Crystal Ball

Matter Of Form Future Forecast 2021

Every normal year brings us tech innovations, design trends and inspiration. But what happens after 2020? How will a pandemic shake up the way we think, the way we communicate, the way we shop, the way we live?

We’ve seen a dramatic rise in the adoption of ecommerce and omnichannel services, which shows no signs of slowing. Research suggests an increase of 169% in ecommerce purchases from new or low frequency users, post-outbreak, with the vast majority expected to sustain this behaviour into the future.

With this in mind, we asked our talented practitioners what’s in store for the world of design, tech, UX, social and SEO.

Clienteling – Relationships Turn Digital

Strong relationships have always been key to the success of luxury brands, but we’ve seen those relationships become almost wholly digital in the last 12 months. While high end retailers have been using clienteling technology to deliver personalised assistance outside the shop floor for a while now, coronavirus has accelerated the uptake among the wider retail landscape. People have become accustomed to substantial changes in the way they live, work and shop: even grandparents have mastered mute/unmute on Zoom. 

This surge in digital adoption, especially among new or infrequent users, looks likely to continue. The use of clienteling-type omnichannel services, like virtual consultations, has increased by 43% within consumer electronics, with 78% expecting to continue this behaviour post-pandemic (Accenture).

John Lewis has launched an ‘Experiences’ area of their website, which offers hour-long video consultations with specialists in interior design, nursery or fashion; as well as live cooking classes and crafting workshops. 

Jewellery brand Chupi offers 20-minute ‘digital jewellery consultations’ over Whatsapp, with customers able to view pieces ‘stacked’ against each other, and find out more about the stones and their history.

iphone taking photo of jewellery box

Chupi Jewellery: 20 Minute Video Consultations

Clienteling add-ons or extensions of e-commerce sites are enabling associates to shop on a customer’s behalf, adding items to their carts and assisting them with payment and delivery during the session. 

Saks Fifth Avenue enables associates to directly communicate with loyal customers via SMS, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and WeChat, and share clickable product recommendations and shoppable links.

As an agency, we’re delivering more and more projects that digitise traditionally high-touch services for retail and hospitality clients. Branded apps that facilitate human to human interactions help strengthen client-customer relationships, personalise the customer experience and, ultimately, increase customer lifetime value.

TREND: Retailers must capture omni-channel customer behaviour data, connect online and offline data with clienteling initiatives, and empower their employees with data.

Immersive Digital Experiences Replace IRL

Immersive experiences had to step up to replace real life last year. Although live-streamed fashion shows are nothing new, a show without a “frow” was an intriguing creative brief.

Prada Catwalk

Prada Spring/Summer 2021 Collection

In a statement, Prada said the collection was about “examining a dialogue between mankind and machine,” or “a dance between a woman and technology.” 

The experience worked because it focused on the benefits of a digital experience to bring the collection to life: multiple cameras allowed for lingering shots on the details that might’ve been missed in a traditional show, and the Q&A brought the virtual audience closer to the designers. 

TREND: The screen will continue to bring traditionally ‘IRL’ experiences to life online, blurring boundaries between online and offline with rich and engaging visual effects, and VR enhancements. 

This is the Year of Voice UIs

A mere year ago, only true germaphobes were concerned about the number of surfaces we touch each day, going about our daily routines. But just as we now balk at the idea of shaking the hand of a stranger, we’re suspicious of touching smart devices that a thousand other fingers have touched before ours. Contactless systems have never been more in vogue.   

In 2019, an estimated 59% of online searches came through voice, with some industry specific searches much higher (for example, food and restaurant search reached 68%). The speech and voice interface market sector is on track to hit $24.9 billion by 2025. 

With this in mind, VUI (voice user interface) technology and design will advance exponentially this year. Designing voice-based interfaces is a completely different beast from GUI in that you need to rely solely on language, without visual prompts. Sometimes, there is the option of a graphic interface in addition, but the basic expectation of a well-functioning VUI is that it fully functions on its own. A good VUI has to let users know what options they have at every stage of the interaction, as well as provide clear feedback on progress through the system, without overwhelming the user with information. 

But what takes a good VUI and makes it great?

To succeed here, brands must know themselves intimately. In the absence of visual expression, what does a brand sound like? Designers must start from detailed personas, work around potential limitations of specific devices, and make the best use of all potential action triggers to create an experience that is not only clear and functional, but reflects the brand personality. 

TREND: The need for frictionless interactions will accelerate technology that has wide-reaching accessibility benefits. In its nascent stage, there is a huge opportunity for innovative brands to push boundaries, experiment, and set the bar for future best practices. 

Social - Instagram is the New Google

As we think about the shift towards more human search behaviours, it’s interesting to see that translate on Instagram. 

With Instagram’s introduction of keyword search last November, there’s a wealth of new opportunities for brands to be discovered. Until recently, users could only search for content through hashtags, location tags, and profile names.

Instagram Search Function

Instead of typing #bakingrecipe, and being limited to results containing the exact hashtag, users will now be able to see content related to “baking recipe” as determined by an algorithm which will use indicators like caption, location and time posted to surface results.

Not only does this present a whole new social marketing art form –– Instagram SEO –– it offers up a new question of what exactly your Instagram profile should contain. With 60% of Instagram users finding new products on the platform, brands must ensure they are as discoverable as possible on the platform as we head to a more streamlined social commerce journey. (We can look to China for an idea of the future of social commerce, which accounts for 11.6% of total retail ecommerce sales in the country.)

