2018 Year of the Human: Red Badger UX trend report

An illustration of a robot holding a canvas, light and palette for a human artist who has painted a human hand and robot hand touching.Every year, the UXD team at Red Badger discusses trend reports, and this year we have decided to share our own views for your reading pleasure. Our views have been formed through attending numerous conferences, meetup groups and yes, analysing and reading many of the trend reports that have already been published.

This is the last 2018 trend report you need.

Top 5 trends

1. Inclusive and ethical design goes mainstream
2. Digital gets physical
Design puts on more hats
4. Welcoming machines to the team
DesignOps to rescue big enterprises

1. Inclusive and ethical design goes mainstream

 A bright 'Accessibility for all' drawing featuring people of a variety of age, ability, gender and race.Accessibility has long been a consideration for our industry, but 2018 will see a new wave of users who demand truly inclusive and ethical services. Many of these initiatives stem from the requirements of vulnerable groups, people with physical or mental disabilities, but everyone can benefit from these developments.

While people with dyslexia and autism have a sensitivity to information overload, all of us have a limited capacity for attention. People start to realise that some UX patterns have been deliberately designed to hook our attention and are becoming increasingly concerned about screen addiction.

One of our Red Badger colleagues has swapped her smartphone for a “dumb phone” capable just for making calls. She had used her smartphone excessively and described the first day off the device as the “longest, and most aware” she had felt for a long time.  She will be writing about her experiences in our Red Badger blog.

Jun Taoka, Red Badger Designer (and student of cognitive psychology) explains:
“Our attention has a limited capacity. Designers are becoming increasingly aware of information overload, and the neural fatigue it produces. It is necessary for businesses to create products that help people achieve their aims in a sustainable fashion and minimise distraction.”

In 2018 businesses will make an extra effort to ensure that their services are designed in inclusive and ethical ways; embracing this will guarantee their license to operate, and positively impact the financial bottom line. 2018 starts off with Facebook refreshing the News Feed in favour of 'meaningful social interactions' and Apple’s investors demanding stronger initiatives to prevent screen addiction in young users.  

In 2017 Red Badger designed React conference London to be the most inclusive conference. Read Amy's thoughts on our blog.    


  • Make inclusivity and ethical service design a central consideration for any new project.
  • Ask yourself if your product is helping the user achieve their aims, or is unnecessarily demanding their attention. Be mindful that your user has only a limited supply of attention and to take it only when it's in their interest.
  • Be explicit about how each touch point for your business/service is accessible and inclusive.

Further reading:
How the “Regret Test” Makes for Good Ethics and Good Business
Time Well Spent, designing technology that protects our focus
Designing Calm Technology, technology that just requires some of our attention, and only when necessary
The Light Phone, designed to be used as little as possible

2. Digital gets physicalA colourful illustration of a smiling phone sat like a human in an armchair watching the football on TV.Smart objects are everywhere and we’re well on our way to the predicted 20 billion connected devices by 2020. That’s nearly 3 connected devices for every living person on the planet. Each of them producing data about its owner or environment.

The introduction of new technologies like blockchain are enabling otherwise invisible back-end processes to the surface, strengthening the integration of digital and physical spaces. Customers can now track where their diamonds are from, banking transactions are becoming transparent and traceable, even food will be traced giving consumers all the information they need about where they were sourced from and how they’ve made it to the table.

You can no longer think of your business website in isolation from your other services. Business needs to consider the context of use, making sure all touchpoints work coherently which offers opportunities for new partnerships with complementary services that enhance the value you deliver to customers.

Companies will change the way departments are structured to reflect complete customer journeys and make data available across the business to provide consistent, meaningful and value driven experiences. Building trust and providing contextual value will be a greater competitive advantage as authentication becomes transparent and digital and physical spaces converge.

In 2017 Red Badger helped one client to explore a blockchain based solution for a global project and one cross-functional team has been teaching Alexa sommelier skills. Sinem summarises our learnings here.


  • Set success metrics to measure the value you’re adding,  moving away from specific touchpoint or department based goals.
  • Explain to your users what data your service stores and why. Only collect the data you really need to run the service. Put your users in control of their data.
  • Some data points you collect may contribute to the community’s greater good. Share anonymised data via API’s e.g. for science, or public services.

Further reading:
Design good services based on good data
GDPR gives control back to citizens over their personal data
The blockchain will do to the financial system what the internet did to media

Traceability in the food supply chain
Smart contracts & traceability of donations via blockchain

3. Design puts on more hats

A drawn animation notepad divided into three parts; flipping mismatching heads, bodies and feet.Industrial Designers get trained to work with their building materials like steel, wood, glass. In 2018 we see new digital ‘materials’ emerge, such as AI and voice activated systems. Designers explore how best to design with these new mediums.

The rise in popularity of voice activated technology for example has meant designers need to consider designing without a visual interface. ComScore says that 50% of all searches in 2020 will be voice searches, and 30% of searches will be done without a screen. The challenge for users and designer alike is that we can’t rely on visual affordances to communicate potential actions to our users. 

In the design process we need to look beyond the current tools like Sketch, Invision etc. We will be borrowing ideas from screenwriting, improv theatre and coaching.

