Designing digital experiences is becoming increasingly complex year over year. Performance and accessibility are assumed, and users have come to expect highly personalized experiences across the digital touchpoints they encounter every day. 

Brands and agencies must adapt to the needs of their users by creating digital experiences that not only adhere to modern best practices for development, but also fulfill the hyper-individualized needs of each consumer.

To explore the nuances of UX-focused design, WP Engine, in partnership with The Webby Awards, recently hosted a Crafted Future panel discussion titled UX For a New Era. 

The Crafted Future series shines a light on some of the most important topics surrounding the way developers, marketers, and other creative professionals are shaping the web and the future, and the most recent panel discussion, which you can view in its entire here, includes L+R Digital Product Designer Jingxuan Yu, CMYK Digital Designer Celine Wang, and WP Engine Lead Web UX Designer Andrea Wofford.  

Throughout the discussion, all three panelists dive into the trends defining UX in 2024—from artificial intelligence and hyper-personalization to accessibility and more—while more than 600 attendees from Philly to France and far beyond joined in the discussion to explore the changing digital design landscape, what works, and how to focus your design efforts on the most important factor: the needs of the end user.

Read on for a breakdown of the expert insights shared during the panel or watch the full session on demand!

Accessibility and Simplicity

The conversation opened with a discussion around two cornerstones of modern UX design: accessibility and simplicity. Across the panel, experts agree that accessibility is not just a way to accommodate a wider audience, but is actually a central marker of quality UX design. 

Part of that accessibility, according to the panel, includes stripping designs down to the basics, offering simplicity instead of including excessive bells and whistles.

“I feel like good UX, at its core, has always been about getting a user from point A to B in the most efficient way while making that process enjoyable,” said Wang. 

“Nowadays people have so much access to all these different platforms, devices, and technologies—they’re constantly being stimulated by all these things,” she continued, “which is why I think people value transparency, especially now. Sometimes simple is better.” 

Wofford echoes that point as well, remarking that designers are moving away from “clutter” and choosing to create highly focused designs instead. 

“There was a tendency in the past to overdesign—make things more flashy—but that was not necessarily serving the user,” she said. 

“I’m seeing sort of a movement towards simplifying things and removing anything that could potentially get in the way of a user accomplishing their goal.”

Let’s Get a Little Personal

Marrying that accessibility and simplicity with highly personalized experiences will be, according to the panel, the next big shift in UX design. While users crave clarity in design, they also demand digital experiences that speak to their personal, lived experiences.

“I definitely see that design has become more curated, more personalized to provide higher value to individual users,” said Yu. 

“For example, we see a lot of user-generated content and platforms using special algorithms to customize the information that a unique user will receive based on their interests and behaviors.”

This movement toward creating personalized experiences for a broad spectrum of users on a dynamic internet—like most shifts in the digital world—will bring about rapid changes, many of which are just now starting to surface.

“Personalization is becoming a lot more prevalent, but at the same time, it feels like it’s still in its infancy—like we are just now starting to unlock it and figure out how to best integrate it into the user flow,” said Wofford.

Experts agree that this move toward personalized experiences will require developers to lean on tried-and-true best practices while simultaneously embracing emerging technologies 

“It’s gonna take an open mind and a willingness to embrace new technologies,” said Wofford. “To design in a way that’s forward-looking and say ‘What can I do at the moment that will help facilitate a personalized user experience later on.’”

AI, Headless, and the Future of the User Experience

Speaking to that forward-thinking mindset, the discussion closed with panelists sharing their views on the many potential permutations of what the future of UX design could look like as well as the ways emerging technologies—like artificial intelligence and headless site architecture—could affect the work of designers.

One topic that’s top of mind for many designers is AI, and for the panel, the future coordination between AI and UX design is unclear but exciting.

“If I say I know exactly how this new technology will fit into UX design, that’s a lie,” Yu quipped. 

“However, I assume AI, as a powerful tool, will help to facilitate the expansion of UX to more fields outside of Internet products. I would recommend teams start trying it out—really testing these AI tools at work so that you could get a sense of where the boundary exists in current technology deployment.”

Yu goes on to name a few tools she has tried in her own work, including DALL-E plugins for Figma and Nexa AI.

Wofford shares how AI and headless architecture are both already affecting her work on WP Engine’s headless website with Smart Search, an AI-powered search tool designed to enhance search capabilities on WordPress.

“Currently what I’m working on is a search experience where we are bringing together all of our different repositories of content, and we’re using WP Engine Smart Search to aggregate it all so that you can search through all of them—regardless of whether they’re on a headless site or not—in one place, and I’m really excited about how helpful that is going to be for the user,” she said.

With their final words, panelists made sure to tell attendees that trending technologies, while exciting, should not be adopted for adoption’s sake. Choosing new tools and technologies with purpose is more important than staying ahead of the curve.

“Make sure that you’re adopting new trends for a reason and not just adopting them because they’re trendy, and when there are companies or clients who are insisting on certain things, I think that it’s okay to push back—it’s okay to give them reasons why you don’t necessarily go need to go in that direction,” said Wofford. 

“The beauty of UX design is that there are so many resources where we can actually prove efficacy through numbers or research or tests,” she continued, “so I think it’s good to embrace these trends where it makes sense and to use your expertise to make sure that you’re part of the conversation as to how they get applied.”

What is Crafted Future?

Crafted Future is a series of panel discussions presented in partnership with The Webby Awards and WP Engine. The virtual event series explores topics impacting the work of digital professionals as told by top-level experts in their fields.

You can find all the previous Crafted Future discussions on The Webby Awards’ YouTube channel.

Craft Your Future on WP Engine

We extend our gratitude to everyone who watches this virtual event and hope the insights shared make you excited about the future of UX design.

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