Separating UX Trends from Best Practices

An aspiring content strategist recently asked me how to know which UX trends to pay attention to. I wasn’t sure what to tell her, but I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

There’s nothing wrong with designing to follow a trend. But it’s useful to know what to spend time learning more about. The flash-in-the-pan trends can be particularly engaging, briefly. But they’re not always best practices, and often they’ll date your site when they go out of style.

Is it a UX Trend: A Quiz

  1. Does it improve the experience in a core way?
    If it does, it’s likely a best practice. In fact, it may be a trend that will become a best practice. For example, personalization began as a trend, but the basic premise of personalizing information for someone dramatically improves their experience. Thus, personalization quickly became a best practice. Flat design, on the other hand, is attractive but in some cases less accessible. As a result it’s less likely to stick around.
  2. Are other industries following the trend?
    One sign that a trend is actually a new best practice is if other industries, whether related (like graphic design or development) or unrelated (like logistics or healthcare) have already been doing this thing for awhile. Agile, for example, isn’t going anywhere, in part because it’s been so successful for developers. As a result UX practitioners will continue to be exposed to it and adapt parts of it to their own processes.
  3. Does the audience care?
    Generally speaking, if the trend is something that industry people love, but actual users don’t notice or don’t care about, it’s less likely to stick around. You would think this would be obvious, given the UX focus on listening to and observing theĀ end user, but we forget sometimes that just because our friends and colleagues in the industry were wowed by the hamburger menu, doesn’t mean all those non-designers will be into it.
  4. Does it work for you and your audience?
    Since it’s impossible to follow up on every trend and become an expert in every new idea, stick to the ones that interest you and connect to your own skills. Even if they don’t stay forever, you’ll learn more about your work by testing out new ideas, and if it does stick, it will amplify the value you bring to projects.

While some new best practices will always surprise us, we can at least filter through some of the noise. How do you evaluate the worth of new UX trends?

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