A 20/20 Look at High-Level 2019 Digital Trends
The technological world is a fast-changing one. And while I’m certainly not going to delve into the nuts-and-bolts of development here, at a high level there were a few key trends that organizations from all fields have embraced with greater gusto -- leading to more innovative and complicated digital solutions.
From virtual assistants like Google Nest, Amazon’s Alexa, or Apple’s Siri -- to a proliferation of chat bots designed to triage business engagement (like the pop-up window you’re seeing on our blog right… about… now…) AI technology is getting closer to replicating the human experience.
In some cases, users can be convinced they’re actually interacting with a human when the logic and language are intuitively focused. But that requires an investment in technology, time, and -- most importantly -- user experience research.
The Embrace of UX Research
For years, businesses have felt comfortable acting as the proxy for their customers. “We know what our customers want,” is an all-too-often expressed refrain. However, with a growing understanding of user experience comes a realization that the UX may not align with customer needs. Businesses are embracing the idea of not only reaching out to their clientele to understand how they want things to work, but also validating those assumptions after the fact to make sure their interfaces make sense in practice.
That said, research is only as good as the data from whence it was derived. If you compromise the user pool with people who are too internally focused, then you’re going to miss the valuable insights from a more naive user pool. Ultimately, what you’ll get is a result that’s tainted by confirmation bias of what already exists, as opposed to understanding what’s really needed.
Often solutions that we think look or sound good actually get in the way of what the user needs. Sometimes businesses can get too clever, thinking that what their customer wants is something that’s wildly dynamic and unique -- when, really, all they want is to get what they need, as quickly as possible, so that they can move on to the next thing on their ever-full to-do list.
UX Research isn’t exclusionary, though. Often we run into challenges with departments that feel their content is more important than what the end user actually values -- and UX research can show how we can use that information to complement efforts that align with the users’ primary goal, which ends up making all parties happy.
The Value of Security
One of my favourite comments is when people say, usually online, “that website cost how much? My neighbour could do that for $100 and a case of beer.”
No, your neighbour can’t. And if that’s your level of expectation, then you’re going to get what you pay for.
Today’s web experiences are incredibly complex, integrate multiple systems, and need to meet strict security and accessibility codes. And even the best laid plans can go awry. This year we saw ransomware attacks on municipalities like Stratford, Midland, Wasaga Beach, and Toronto.
Your system is only as strong as its weakest link and hiring professionals who can build and test secure systems is an investment worth making. Obviously, certain security risks can’t be mitigated through development -- say, leaving your laptop unlocked and exposed -- but a reputable company will be able to provide proof of what is secure, outline potential remaining risks, and provide you with ongoing support and confidence that your solution will be as secure as possible.
Web as a Tool
I’ve been saying this for years, but a website really is just ONE tool in a much larger toolbox. And, in 2019, partly because of the increased embrace of UX research, there’s been a greater appreciation that a website is not the be-all-and-end-all of your promotional experience.
Websites are tools that have to be focused on particular tasks to be effective. We’ve seen what happens when organizations believe that everyone comes to a website for all their content in the same way -- you get cluttered information architecture, you get zero focus, and, ultimately, you get a negative experience for your users.
A website is just part of your promotional repertoire and should be used in a targetted way, alongside traditional media, social media, email, advertising, CRM, and face-to-face communications. The messaging and approach for various audiences differs and that should be reflected in your web presence.
I’d say upwards of 80 per cent of the time, your website should be marketing-focused and acquisition-directed. This is especially true on a homepage. Your other audiences can be supported in different ways or deeper in the IA, understanding that people interact with your content through search or bookmarks.
Unfortunately, we still see that residual early-2000s-era mentality that “if it’s not on the homepage, people won’t find it.” That’s a barrier that exists, and hopefully in 2020 we’ll be able to move beyond that more easily.
What the Future Holds
Customized experiences are at the vanguard of web development. But this extends beyond a smart IA or the development of an effective AI… it also includes ensuring that your content can be tailored to meet an ever-growing field of delivery mechanisms.
People are accessing your content through long-tail search, on mobile devices, from their couch with a hearty “Hey Alexa,” or “Hey Google,” and with an array of adaptive technologies.
After all, 2021 is just around the corner, and those of us in Ontario know that’s the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act deadline -- but I’ll have more on that later this week.
On behalf of my family -- and the entire team here at Digital Echidna -- I hope you enjoy a happy New Year, and I wish you all the best for a healthy and prosperous 2020.
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