Here today, gone tomorrow. Digital design trends can seem pretty arbitrary; one day 3D spinning logos are all the rage, and the next, everyone is talking about flat design. Skeuomorphism dominates for years, only to be violently rejected. Even things as simple as fonts go in and out of style; it can all look like the same whims of fashion that gave us JNCO’s and skinny ties.
But all design is driven by a goal, and with digital and web trends, the goal is always to effectively make information clear and actionable. It’s not enough for a website or an app to be beautiful; it has to do its job – and as mobile becomes an increasingly prominent part of the web landscape, design needs to be able to serve users on multiple platforms. That means modern design is increasingly looking for what both works well and looks great on mobile.
It’s important to keep up with the times, because what’s prominent is what works. So let’s take a look around at where digital design is right now – and where it’s going.
Responsive Design/Mobile Optimization
Like we talked about above, mobile is growing very rapidly. In fact, it may be the single fastest mass-adoption of technology in human history. The speed with which mobile devices have proliferated is truly unprecedented, and has changed the face of the web in just a few short years. While part of the early appeal of smartphones was that they could access the whole web without needing to be shunted off into mobile sites, it’s now been eight years since the iPhone launched, and we’ve learned something: panning and zooming sucks. Websites that aren’t optimized for mobile are entirely too cumbersome for a four-inch screen, and haven’t been designed to take into account the way people actually use smartphones.
Responsive design is an awesome design movement that doubles as a technological breakthrough: websites which are built to display well at any size, on any device, optimized to be used with a mouse or on a touch screen. Hudson Fusion works exclusively in this format precisely because it’s built around user behavior, making your sites easier to use across the board.
An old idea in design is that everything that isn’t doing any useful work should be removed. While this isn’t always the case – ornamentation is always going to be sought after – there is an increasing trend toward increased simplicity in design precisely because simple works. A simple, well-designed site focusing on content presentation and good typography is universally accessible, easy on mobile, and stands out in a crowd of elaborate, sophisticated sites. Simple serves business and design ends, but puts content and accessibility first. Rather than a flashy design, your service offerings get the spotlight, and since they also have fewer graphic elements to scale and reorganize, they’re easier to optimize for mobile.
Flat design has been a trend for a couple of years now. It first took the spotlight when Windows 8 adopted it, and, in a rare instance of being bested in the design department, Apple followed shortly thereafter. But it’s been around for a while, and has only peaked into the mainstream in the last couple of years. Either way, it’s the visual face of the decade. As in #2 above, flat design is all about graphic simplicity: plain colors, wide fields, and nary a beveled edge in sight.
Flat design is a rejection of something called skeuomorphism, which attempted to replicate real-world objects in graphic design. The idea is that, when you’re translating the functions of a physical thing to a new medium, you try and bring the look with it; that communicates what the computer program or website is for. Creating a frame of reference lets people bring their existing conceptions to an unfamiliar object. This can include overtly designing an app to look like a real-world counterpart, with simulated analog components (torn paper on a calendar, flipping numbers on a clock).
As we become an increasingly-digital culture, however, we’ve needed these less and less. We do not need real-world elements to communicate to us with a program does, and many of those analogues are rapidly drifting into the past. No, we’re digital natives, and those real-world objects limited our ability to think through the new possibilities that digital allows. Flat design is a conscious abandonment of these old principles to open us up to new things.
And more importantly, flat design is tailored to the on-screen experience. The large color fields allow creative design and large, clickable/tappable buttons that reflect how we use our devices. And as they’re endlessly reconfigurable, they provide an adaptive format for any display resolution or functionality.
Our displays are better than ever; even the cheapest smartphone has a screen that would put top-notch displays from ten years ago to shame. These high-resolution, rich-color displays mean that photography is especially vivid – and when combined with the trends above, can be used extremely effectively.
High-quality photography communicates sumptuousness and simplicity at the same time; giving primacy to the image is arresting, and demands exploration. It takes advantage of screen real estate, offering strong visuals, an air of credibility, and is a great sales tool if you have an especially attractive product you want to showcase.
This is by no means a conclusive, comprehensive survey of web design trends – but it does give you an idea where things are going and how you can best strategize your own website redesign and marketing plan to capitalize on how people are consuming content. Remember, the goal is always clarity, communication, and adaptability; your content needs to be functional and pleasant to read on multiple devices in multiple formats. Master that, and the rest is a breeze.