bot technology to make day-to-day tasks easier, and Facebook is set to release its heavily touted messenger platform with opportunities for brands to have their own bots. They are also becoming more human. 25% of users have said “I love you” to the advanced Xiaoice chatbot in China. When polled if the Lark health and fitness bot was a person, people hesitated before saying no, but consistently assign it a pronoun of “she.” Increasingly, we are approaching a future similar to the one in the movie “Her” where interaction with digital assistants throughout the day via voice or chat is the norm.

What does this mean for my app?

Consider how to make the simple day-to-day tasks accessible by bots on other platforms, and offering significant deeper value inside your app.

2. Virtual Reality Virtual reality was all over Austin this year. The VR/AR track offered panels on the use of VR in everything from tourism and advertising to news and entertainment. But even if you never stopped by one of those panels, VR was everywhere being used in ways both intriguing and perplexing. At the “Las Vegas VR Bar” you could don a Google Cardboard to zip-line through a hotel or tour the Strip, while at the NYTimes VR Lounge you could watch some of their great new Cardboard-enabled reporting. At the same time, you could head to the McDonalds Loft to paint the inside of a 3D Happy Meal, or to the SAP booth to enter a 3D board room and watch bar charts zoom around. Basically, while there’s a lot of interest in exploring VR technologies, not everyone has figured out a worthwhile use case just yet.

What does this mean for my app? Don’t add VR for novelty’s sake. The market is about to be saturated with pointless VR experiences. However, this means Google Cardboard and similar technologies are getting easier and easier for consumers to obtain. If you have an interesting idea for quality 3D content, now is a great time to get started.

3. Everything On-Demand Companies like Uber, Lyft, Luxe, Favor, and other on-demand services have drastically changed their industries to be more convenient for users and quickly gaining market share from previous alternatives like taxis. This shift in service structure has quickly spawned a slew of new companies vying for a spot on a user’s phone in order to revolutionize their own industry. At SXSW, McDonald’s, Groupon, and Luxe held a joint panel, discussing on-demand in general and alluding to the future of the service industry. On-Demand ≠ Delivery. On-Demand can mean information, virtual service, and more… giving people a choice for service how they want it and when they want it. People don’t want to plan around local services…they want it when they want it. The future of this industry is all about planning, usability, and making it easier for a user to launch your app and receive a service instead of taking the time to do something themselves.

What does this mean for my app? Even if you’re not in the on-demand service industry, you can take cues from how these services do business and implement it on mobile. For example, Uber hit the market with an extremely simple, utility-based app and it worked for them. You may have a huge laundry list of features, but sometimes taking what you do best and simplifying it so the user isn’t overwhelmed with options is best and pays off in the long run. The rest of that laundry list can be implemented over time as you grow a user base.

4. Data-Driven Design We’re all about analytics and data-driven decision-making here at WillowTree, and it was nice to see that others are on the same page. From a group of mayors discussing how focusing on data transformed their cities to a panel on how big data impacts music festivals, it’s clear that a solid understanding of your users is key to creating a successful product (or municipality).

What does this mean for my app? Don’t make analytics an afterthought. A solid analytics strategy should be an important part of the start of any app project. Already have an app out in stores? Netflix gave a great overview on the value of A/B testing your designs which paired well with the deeper dive of Dan Chuparkoff’s talk Everything You Think About A/B Testing is Wrong (yes even you, Netflix.) A/B and Multivariate testing are key for continuing to improve your user experience, and we can help you take the time to design meaningful and actionable tests.

5. Animation 2016 is the year animation design comes of age in mobile and it was a hot topic at SXSW. Many apps have incorporated animations and transitions into the experience over the past few years, but now is the time to get more serious about their purpose. Gone are the days of designing each screen, then sprinkling animations on top during development. Animation should be considered a core part of the communication design – not just the icing on the top. With this new focus on animations, motion design is making its way into major brand style guides. When sitting down to design flows within your app experience, think of ways you can simplify the interaction with animations instead of complicated, linear steps. What are the areas to focus on when incorporating motion into your app designs?

  • Feedback Subtle animations for feedback on interactions (Think iOS lock screen shake when fingerprint authentication fails.)
  • Orientation Animations to help the user have a better sense of where they are, and how to get back to where they came from. (Think iOS calendar context zooming.)
  • Information Helps explain complex topics. (Think story-telling style onboarding.)
  • Brand Animations that align with the brand. (Sharp & crisp vs. whimsical.)

What does this mean for my app? If you want the polished user experience of today’s most successful apps, you can no longer think of animation design as an add-on to the budget. It should just be considered a key component of the communication design. Plan for both design and development of motion design in your schedules and budget.

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