5 important lessons for user experience design in 2014

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The end of the 2013 offered an opportunity to reflect on the many projects we launched, the many clients we supported, the many successes we cheered and the many failures we endured. Here are a few lessons in user experience design we're taking into the new year.

1. The user is (once again) king.

Sure, content is paramount, but at the end of the day, the most important factor is the human who consumes that content. As marketers, we must have more empathy for our audience than ever before, placing ourselves in their shoes and delivering experiences that play to their needs.

We must never lose sight of the actual delivery of our perfectly crafted content. With ever-increasing competition, tools that allow us to become students of our audience - such as User Personas, Mental Modeling, Ethnographic studies, Use Cases, etc. - are crucial in helping us place the end-user in their rightful position.

2. Context is key.

If the user is truly king then the device that user employs to access the web is his trusty number two.

‘Mobile first' is definitely the mantra of 2014, as it was in 2013. Today, mobile devices constitute nearly a third of all web traffic. We are no longer building single-serving digital marketing programs intended for that large-screen desktop, but need to think through the myriad of devices, browsers, and individual user situations where our campaigns play out.

In order to cut the clutter and deliver strategic and effective campaigns, we must ensure that we account for the many contextual events where our users will interact with our brands, enabling both adaptive and responsive experiences. 

3. Effective UX means telling stories.

Brands have become masters of emotional design using a myriad of tricks and tools - take a look at anything Patagonia does. Aside from offering information and entertainment, the experiences we create must be intuitive, natural, and flow unconsciously. To this end, there is a tremendous amount we can adopt from the practice of game design, such as guiding user behavior and promoting new knowledge exploration, providing a sense of independence and freedom, elevating the message to align with a greater cause, and effectively and compellingly sharing a story. UX is no longer the wrapper of the story, it is the story itself.

4. Incentive as the new market differentiator.

With countless brands clamoring for our attention, the question we as consumers will ask is: “Why should I waste my time with brand X?” As marketers, our response is simple, “because the payout is worth your time.”

In order to create continued and sustained user participation we must acknowledge that users are social beings that respond best to intrinsic rewards – i.e. we must make sure the payout is meaningful, substantial and substantive for everything we build.

As UX practitioners, we are responsible for crafting the experience an individual has with a brand's digital artifact. We are charged with creating a product that promotes participation, evokes a sense of community and engenders a feeling of success or accomplishment, all the while conveying a crucial brand message.

In order to remain relevant, we must push the limits of our efforts to provide users better feedback mechanisms, more compelling calls-to-action, more responsive UIs, and ultimately mechanisms that exceedingly excite, entice and motivate users, lest we simply blend in with the rest of our competition.

5. User experience is everywhere.

Now, more than ever, working as a UX professional means more than crafting navigation schemes, assessing usability needs and drafting wireframes. UX professionals must understand, analyze, model and manipulate human interactions with a brand, with content, with design and most certainly with code. We are devising persuasive experiences to align digital products (websites, apps, etc.) to meet organizational goals, KPIs and stakeholder needs and to effectively engage and entertain an audience.

As a practice, UX will continue to become more ubiquitous in the non-design world as companies and brands begin to envision the art of the possible.

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