5 trends that will dominate digital in 2018

Trends 2018 title typed over a photo of a table full of post-it notes

It’s that time again when industry experts, including the team at Code Computerlove, predict what will be the key trends in the year ahead. Parallax scrolling has had its day and responsive web design is firmly integrated into the mainstream, so what's the next big thing in digital?

Here, we take a look at the technology-related themes that are dominating trends talk, and share our predictions on what will be the five most significant shifts in digital techniques during 2018 (also see our piece on graphic design trends and (you might also want to see our pieces on graphic design trends in 2018 and illustration trends in 2018).

01. The year of the MVP

The MVP (minimal viable product) approach has been around for a while now but we’re expecting to see its adoption accelerate in 2018, becoming the widely accepted way that digital is done. So why will this year be the tipping point?

The concept behind an MVP has always been the right approach for digital platform owners, but unfortunately it’s been misunderstood or misused in the wider industry, so stakeholders have been wary of developing their digital products in this way. The MVP approach isn’t about saving money, cutting corners or accepting sub-standard work; it’s the recognition that digital products shouldn’t be released to customers in a ‘big bang’.

MVP is one component of lean software delivery and is better referred to as ‘continuous delivery’. By releasing any new features and functionality as soon as they are ready to realise their value, you create a better experience for end users, more revenue for the business, or both.

This iterative, continuous approach also means we only build things that work, as the success of every iteration can be measured, and the user data then determines the development path. The rigour of continuous releases removes much of the risk from the launch process and keeps the technical platform stable – as well as being easy to roll back in case of error.

Without a doubt, more businesses will start to adopt this approach in 2018, especially as more brands and agencies share their success stories. It will be difficult to ignore the benefits this offers.

02. Everything data

A 2018 trends forecast wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the UK's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), but this is just the tip of the data iceberg. Although ‘big data’ has been a trend for a number of years, there are still a huge number of organisations – in fact, the majority – that are still not efficient at using their data in a sophisticated way.

GDPR is an opportunity for businesses to reassess their data and hopefully turn its value up a notch. It’s frequently the case that businesses have a data tool, but aren’t using it effectively. The situation is not helped by the fact that there is a shortage of web analysts in the industry, so many businesses are sitting on expensive tools, with mountains of data, with no way to use that data effectively.

Online 'pins' with social media avatars float, a hand scoops one up

The ultimate goal is to know all there is to know about your customers

To borrow Avinash Kaushik’s 10/90 rule (first released eight years ago), for data to be meaningful, 90 per cent of the process needs to be spent on the intelligence behind the data. With data, it’s about knowing the information you need to define the problem, getting that information, then knowing what to do with it when you have it.

There will be lots more investment this year as brands try to use data to greater effect, with the ultimate aim being to understand customers even better than they know themselves. Smart data insight won’t just be the domain of large businesses; 2018 will see businesses of all shapes and sizes turning data insight into more meaningful experiences with customers.

03. A shift in the agency-client dynamic

What’s the point of having a sports car if you can’t drive it yourself? This is what a large number of organisations are realising as they plan their budget allocation and digital tactics for 2018.

As companies work to complete their digital transformation, they’re increasingly looking to bring the creation and management of their digital systems in-house. These ‘products’ are business-critical so it’s too risky to give them entirely to a third party. Moreover, having invested in new technologies and systems, having the skills to use them to their full potential will ensure that they can get ahead and grow. This requires knowledge and new skillsets.

As a result, agencies are already redefining their relationships with clients, developing genuine partnerships that involve close collaboration rather than taking the problem away and then coming back with the answer. During this collaboration, successful agencies will look to augment their clients' internal teams, offering a blend of services that complement the internal capability.

2018 will see greater investment in people-centric digital knowledge programs, design sprints and collaboration projects that ensure individuals and departments alike have the skills to use digital systems and the technologies to grow.

The role of the ‘digital agency’ will evolve to augment the client skillset, empowering clients to be masters of their continuous delivery. Agencies will become part of the process that focuses on continuous improvement and innovation.

04. Addressing the problem of legacy systems

Many businesses won’t be able to ‘put up and make do’ with out-of-date legacy systems beyond 2018. Consumer expectations have been raised by digital-first businesses; customers will no longer accept bad user experience, slow websites or poor customer service. They will vote with their feet, or (more likely) their cursor.

Hundreds of enterprises each year face facts and accept that their legacy IT systems and databases just aren’t up to the job of creating meaningful digital experiences and interactions with customers. In 2018, the trend for overhauling an entire CMS will be more prevalent than ever.

Flow chart shows drawbacks of a legacy system and benefits of a new system, such as lower maintenance costs and higher performance

More companies will wave goodbye to clunky legacy systems

But changing the CMS alone will not result in a better experience for customers. Careful consideration needs to be made when it comes to implementing a new CMS.

The temptation is to replace what is there, in its entirety, in one release. This will often coincide with a completely revamped customer experience. However, this comes with considerable risk to businesses that rely on websites to acquire new customers and support old ones.

Instead, we suggest a controlled rollout of the CMS and new experience, driven by data and measured against positive and negative impact on customers and business performance. By releasing in stages and using insight as part of this process, the business risk is minimised and customer experience can be improved much more quickly.

05. Being anti-trend and saying no

The deluge of new consumer technologies and channels to market often results in brand owners jumping in feet-first and 'creating an app' or, most recently, saying 'we need a skill for Amazon’s Alexa' – fuelled by a fear of missing out.

While being ahead of the curve with new digital experiences can be a game-changer for some, jumping on the trends bandwagon without proper consideration is a bad idea. Make sure the technology is ready to offer a meaningful and worthwhile customer experience, and that it's a solution that adds value to your customer experience.

Amazon Echo

Will your product actually benefit from working with the latest hot tech?

We still see many businesses approaching digital work with an end product in mind, rather than viewing it as an experiment to see what works for them. It’s difficult from an agency perspective too, as an answer of ‘not yet’ can feel like a failure, but the right thing to do next can be nothing at all.

Discovery projects are being widely adopted by some of the larger brands – effectively saving thousands of pounds in wasted development time, had they commissioned a full build. We do think that the voice, AI and AR spaces will grow substantially in 2018 (see our 8 tips for designing voice interfaces and How to build a chatbot interface for advice in these areas), but we will also see businesses saying no if they need to.

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Louis is managing director at Code Computerlove.