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Is your website UX strategy fit for the future?

James Rosewell, CEO of device detection specialist 51Degrees, explains how connected devices are disrupting website design best practices.

Once upon a time, an adaptive or responsive website design was the pinnacle of sound online user experience (UX) strategy. But those days are long gone.

New and emerging categories of mobile and connected device are muddying the waters for brands trying to provide a positive web experience for their customers.

New technologies

No longer will they be able to rely on established best practice in web design as new technologies such as VR, wearables, and IoT devices – all of which create new kinds of interaction, and pose different UX challenges – are becoming increasingly popular with consumers.

Brands need to have accurate device detection in place, now more than ever. Without this knowledge, they cannot possibly serve the most suitable version of the website or deliver a good online experience to the user. Having a complete and specific knowledge of the device and how this affects UX depends on a number of elements, of which there are hundreds of thousands of possible combinations on the market.

First, consider the hardware itself – factors such as make, model, and screen size. It’s not difficult to understand how the difference between a smart watch and a tablet influences how people access and consume information online. Second, there are operating systems and browsers. As every web developer knows, a website might display perfectly on one browser but misbehave horribly on another, requiring further changes or the creation of entirely different website version.

Third, not all devices will have the processing power needed to display graphically intense and computationally complex web designs. As high-end smartphone prices have consistently increased in recent years, consumer appetite for cheaper alternatives has grown. While generally perfectly serviceable for the most common user tasks, low-end and mid-range devices often lack the grunt required to deliver a high-quality experience on the most demanding websites. Meanwhile, in developing markets the so-called feature phone, typically running a less capable browser, still accounts for around 40 per cent of all mobile web traffic. And users in mature markets, amid growing concerns about the impact of mobile advertising on the online experience, are increasingly downloading data-minimising browsers that strip out web elements that slow down loading times. A lightweight, optimised mobile page will deliver a much better user experience for these users.

Emerging technologies will dramatically increase the number of possibilities that brands will have to account for. Virtual and augmented reality, wearables, voice-controlled devices, and IoT might still be in their infancy as far as adoption by mainstream consumers are concerned, but it won’t be too long before these product categories become as ubiquitous as the smartphone is now.

Our homes are becoming smarter, and the hardware we use is increasingly found in unexpected places. Our digital lives no longer play out solely on mobile devices: everyday domestic devices such as our fridges, lighting systems, or home thermostats can already be connected to the Internet. IoT will soon permeate through all aspects of our lives, with some devices requiring browser-led interfaces.

Think, for example, what this might mean for a supermarket retailer taking shopping orders directly from our fridge as opposed to a smartphone app. The two will require a completely different approach to design and usability. For example, would fridge orders be limited to products that need cooling, or can they include pantry products like the mobile app would?

With every introduction of new interfaces, brands might have to think about the different ways of presenting their online content. As we have seen above, this is not just a simple extension of the principle of scaling up or down for different screen sizes. It could mean a completely different approach to how the brand wants users to interact with their digital platforms.

Just consider the current iPhone 8 rumours: Apple purportedly plans to do away with the home button in favour of a ‘function area’ with buttons that could change usage depending on which app is active.

This opens up a treasure trove of possibilities for brands, as it would be even easier to incorporate sharing, one-click ‘buy now’, or ‘call us’ buttons – all of which could overhaul the way the website or app is designed and experienced by the user. The challenge of course is to do all of this while retaining the majority of customers that use different phone models.

Brands must remain agile when it comes to new technology. Some new technologies will be adopted at a much slower pace, but as the saying goes, brands that fail to plan, plan to fail.

If device detection wasn’t already high up on the list, the increasingly challenging environment means that brands can no longer ignore it. The sheer weight of numbers when it comes to devices, browsers, and capabilities, and the speed of their proliferation, puts extra pressure on databases. A simple list of device models and browsers no longer cuts it.

Brands must look beyond Google Analytics to incorporate useful and actionable insight about physical screen size, granular device segmentation, and features that affect the user experience. Research repeatedly shows that users will abandon a purchasing journey, or even switch to a competitor when they have a poor user experience.

What used to be ‘good enough’, sadly no longer is good enough. Good UX design looks to the future, as serving the right content on the right platform can make all the difference. A new tech user who faces no issues will spend more time using it and can become a strong brand advocate. And, with the right marketing strategy, a profitable one.

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