In our Red Badger Design School we have been teaching prototyping skills in form of an improv session with one participant acting as the device, the other as the user. This is useful to better empathise with the user and test systems before they get built

We see two trends in the design roles emerging: Designers acting as facilitators unlocking collaboration between different teams in the business, the departmental super-glue. Their key focus is on human needs, how these can be best fulfilled through the services we build and what is required to do so. Finally, with these broadening roles we are seeing the emergence of specialisms along the new design materials, including Voice Designer or Artificial Intelligence/Cognitive Designer.

See Sari's blog post about launching the Red Badger Design School in 2017.


  • To create positive outcomes for people, apply a human-centric perspective in the design process. Focus on human needs and the context of use. 
  • Tap into new resources to rapidly test ideas and unlock collaboration. Learn from new disciplines such as screenwriting, improv theatre, coaching.
  • Play with new tech. When you know what is possible now and in the next few months, you can apply it in the design.

Further reading:
Improv training for designer
The designers as facilitators
Designing a talkative hockey puck
How to build a chatbot with Watson

4. Welcoming machines to the teamA colourful illustration of a group of people sat around a desk working and in the last seat is a friendly looking robot with a mug of coffee.In 2018 we will be welcoming the machine to the team. For many complex tasks AI is not sophisticated enough to run by itself. The services we see emerging today are assistive in nature, explicitly designed to augment human capabilities, giving people superpowers.

Machines have a few unique talents: perfect short-term memory, which is fully erasable so avoids psychological biases, act with speed and consistency, do not suffer boredom. Machine learning has enabled visual and auditory channels, the machine’s eyes and ears for data input. As well powerful brains for the heavy lifting of data.

Humans are good at other things: we can improvise, apply flexible procedures to achieve a goal, can learn across contexts (which is not expected of a machine in the next 45 years), and many more.

Only playing to strengths is not enough when dividing the tasks. We have to ask if the task can reasonably/morally be handled by a machine. A human-centered perspective can greatly contribute to the design of AI in a service ecosystem. We want to ensure agents are built to meet human needs.

In 2018 the role of professionals will change when working alongside AI systems. Professional services from medical to law and education will be subject to new and unexplored ethical dilemmas around accountability. As designers of the interplay between the machine and the human, our roles have to develop to ensure these exciting technologies are a benefit and not a hindrance.

Andreas spoke about 'AI for humans' at our UXD exchange meetup.


  • Algorithms will repeat and reinforce any bias inherent in the design process or training data. To avoid this employ diverse teams and use unbiased training data.
  • Transparency and Explainability are a key challenge when working with AI. Design debug and manual modes.
  • To create positive outcomes for people, apply a human-centric perspective in the design process. Convey capabilities and limitations of the agent upfront and inspire trust. Design a learn/play mode.
  • As designer we want to get literate with new technologies that help the agent to see, think, and do in better ways.

Further reading:
51 Artificial Intelligence predictions for 201
AI for good, AI innovation to achieving the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals
Immigration attorney 2.0, Help immigrants make America great again
Google AutoDraw, Machine learning to help everyone create anything visual, fast.
Google makes AI tool for precision medicine open source

5. DesignOps to rescue big enterprises

If your organisation is to focus on customer outcomes, breaking down silos of technology and design is essential. We believe that a decentralised design team helps create the infrastructure for cross-functional teams to deploy design faster and more efficiently.

Last year Red Badger helped one client to establish 3 cross-functional product teams. However, growing beyond this point, to today 10+ teams in 3 locations we started to experience more friction in the way we shared information, agreed on design patterns, and communicated with supporting functions like legal & compliance and copy.

For resolution we are helping the client to establish a central resource. A small group will take responsibility for the way resource is structured, design elements are used and understand the extent to which design systems or pattern libraries are required. Design operations have the goal to increase operational efficiency, improve speed and quality and reduce the distance between product, design and engineering.

Well executed design operations in your business can significantly add value for your customers and stakeholders. AirBNB described DesignOps last year as ‘amplifying and empowering cross-functional teams.’  As well it was a topic of heated discussions at Leading Design conference. We believe DesignOps will continue to grow in relevance as more and more organisations allocate design in cross-functional product teams.

If you’re new to DesignOps, check out this fantastic article by Andy Budd.


  • Support an internal design community and culture.
  • Build the design team that is networked rather than hierarchical, distributed through the organisation in cross-functional teams, and give it autonomy.
  • Establish design systems to create efficiencies in the design work. Avoid repeating work that’s already been done elsewhere, and making mistakes that others have already learned from. Instead build on the learnings of other teams and design with consistency. 
  • Track and remove any other organisational or technological inefficiencies in the daily workflow of your team. Quantify the current damages and possible wins.

Further reading:
What is design operations and why should you care?
Centralized Partnership, organizational Models for Design Teams
DesignOps at Airbnb, How we manage effective design at scale.
Designing government services patterns

In summary

To create tangible value for customers, designers need to understand the user’s struggles and context better than ever, and know to employ the right medium to tackle each need.

Many exciting, new technologies are available to make our services smarter, safer and more effective. Designers need to play with these new design materials to build up a deep understanding of what is possible today and in the close future.  

With the emergence of new tools and mediums at the designer’s disposal, organisations need to examine their process, workflow and communication, closer than ever before. Building great services in 2018 will require all disciplines pulling together in a cross-functional way, starting small and nimble and iterating your way forward along learnings from the real world.

If you need help with UX or have a business problem you'd like to discuss, drop us a line to hello@red-badger.com. 

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