Online user experience (UX) is an area of marketing most people think they know little or nothing about. However, almost everyone is already an expert in UX because they use websites everyday — and impact user experience trends because of the actions they take online.

Here are some top UX trends that you’ve likely encountered and helped drive adoption of. Leveraging them will improve the online experience of visitors to your firm’s website.

Mobile first / mobile only. How much time do you spend searching for information on your smartphone? It's probably significant. That’s why the top user experience trend today is mobile-first design. UX experts develop web experiences starting with the smallest device and building up to the largest, rather than the old technique of eliminating elements from the computer experience and diminishing or reducing it down for smartphones.

If you haven't optimized for mobile, you’re alienating website visitors, creating a negative perception of your brand and limiting contacts and sales. If there’s one user experience improvement you make this year, mobile first is it.

Flat design. Think about the websites you really like and enjoy visiting. It's likely that they are designed a relatively simple and “flat” way. That’s because in today’s fast-paced, mobile-dominated world, most people don't have the time or patience to wade through layers of unnecessary design to access information or make purchases online. 

This is particularly true for complex products and services, such as those offered by financial and professional services companies. The content itself is difficult to understand. Burying it in unnecessary elements and layers can make it impossible to track and comprehend.

If your website interface and design is too complicated for messages to come through, it's time to reduce the visual elements down to those that are necessary and streamline the experience. 

Content first. More than ever, content strategy is driving design. Serving the right information (words, images, sounds) to the right visitor at the opportune time drives business results. Design is used to enhance content delivery, not control it.

If you haven't mapped the user journeys through your website and identified all the content-related touch points, you should make this a priority project. It's the first step toward creating a user experience where design supports and facilitates the content experience.

Don't reinvent the wheel. Many designers want to make their mark by inventing the next great online design innovation. However, the best user experience changes are evolutionary and not revolutionary. Disruptive design is more likely to alienate website visitors as it is to engage them or get them to take action. It's unlikely that they’ll take time to learn something new in order to navigate your site. It's more likely that they’ll be able to adapt to an enhancement to something familiar. 

Delight visitors. It may seem that the current UX trend of leveraging what works will result in a lot of sameness on corporate websites. That doesn't have to be the case. There are plenty of opportunities to deliver delight, surprise and unique branded moments in a familiar user experience. Leverage your content, including videos, images and messaging, to present your firm’s original point of view. Use transitions from one page or section to another to bring new energy to the experience. Describe products and services in ways that make your offerings stand out from those of your competitors.

Think conversation, not presentation. Financial and professional services companies tend to “talk to” their prospects and clients, not get into conversations with them. They often prefer to present information, not discuss it. Today, people are used to digital experiences that are dialogues, with opportunities to comment, chat and genuinely connect. 

Financial and professional firms face some unique risks (especially legal and regulatory ones) when they open-up their digital properties to online dialogue. However, that doesn't mean they can’t support online interaction. Consider adding carefully monitored comment sections to blogs. Add a one-on-one chat feature that uses pre-approved content. Schedule regular webinars and seminars that give prospects, clients and intermediaries a chance to discuss low-risk topics. All these things will make people feel included and more a part of your brand without exposing it to unacceptable risk.

Break the glass screen. The best online user experiences today break through the smartphone, tablet and computer screen to enter into the real world. This can be done in more extreme ways, like using virtual reality. It can also happen more simply by connecting your virtual brand to your “real world” one. 

This could include doing things like:

  • Making your customer service reps aware of the online experiences they're completing, so they provide a satisfying end to an online journey.
  • Providing computers and tablets in office locations that offer meaningful information that enhance the sales process.
  • Using complementary images and messages in virtual and real environments so the register as seamless to your consumers.

Testing. Testing a website as it's being designed or improved is the only way to understand whether a design or enhancement is delivering a satisfying user experience. Yet it's often the first budget line cut from a project. User experience is more science than art, and sound usability testing is the only way to ensure your digital properties will deliver the experience — and results — you expect.

Carpenter Group has designed effective websites that deliver satisfying user experiences for many well-known financial and professional services firms. Learn about our approach to digital marketing. Then contact us to find out how we can help improve the UX on your firm’s digital properties.