How web design is evolving

13 March 2017 / Neil Pendrey

The world of web design is undergoing a transformation, a metamorphosis where the role of design, and indeed the designer, is changing. No longer is design just a case of adding a layer of style at the 11th hour of the project lifecycle, but an integral part of the development of the user experience.

Embracing a mobile first and responsive approach

Google’s ever-changing criteria currently marks down non-responsive sites, so greater emphasis is being placed on the need for them – plus it’s reassuring to know a site will look as the designer intended on all platforms. Adopting a ‘mobile first’ design strategy also forces the designer, and the client, to focus on the site’s content and make sure that the messaging and communication is doing what they want it to. Design can then be used to bring this content to life. No longer is content being created just to satisfy Google – the emphasis has shifted back onto engaging the human audience, which can only be a good thing for client and user alike.

79% of users will leave the site they’re browsing and find another if it isn’t optimised.*

The flip-side is whilst Google now boosts the natural listing of any site that has content optimised for mobile devices and their users, any site that doesn’t will start to see a rapid decline in where it ranks. Page one? No chance. Page three? If you’re lucky. So, if you rely on web traffic generated by a decent Google ranking (PPC and Google Ads aside) then the moral of the story is get your site optimised for mobile sharpish, or suffer the consequences… You can find out more from Google here.

The ‘mobile first’ approach also delivers cost-effectiveness for clients – there’s no need for multiple sites for multiple devices, and the inclusion of a CMS platform makes the ongoing maintenance and updating of a site something that is not only easy, but a pleasure, to do.

Beware! This isn’t always a good thing – let’s not forget people’s tendencies to default to good old Comic Sans when left to their own  devices – which is why the best CMS sites have the right balance between design restrictions and ‘creative freedom’ – ensuring that any content added by those without a designer’s eye still aligns to the overall design ethos, maintains the corporate standard and looks good.

The adoption of rapid prototyping tools

Tools such as Sketch, UXpin, Webflow and AdobeXD are blurring the lines between designer and developer, allowing the designer to quickly visualise and create a functional demonstration of the proposed site. These can be used to present concepts, communicate the site’s behaviours and streamline the proofing process as well as enable the designer to ‘test drive’ the UX and UI, without having to write a single line of code.

The days of static wireframes, exhaustive storyboarding and the time (and budget!) draining visualisation of every page of a site will soon be behind us. These tools will enable clients to see exactly how things will look and work in real-time.

The impact of UI patterns and frameworks

As I mentioned above, greater emphasis is being placed on content. We’re no longer focused on the UI and ‘wow’ factor of the design – this is readily available in a multiple of formats from slick WordPress themes to off-the-shelf turnkey products. But,  buyer beware – the very fact these templates are widely available, and widely used, means companies run the risk of getting lost in a sea of sameness, where their competitors’ sites are so similar in terms of UI design and functionality that they lose the opportunity to make an impact and stand out from the crowd.

This is where the designer’s role has changed again – a great design team will still be able to create content that delivers,  a distinctive way of communicating that will make your site memorable, even if your its framework is the same as everyone else.

In search of bespoke

In the same way, there’s currently a shift from stock shots to bespoke imagery, with custom photo shoots now representing a realistic, and cost-effective, alternative to library images, especially if your client’s product or service requires a little more explaining.

The days of defaulting to cheap stock sources seem to be coming to an end – in the quest for genuinely unique content, more and more emphasis is being placed on ‘traditional’ design and communication skills such as illustration and copy writing. Talented designers can create graphics and illustrations which are full of personality, tailored to reflect the tone of the brand – which is something brands are striving for more than an ever in increasingly crowded markets.

Likewise, the use of typography within website design is changing. Gone are the days of defaulting to Arial or Calibri – with a plethora of web fonts at their disposal designers are now able to use type in more creative ways whilst still adhering to a responsive framework.

Video will become king

The inclusion of video on a website does more than just tick some of Google’s boxes – it attracts and engages the audience in a way that static content never could, providing the perfect platform for brands to get across their carefully constructed narrative and message.

79% of all consumer internet traffic will be video and that 50% of all mobile traffic is now already video based.**

Greater focus on animation

Whilst playing a key role in digital interfaces since the earliest days on the internet (spinning logo anyone?!), the role of animation within websites will continue to evolve. And as designers gain access to more and more tools to enable them to create smile-inducing animations they are set to increase in popularity.

AR and VR will start to feature more

No longer the gimmicky indulgence of clients with big budgets, AR and VR will start to transform the user experience in an increasing number of websites over the next few years. Forward-thinking brand are already creating more interactive solutions that immerse the audience in their online experience.

The possibilities are endless, and as the technologies that power these experiences become more accessible, the way people interact with websites will change dramatically. Gesture recognition, through-lens technology, immersive UIs – they’ll all be here sooner than you think.

So what does this all mean?

Well, while the tools to create websites are getting easier to access, more streamlined and more instant, there’s an increasing importance that the role of the designer doesn’t get overlooked. Otherwise we run the risk of being drowned in that sea of sameness I mentioned earlier. Sure, everything will look pretty but will anyone actually want to engage with it?


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