Halloween is over, Thanksgiving is just two weeks away, and before we know it, it’s going to be 2018. With that in mind, I wanted to go ahead and talk about five user experience and web design trends I’m going to be keeping my eye on in the new year.
Photo by Annie Spratt
- Clean is the new flat
This idea has been in-the-making for roughly the past five years, but I think 2018 will be the year that you see brands truly embrace the concept of clean websites. More and more companies will continue to strip back unnecessary decorative elements on a page in favor of a better user experience — and faster load times.
Think back 10 years ago to when the first iPhone launched. At that point in time, the idea of technological “touch design” was still in its infancy, and one of the common design concepts was to make things on a screen resemble their real-world counterparts. So, for example, if there was a button for you to push on a screen — like on the original iPhone — it would often look like a round, glossy (and frequently big) button.
This tendency, known as skeuomorphism, eventually lost its popularity. Designers would occasionally still add a light gradient or drop shadow to a background to provide a sense of dimension and tactility to a site, but then that, too, began to fade (no pun intended).
Where we are today with web design, and where I think we’ll be in 2018, is on the total opposite side of the spectrum from skeuomorphism. More and more, organizations are looking to have a clean look to their website, and there are a variety of benefits that come with that mentality.
Think of a user form on a website. In the past, the fields for the user to fill out would often be outlined, creating a box around the field. Now, we’re starting to see more brands let the field breathe. Take Verizon’s website, for example. Notice the search bar at the top of their homepage? It’s just a single line with a magnifying glass.
In addition to the aesthetics, there are other advantages to this clean approach. This strategy helps page performance and user experience by potentially reducing the number of images on a page. Additionally, this type of component lends itself well to the idea of responsive design; you’re able to move these types of elements around on the page so much more easily as opposed to ones that have much more weight to them (like a form with a thick outline).
- Designing for Alexa — and other devices
One of the biggest trends I’m interested in following is how websites are designed for people using non-traditional forms of media. As you’re building a site today — and certainly this will be true in 2018 — you shouldn’t be thinking just about how it displays on mobile or a tablet. You now need to ask yourself how it displays on a watch, or a gaming console, or how it interacts with voice-controlled systems like the Amazon Echo or Google Home. Users have interfaces all around them, and designing for each has its nuances — particularly when you’re talking about removing the interface all together for something like the Amazon Echo.
I could see the Echo or Google Home being a great tool for a company that wants to develop an industry-specific podcast that could be played as a news briefing, or potentially as a way to allow customers to order or re-order a product by voice. That being said, businesses truly need to be strategic about planning for these types of devices. Whatever is created needs be made to answer a user’s question or solve a problem. If a business tries to produce industry news based solely on self-serving info, or tries to adapt content that a user wouldn’t think to ask for — like an employee’s bio page — it won’t be useful.
The rise in popularity of the voice-controlled systems reminds me of the app boom as smart phones became more common. Everyone wanted to come up with an app. Newspapers wanted an app. Law firms wanted an app.
Everyone wanted an app.
Now sure, we could build an app for a newspaper or a law firm, but just because we could, should we? For a newspaper, yeah there probably was a lot of value. For a law firm? That one I’m not so sure about.
The same question holds true with the voice-controlled systems. Just because we can develop skills for these systems doesn’t mean we should. The key is coming up with a skill that is actually useful and beneficial for the user. Like I said, I’m fascinated to see what happens with this one.
- A heightened emphasis on security
User experience goes beyond design. How users interact with your website influences their impression of your company. And in 2018, ensuring security is going to be more vital than ever before — just ask anyone who has had to deal with Equifax in the past few months.
Users are tired of feeling vulnerable online, and businesses are starting to respond. This goes beyond having an https at the front of your URL; websites are now becoming more transparent about how they’re using users’ information. More and more, users will see on-page notifications about cookies and privacy settings, for example. Sure, there are legal implications with that, but having that display also helps users build trust in the brand.
- Performance-driven design
Site performance and speed will be a major concern for websites, and that will impact how sites are designed. People expect sites to load fast, and that will continue as more organizations leverage Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) to drive users to their sites. When it comes to your website, the more you clutter it down, the worse it is going to perform.
As you think about the content on your site, it is important to determine if each piece of content is used because it’s nice to have or because it is essential to have.
Take, for example, using a video as a background on your site, which is a major trend with websites right now. This is a prime example of needing to weigh the coolness of a feature against the performance of the site. If you’re considering adding a video background to your site, ask yourself: am I doing this because it’s trendy or because it serves a purpose?
Here’s another example. Imagine you have a homepage that features 30 different photos. That’s 30 photos that need to load for a user. Do you think you could tell the same story or have the same impact while only using five photos? If so, you’ll substantially improve the performance of your site.
Think of your website’s performance as a scale. If you do have a feature like a video background that is important to the site, then think about what else you can remove from the site that can keep the overall performance scale balanced.
- Content-driven design
When a website is created, designers traditionally build wireframes, and then content is created to fit those wireframes. Now, though, you’re seeing a push to have the content be the driver of the page. This is particularly true as companies put an increased emphasis on content marketing and content that drives conversions. It will not be surprising to see content strategists and marketing strategists be brought into website design conversations earlier so sites can be built with the content top of mind.
If you have thoughts or questions about any of these trends, shoot me a note and let me know. I’d love to hear what trends you’re excited about or want to know more about as we head into 2018!