Chinese social commerce creates a hybrid of social networking, communication platforms, and shopping: it’s a method of engagement, not just a purchase platform. This innovative way of approaching shopping is where the future of social commerce lies – it’s about building communities of like-minded shoppers, not just simply making it possible to buy products on social media. 

TREND: People are turning towards Instagram as a search engine in order to discover products and services. Together with the inevitable rise of social commerce, this is transforming the role of the brand Instagram profile. Rather than simply being a ‘social presence’, it can be the first touch gateway to purchase, so brands must ensure they are as optimised for search as possible. Brands must ensure that they are using Guides, Stories, Reels and Highlights to fully capture the attention of potential customers. 

Influencer Marketing is Your Social SEO Strategy

If we’re in the mindset of thinking of Instagram as a search engine, then, how else can we drive quality traffic to our content? 

In much the same way we’re used to working alongside Google’s algorithm to ensure our websites receive the most traffic with high-quality backlinks, there are ways we can strategically apply that to social. 

One way of ensuring that you’re represented is working with relevant influencers that will be linking back to you. Rather than thinking of this as a short-term strategy, brands must consider how to ensure there’s an evergreen flow of content related to their brand, to keep the chances of exposure high.

TREND: Influencer marketing relationships will function as a core component of a successful social strategy, helping brands boost their ‘social SEO’ with relevant, quality content that will help them rank higher in Instagram’s search results. 

SEO - The Q&A is Here to Stay

According to Google, in 2020 the world searched "why" more than ever.

Search journeys might start with questions, but it's usually a conversation people are after. Brands need to think about how to bring conversations online that will ensure they capture search traffic for the questions we're asking.

Not all of our searching is tangible or product-oriented. If 2020 has taught us anything, it's how to bake banana bread, cut a misguided fringe, or work out a fraction (looking at you, homeschooling parents). Brands that get to the heart of what it is that we’re searching for, then make it their mission to provide us with helpful content around that, will capitalise on a significant part of the search landscape. 

TREND: Answering questions is going to be more important than ever. Brands must think beyond the obvious search queries, and figure out where they can add value in more ways than one. 

The SERP Gets Sexy

Google is getting really good at figuring out what we mean when we search for something, thanks to its BERT model. Not only that, but it’s serving up answers in increasingly sexy formats, that fit the intent: image carousels, info cards, rich snippets, locations, and so on.

Ultimately, this means more opportunities for Google to embed advertisements. For users, it promises a satisfying hit when we get what we’re looking for with minimal effort and words. 

For brands, this means being prepared to taking advantage of these mixed format search results. So, not only thinking about traditional SERP metadata, but looking at how different verticals could converge, using a multi-pronged approach. Paid ads, including the Google Shopping vertical, organic video, FAQs, content, images, Google My Business, location info, and indexed content from social channels; will all come together to deliver multiple possibilities for brands to connect with potential customers.

TREND: Plan for search on all fronts, from all angles. Blended results provide an engaging mix of media formats to lure potential customers in. 

Page Experience is Paramount

Google will be rolling out a new update in May 2021 that takes metrics around loading speed, interactivity and visual stability into account more than before. 

Just like their robust checks and balances around quality of content, factors affecting site performance will now contribute to position in the SERP.

We're likely to see this impacting sites to a varying degree: competitive context is going to be everything. Searches will still be for content above all else –– so if a brand is providing the only real quality answer to a question but performing poorly on performance metrics, it could continue to enjoy dominance. But brands that do both will have more power. 

Trend: Google will place a greater emphasis on site performance from May 2021. But content quality is still paramount. The emphasis here should be on bringing experience and content on par with each other and ensuring that collectively, the content and site performance are watertight. 

Technology - Automation: Leaner, Faster, Stronger 

Speed is everything – including in the build process.

With the pandemic wreaking havoc on many businesses, teams saw their talent pool shrink. With that, came a greater need than ever for tighter, agile processes, and swift results.

Instead of complex web builds where tech holds the process up, we’re seeing a move to smaller, more rapid, scalable solutions. ‘Microservices’ break down applications into small components that work together. Each element is easier to build and maintain, creating greater developer independence, isolation, and the ability to automate processes, thus cutting down on man power.

Containerisation is a technology that means software can run reliably when it’s moved from one environment to another. ‘Containers’ package up the application and all of its dependencies, like libraries and configuration files, into one neat package. This process decouples the application and its dependencies from the underlying infrastructure, removing the associated errors and bugs.

Gartner, June 2020

Gartner predicts that by 2022, more than 75% of global organizations will be running containerized applications in production, up from less than 30% today.

By this abstraction or decoupling, containerisation helps developers focus on their application logic and dependencies and leave the deployment and management on the IT operations team.

Trend: Using containers for microservices offers enormous advantages to include reduced size, cost reduction, more developer independence, enhanced efficiency, flexible storage, scalability, better isolation, and quicker execution.

So 2021...

Is your brand ready for the changes this year will bring? Get in touch to find out how Matter Of Form could help future-proof your online presence.

We’re passionate about creating exceptional brand-led experiences that leverage our knowledge, design methodologies and the latest in what technology has to offer in terms of human interactions and business efficiencies.

Tech
Strategy
UX
Innovation
MOF Team

Published by MOF Team

We are a 60-person Experience Design Consultancy with soul. We help timeless brands design what’s next. STRATEGY + DESIGN + TECH + OPTIMISATION