With the proliferation of microservices and APIs, will UIs go modular too? Some technologists note a rising trend around smaller, intent-based customer experiences that more directly mirror API endpoints.
I recently met with Adam Evans, co-founder and CTO of Airkit, to better understand what’s broken with today’s digital customer journeys and how they need to evolve. He predicted that single-purpose experiences will become more pervasive in the future. In the process, we’ll likely encounter fewer native apps and fewer downloads. To enable all this, he’s putting faith in low-code to bring easier integration and automation patterns to more developers.
The State of Digital Experiences
Digital customer experiences are becoming increasingly connected and web-based, and at times, disconnected from the core service. In headless environments, end users are engaging with companies through more and more abstraction layers, such as chat, SMS, voice or email notifications. These interactions are increasingly modular and event-driven, noted Evans.
Increasingly, user encounters are the result of trigger-based patterns activated when user action is required. Not only is the communication style changing, but new devices and platforms have emerged, further making a case for a decoupled development approach. B2C apps become more modular in this transition, presenting experiences built around specific tasks and closely reflecting the specialized microservices or APIs that drive them. Consider the rise of the single page application (SPA) style or AWS Lambda as evidence.
As more automation and subscription models enable a “set and forget” attitude to commercial software, Evans predicted we’ll likely see more intent- and event-driven workflows emerge. He said these reimagined UIs would shroud platform complexity and, instead, focus on single, specialized actions, like submitting an insurance claim, checking the status of a package or updating your coffee subscription.
A Broken Customer Journey
So why would end user digital experiences evolve into more intent-driven applications? Well, complex digital platforms can get feature-bloated very quickly. Bulky applications with many menus are difficult to navigate, thus impacting user experience.
As Evans describes, generic interfaces often display tons of information irrelevant to the task at hand. “Don’t make me go through generic interfaces to help me do something specific,” he said.
Clunky interfaces are at odds with small digital tasks that involve an attention span of 20 seconds or less. Evans describes these as “micro touchpoints in our daily lives where you don’t need traditional, large applications.” These actions could be, for instance, looking up COVID-19 infection rates, checking your credit card balance or updating a streaming subscription, he said.
Organizations have other imperatives to improve user experience, too. For example, if a platform isn’t self-service, it can increase support calls, which can cost a company significant resources. Plus, if the service isn’t event-driven, users must routinely check in of their own accord, which could waste time and encourage tech anxiety.
Single Page Applications
In the age of modular microservices, the days of bulky apps and “manual polling” may be limited. To Evans, the solution lies in expressing the “minimum way to represent the transaction of that interface.”
“How do we keep moving smaller divisions from the back end to the way interfaces are built?” Evans asked. Similar to the way microservices architecture separates domains, Evans noticed UIs segmenting attention along API endpoints. He envisioned more single-purpose experiences being constructed that extend APIs and microservices with a user interface.
Technically, this may result in more single page applications being developed. Niche UI layers that map APIs would likely carry a data model, Evans described, so that micro apps are delivered with data for entering fields into API calls. As they are web-based, asynchronous single-purpose experiences could also transcend the barriers of app stores and third-party marketplaces.
Potential Benefits of Modularity
More intent-based workflows mean less overhead for the user, bringing quicker, more convenient access to the problems they want solved. Sure, users still register with a core service, such as their bank, coffee subscription service or insurance agency for centralized account management. But, users frequent account centers less often, as the periphery of interactions around them continues to grow.
“The future of apps will look more like individual, intent-based micro apps,” Evans reiterated. These would reflect a metronome of touchpoints Evans called “little moments of delight.”
Pinging users only when action is required could reduce check-ins, thus reducing digital anxiety. Aside from the user benefits, deployment and maintenance for small applications may be easier to support, said Evans. Lastly, more isolated intentional customer experiences increase engagement, response rates and sales, he added.
Using Low-Code For Customer Experiences
Connected digital experiences are relying more and more on APIs. Yet, API integration can be difficult, even for experienced programmers. So, how do we make it easier for people to build interfaces to hit these APIs? Building user-facing layers on top of APIs will require great developer experience, says Evans.
Lately, low-code has been dominating these discussions. With greater emphasis on visual-driven development, low-code is empowering non-technical employees. To Evans, low-code capabilities will be essential to influence how future customer journeys are constructed.
Evans noted how low-code “changes the whole game around how apps are built.” For example, branded experiences often require reusable code and common libraries, all of which low-code platforms excel at. In addition, when working with APIs, a “layer over REST design is essential to maintain state and enable long-term processing,” he said.
Will The New Digital Journey Go Micro?
Complex interfaces seem to work for conglomerate giants like Amazon. But other scenarios may benefit from more single-purpose workflows. As platforms become more extensive, the user interactions need to become leaner to avoid added stress. As a result, Evans predicts that micro, trigger-based B2C touchpoints will become more common in the coming years. In this paradigm, better UI extensions of common APIs could help bring people into the equation.
“We’ll see a lot of cool stuff in the next decade,” he said. “Future apps won’t look like what past ones looked like.” As IT moves to support new, multiple channels, such as chat, voice, web and VR/AR, our perception of what an application is also will inevitably alter.
In tomorrow’s “great unbundling of apps,” as Evans called it, “if you don’t use it every day, there’s a pretty good chance it doesn’t need to be there.”
There are many schools of thought on the best methods to retain quality user experiences. Do you think modularity is the answer? What do you think tomorrow’s digital experiences will look like? Feel free to let us know in the comments below.