Wish ListWith a new year comes the prospect of a fresh start, the opportunity to turn over a new leaf, and the chance to get it right this time. That's as true for brands as it is for people. In that spirit, here is our 2017 wish list of ideas - both old and new - that we would love to see the industry embrace in the spirit of making the digital customer experience (CX) better for the folks who count the most: customers.

1. Focus on "jobs worth doing."

I heard that simple, memorable line while attending the UX Strat conference in Rhode Island last year. As the presenter offered his insights into getting UX right, I was struggling with my smartphone. The airline on which I would be flying that afternoon had a mobile app that wasn't operating smoothly. I was trying to check in for my flight, but a required - and completely unnecessary - step was preventing my enjoying the benefits of the app, not to mention the conference. Nonetheless, the UX Strat presenter's point was coming through loud and clear.

In planning a new experience or app, we should make sure every use case and function is as meaningful and worthwhile as possible. It doesn't matter whether the app is a required part of the user's job or something used purely for fun. The small mistakes that we make are magnified over many, many people and repeated with high frequency. Before we worry about getting the design right, we should ask whether this task is necessary or worthwhile.

2. Reduce interstitial anxiety through increased use of subtle animations.

Reduce interstitial anxiety? Yes, I'm serious. Here's a snapshot of the issue, courtesy of Chase Buckley, from UX Magazine: "A common phrase amongst serious Interaction Designers, interstitial anxiety refers to the momentary state of tension a user experiences between an action (clicking a button) and a response (moving to the next page). High latency and load times between action and response can trigger this brief experience of anxiety, during which the user is momentarily left in the dark - powerless and confused - caught between seams. If left unaddressed, this anxiety can quickly build up to create a poor user experience that will drive the user away from your product."

We have enough anxiety already, so why not turn moments of potential "interstitial anxiety" to our advantage? Use animated GIFs or other design elements to tell the user what's coming. Those moments of anxiety can become moments of anticipation. Instead of being frustrated by their frozen screens, customers will be entertained by your animations.

3. Love your personas; live your personas.

Some leading practitioners do this as a matter of course. But the journey to true customer-centricity is still a challenge for many companies. Start by finding clever ways to stay connected with customers every day. Why not decorate your offices with customer personas? Many people give lip service to the importance of user research and insights, but few take it to heart or internalize it. We know a company is serious when the walls of their design and marketing departments are plastered with pictures, quotes, facts, and wish lists regarding their most important personas. An online retail company we met this year has daily customer feedback sessions - in their offices. What better way to drive customer-centricity than to literally surround your team with customers?

4. Help aesthetics make a comeback.

Increasingly, UI design is being executed with off-the-shelf tools and templates that rob the process of creative input and aesthetics. Although "flat design" may promote speed and efficiency, and it may even allow you to tinker with the look and feel of your app, it doesn't allow for distinctive design.

A good analogy is car design: The baseline reliability, safety, and efficiency of automobiles has improved so dramatically in the past 20 to 30 years that manufacturers today differentiate their brands through styling (at least within the non-performance categories). Bringing your brand to life calls for investing in quality UI design, lest your app look like every other Bootstrap/Squarespace site or Material Design app out there.

5. Give your brand a voice.

I mean that both figuratively and literally. Human-computer interactions are increasingly mediated by voice-based UIs, although the interactions often resemble conversations between people speaking different languages. Think about how quickly Alexa - a truly voice-driven brand - has gained traction, and then think about how the same technology might supercharge your app.

In the age of television, the brand voice was front and center. In the age of the internet, that voice has become muffled. Now there is an opportunity to use technology to bring that voice back. However, any brand that hasn't invested in figuring out its own persona, tone of voice, and vocabulary risks creating incoherent and inconsistent brand experiences for customers across the ever-expanding touchpoints available.

May you and your customers have many wonderful experiences this new year!