UX design trends are rubbish (but they’re useful rubbish)

Recycling design

Dandelion lights made from plastic bottles (photo credit: chooyutshing via Visual Hunt)

Have you ever seen those viral posts, where some genius has turned plastic bottles (gathered from trash) into ornate lights?

Or old magazines into a vase? Or banana peels into a bicycle?

OK, I made that last one up. The point is people gather numerous amounts of an item with little inherent value, frame them using a certain artistry and, as a result, create something incredibly valuable.

The same is true about design trends—on their own, they’re basically useless. Simply gathering loads of them does you no good either. But apply some artistry and you’ll have something invaluable.

I’m writing this because we create our fair share of articles about expert opinions and trends (and we plan to continue doing so).

Although we know why we do this, we’ve never (until now) told everybody else.

The mistake is to think of any article about trends as representing some kind of master plan—“Follow all these trends and you’ll be sure to succeed!”

That’s more like a surefire recipe for failure.

At WhatUsersDo, the artistry we use to frame UI and UX trends lies in the expert opinions. We sift concepts through several layers of experienced, critical minds.

The invaluable “something” we get at the end is a snapshot of the industry, at a high level. An individual opinion isn’t definitive but we can analyse the entire qualitative data set to uncover patterns within it.

And, as explained in our latest expert opinions series on UI design trends, the revelation of patterns can enhance problem-solving and experimentation.

Here are some other reasons why I think articles about trends are a good thing, when mindfully consumed.

1.) They’re diagnostic, not therapeutic

Much like when you visit a doctor, there are activities which help reveal the current state of affairs (diagnostic) and activities which help improve them (therapeutic).

Both are important.

If you don’t know what the reigning conventions are, how can you confidently navigate your way beyond them?

 Articles about trends can be useful, when you take them as one of several diagnostic activities. They give insight into how UX pros are currently thinking and acting.

Whether or not you should follow their lead is an entirely different question—one that should be answered through research and experimentation. More on that below.

UX design trends patterns2.) They’re a rich source of informed hypotheses

Let’s say I’m new to designing for a particular type of experience—VR, conversational interfaces or anything else.

I have no baseline and can either stare wide-eyed as I learn from cock-up after cock-up… Or I can build on the knowledge of those more experienced than I am.

Expert opinions about trends are an aggregate of perspectives which are based on years (sometimes, decades) of experience.

Let’s say an expert suggests the rise in web apps should be embraced because it’ll make life easier for technophobic user segments, who find app marketplaces daunting.

This is an informed hypothesis which can be tested.

This example is obvious but the point remains—that a newbie may not be able to draw connections that experienced pros can.

3.) It’s not just about the opinions—it’s about where those opinions lead

We rate highly every person we ask for an opinion, but we don’t believe any expert can predict the future.

Much like with the Rorschach inkblot test, it’s not really about whether what the expert (fore)sees is “accurate”.

It’s about how these opinions reveal thoughts and habits within our industry—and (crucially) how those revelations lead to new discussions.

For example, our latest expert opinions article reveals that new terms are being used to describe elements of language-based interfaces. Sometimes, different jargon is used to describe the same concept.

I think this will lead to (vital) discussions about jargon in UX… and whether much of it is necessary or helpful.

So, there you have it—my two cents on why design trends are useful rubbish. Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter (@timi_olotu).

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Timi is a London-based copywriter and full-time marketing sceptic – there are now more unvalidated opinions out there than ever.

He became a UX testing enthusiast after seeing its power while working at TUI – the world’s largest travel, leisure and tourism company. He then joined WhatUsersDo to sharpen his UX knowledge and work side-by-side with the field’s best and brightest.

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