As creatives, we have sat cozy for a while with a few immutable truths: content is king, conversions are always the goal, and your audience receives your message in a straight line. By “in a straight line,” I mean that viewers are served content in the form of flat web pages that they would flip through and scan, like pages in a book, hopefully keeping with a through line made by a batch of creative marketers (like yours truly at STAUFFER). Ultimately, if we play our cards right, we achieve our goal of creating a conversion, usually through a sale, contact, or just a simple view. We often call this landscape a “linear” message.
However, as we make our way into a newer, more innovative internet, we, as marketers, face some unique challenges. Things are moving away from the linear constraints that we have built our messaging around and are evolving into something more energetic, more bespoke–we are entering a stage of non-linear messaging.
Non-linear messages come in many shapes and flavors, but the easiest way to understand them is that the user controls the order and manner in which they consume information. Instead of just reading from one site or taking cues from one source, consumers take information in aggregate from social media, blogs, influencers, user-generated content, and advertisements, to name a few.
In a non-linear internet, where user experiences are increasingly dynamic and personalized, certain traditional UX principles will become obsolete, while others will remain essential. Some examples of UX principles that once served us but are now going the way of the dodo are:
One-Size-Fits-All Design: Static, uniform designs that cater to the average user may become less relevant as personalization takes center stage. Users expect tailored experiences that align with their preferences and behaviors, making generic designs less effective. The online marketplace comprises segmentation and personal identity; websites must fit their target audience.
Static Information Architecture: Traditional hierarchical information structures may become less practical in a non-linear internet. As users navigate through dynamic content and personalized recommendations, rigid navigation systems may hinder seamless exploration. Users have now come to expect algorithmic recommendations and direct access to similar content to how they contextualize your message; this means that communicators must anticipate and construct numerous pathways and journeys for users to follow that fit their logic and desired method of understanding.
Predictable User Flows: In a non-linear environment, user journeys become more unpredictable due to personalized content and recommendations. Traditional linear user flows may not be as relevant, and designers must embrace more flexible, adaptable user experiences. Marketers must do their research both before launching a message and after to optimize further, thus leading to a better comprehension of their audience and ultimately leading to more conversions.
While AI and machine learning are tearing down some of these pillars from which we derive all our messaging principles, it is also going to be a crucial part of rebuilding a brighter, more inclusive means of attracting audiences by catering to their needs in ways previously unimaginable. What could take hundreds of person-hours constructing and compiling such nuanced messaging will now be able to be mapped out and assembled in an amount of time comparable to what it would take for your marketing team to construct a traditional linear messaging campaign. If you want to stay competitive in this ever-changing marketplace, it is time to embrace the new laws of UX strategy:
User-Centric Design: As stated ad-nauseum above, putting users at the heart of design decisions remains crucial. While the approach to personalization may change, understanding and empathizing with users’ needs and behaviors will always be foundational to creating effective UX. Google Analytics and old-fashioned surveying remain essential tools for developing consensus on your audience’s fundamental needs.
For more on their new Google Analytics rollout, check out our article: GOOGLE ANALYTICS 4: Get to Know the New Features and Their Impact
Responsiveness: Providing a seamless experience across various devices and platforms remains vital. Considering what device users are accessing your site and what core information those users need when using those devices is essential to non-linear messaging. Users expect websites and applications to adapt to different screens and contexts without sacrificing usability.
Accessibility: Ensuring that digital experiences are inclusive and accessible to all users, regardless of their abilities, remains a timeless principle in UX design. AI and machine learning already provide simple plugins and tools that can be easily deployed today by organizations of all sizes to maximize accessibility for your site.
Clear Communication: No matter the non-linear nature of the internet, clear and concise communication will always be essential. Designers must convey information effectively to guide users through their personalized experiences. While a chatbot cannot match the brainpower and comprehension of a great copywriter, it can be an excellent tool for getting a head start on layout and structure. Proofreading tools like Grammarly can also cut out needless errors and simplify writing.
Data-Driven Decisions: As personalization becomes more prevalent, data-driven insights will continue to inform design choices. Analyzing user behavior and feedback will be crucial in creating successful non-linear user experiences. Google Analytics is an excellent start for any business, but deeper metrics analysis and application can foster a more profound connection with your audience.
While some traditional UX principles may become less relevant in a non-linear internet, core user-centric and usability principles will remain essential. The focus will continue to shift towards creating personalized, adaptive, and data-driven experiences that cater to individual user needs and behaviors, ultimately driving engagement and satisfaction. STAUFFER has spent the better part of the past two decades understanding these relationships and is ready to help with intuitive and data-focused strategies for organizations of all shapes and sizes. Contact us today to start the conversation.