white board  web design exercise
PHOTO: Kaleidico

Experience design (XD) means just what it says: designing for the experience. Specifically, it’s about the human experience as people interact with your brand, strategy, products and processes. It refers to understanding users as completely as possible and focusing on their emotions as they interact with your company and to the company’s organizational approach itself.

And it’s no wonder experience design is so important right now. Digital transformation is accelerating, and technology is constantly moving forward. AI, payments, ecommerce, audio UX, accessibility, virtual care and immersive experiences are all developing at incredible speeds.

According to Forrester, the global design industry is worth $162 billion, and 73% of companies are still “design beginners,” meaning they are not reliably using customer understanding and iteration in their design process. Forrester says those are primarily companies in the tech, financial services and retail industries. While there are strong signs those industries will up their design investment in 2022, other industries will also follow suit.

In fact, more than half of design teams reported they planned to expand their numbers in 2021 — one-third of them by more than 25%. While we’ve become accustomed to planning and designing for the customer experience in recent years, we’re now seeing more focus on experience design, which goes a giant step beyond.

Here are three areas of focus that I see pushing experience design forward in 2022 and key investments companies should make to enhance the customer experience.

The Importance of Personalization

Expect to see personalization continue to take off in 2022 — and for good reason. Increasingly, we’ve come to expect content that reflects our interests. When we shop at a website and see content that’s personalized for us, we feel like that company understands us.

One area for personalization is notification trends. Sending messages when their recipients are sleeping, for instance, completely misses the mark, so the trend is to geo-target your customers and schedule messages to go out based on location and time. Companies can also personalize their notifications based on when someone last launched the app and when they last made a purchase. Does their history show a trend of making purchases around 8 pm? Don’t send sales notices at 10 am. Consider sending promotions to those that haven’t visited your site or app for more than 10 days.

Personalization helps companies build relationships, reach a target audience and show empathy. Just as we return to the same doctor for many years, we go back to certain companies for specific products over and over because we have a relationship. It also lets their customers feel they’re aligned in terms of values.

But personalization goes further than just that. Not only does it inform, advise and serve, it also adds value and joy, captures certain types of declared and behavioral data, and engages in digital conversations. Personalization helps companies to differentiate and drive growth.

Related Article: When Will Marketers Master Personalization?

Accessibility Will Reach New Levels

As more companies create diversity and inclusion programs and more digital accessibility lawsuits occur, we are seeing more attention paid to accessibility, inclusion, and privacy. Trends include offering dark mode, comfortable colors, providing minimal and streamlined menus. We’ll also see augmented reality and virtual reality being used to promote accessibility.

The number of job listings with accessibility in their title grew 78% from July 2020 to July 2021, a statistic that shows just how much attention companies are paying to accessibility design. Forrester predicts that in 2022, $10 billion in design spending will go to vendors and services that commit to accessibility.

Consider accessibility features as customizations that benefit all users. We should be consciously designing experiences for all customers, including the 20% of the population who have physical, visual, auditory or cognitive disabilities. Remember that accessible features also support people with situational or temporary disabilities. Even if we can’t change the world, we can impact it positively. Expect accessibility to be a huge focus in 2022.

Related Article: Building Accessible Digital Experiences Is About Doing the Right Thing

Other Experience Design Tools

We’ll also see a flood of visual collaboration tools in 2022, still important as remote designers continue needing a way to work together and see the creative work —not their faces — on the screen.

Forrester says a full 15% of non-tech companies will use software engineering and experience design to create products and applications that include AI. Voice AI is one way that businesses are providing a more customized experience. A new generation of voice AI picks up signals from natural conversations and helps customers get to the right place at the right time without having to tap through the endless pre-recorded prompts we’re all used to.

Voice search is becoming routine, and we’ll see this even more in 2022. It helps not only some with disabilities but can make it easier for everyone. Sixty-five percent of people 25-49 speak to their voice-enabled devices at least once every day, and voice is expected to be a $40 billion channel by 2022.

Numerous 3-D assets will become available for designers, who keep successfully adapting to changes as they bring new experience design to consumers. In fact, the global 3-D and 4-D technology market is expected to grow at a 16.09% CAGR by 2023.

Design systems are something we’ll continue to see more of. Some companies are so big and have so many different brands that they become almost like separate companies. The trend is toward organizing design systems so that not only are the visual brand and marketing consistent, but also all of a company’s web technology and mobile technology.

Experience design, which pays attention to everything from the brand experience to the employee experience, the emotional experience, and the physical experience, can be a competitive advantage that benefits your customers, enables your business to excel, and impacts lives.