Every year new trends emerge in UI/UX design in response to new technologies and capabilities, changes in user behaviors, shifting industry and consumer demands, and the natural evolution of an audience’s tastes and preferences. In 2021, though, design trends have been influenced by another factor: a global health crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The following list of some of the top UX design trends of 2021 features many of the usual suspects that have remained popular in recent years such as personalization, simplification of the user experience, focusing on mobile-first, and VR and AR. But some of the biggest and more prevalent trends come in direct response to a year in which people worked from home, practiced social distancing, and were hypervigilant about surface hygiene. Keep reading to see what trends have already firmly established themselves in 2021 and what UX design experts are betting will soon take off. 

UX Design Trend 1: Working From Home

If 2020 was the year in which companies scrambled to help people work, teach, and learn from home, 2021 is shaping up to be the year when product and UX design will catch up to people’s changing work realities. With working from home during the pandemic largely defined by long Zoom meetings, difficulties with remote collaboration, and the realization that many services that function seamlessly in person quickly fall apart when moved online, there’s been a growing trend in UI/UX design to meet users where they are—out of the office, and in the home.

Many UX professionals anticipate that as more and more companies commit to allowing their employees to permanently work remotely and pandemic practices such as virtual meetings not going anywhere, organizations will prioritize features and design approaches that reduce the current frictions of remote work such as lag times, stronger privacy features, and an easier download and installation process. 

UX Design Trend 2: Touchless Interfaces

Another byproduct of the pandemic, demand for touchless interfaces is on the rise, according to research from Ernst & Young, which found that there’s been an accelerated shift toward sensory interfaces and that every employer/employee/customer touchpoint will likely go in the direction of hands-free, screenless, and ambient intelligent interfaces. 

Some of these technologies are already pervasive—many restaurants have traded physical menus for QR codes and online ordering; touchless infrared thermometers are scanning customer temperatures at restaurants and malls, and more voice-based technologies are being used in hotels and elevators to reduce the amount of surface touching. 

UX Design Trend 3: Remote UX Research

The more people’s work habits have changed during the pandemic, the more user experience research is needed to understand these changes. To make matters more challenging, the pandemic has also meant that many traditional in-person UX research methods are no longer feasible. This has resulted in a rise in remote UX research, which, as the name suggests, involves finding ways to learn about users’ behaviors, attitudes, and motivations without physically being in the same place to interview or observe them. UX teams around the country have embraced remote research methods, which has allowed them to continue gaining user insights even as most industries have been disrupted. 

UX Design Trend 4: Personalization and AI

UX design has long sought to build products and services that appeal to the widest audience possible. In many cases, this is still true. But personalization and the use of artificial intelligence to create the most customized experience possible is a significant trend that we’re seeing everywhere from entertainment (think: Netflix recommendation algorithms) to e-commerce (product recommendations).

Personalization requires several disciplines to work together in order to create a cohesive experience. For example, if every user is getting a slightly different experience based on their needs, UX teams need to ensure consistency, accessibility, and usability between pages, copy, visual elements, and flow.

UX Design Trend 5: Easy Onboarding and Authentication

With so many aspects of our work and social lives shifting online during the pandemic, people started using apps and digital services they previously hadn’t considered. The problem? A laborious onboarding experience and authentication process repeated over multiple apps and services became a huge time waster and source of frustration for users. This is why designers believe that 2021 could be the year of better-designed onboarding, with more streamlined and thoughtful flows, clearer guidance, and a more rewarding user experience. 

UX Design Trend 6: Simplify, Simplify, Simplify

Simplicity has been a steady fixture of annual UI/UX design trends because it works. Many of the most popular apps and services succeed because they do one thing very well and convey their value proposition to users in a clear and accessible way. Uber and Lyft, for example, open a map that allows users to input their pick-up location and immediately book a ride. Yelp opens directly to a search bar. Instagram takes users to a photo feed. The engineering and thought that goes into each of these products are far from simplistic, but the user experience has been simplified so that it’s easy to use and is intuitive as well. 

UX Design Trend 7: Mobile-First

Mobile-first design has been another UX/UI design trend list stalwart in recent years. This is no surprise given that 90% of global internet users use a mobile phone to go online and Google has rolled out mobile-first indexing. This means that UX/UI designers can expect to keep prioritizing responsive and functional mobile interfaces and ensuring consistency and usability across devices. 

UX Design Trend 8: Accessibility

As more and more corporations and agencies come to understand that making their products usable to everyone isn’t just a nice-to-have, accessibility has become a trend that’s hopefully here to stay. Major tech companies like Apple, Netflix, Google, and Facebook have already implemented customizable interfaces and features that cater to users with disabilities, and with mounting evidence that diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives are good for business, accessibility is likely to remain a focus of UX/UI designers in 2021.  

UX Design Trend 9: Storytelling 

Visual storytelling has always been important in brand building. But as companies grow increasingly sophisticated in their storytelling approaches—from the use of web copy and images in order to tell an origin story to the use of color schemes, textures, and graphics in order to associate a brand with a certain idea or narrative—UI/UX designers will be expected to take their design storytelling skills to a higher level. This also presents opportunities to be creative. Beyond text and layout, UI/UX designers might find themselves working with hero videos, parallax scrolling, interactive graphics, and creative use of space. 

UX Design Trend 10: Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality

AR and VR often make it onto annual trend lists for their potential to take off, even though both forms of technology have historically not made as big a splash as technologists predict. In the spirit of potential, many UI/UX designers expect 2021 to be a bigger year for AR and VR in part because of the pandemic. Whole Foods, for example, created a virtual reality shopping experience for customers this past year. People held meetings in 3D virtual spaces. And there has been a surging interest in virtual travel

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This post was written by Tracey Lien.