The main priority of a website designer is, ultimately, to optimize user experience (UX). If you walked into a shop and couldn’t find what you were looking for, all the staff were yelling at you, the till was on the ceiling and you could only pay by throwing coins in and hoping they stuck, you’d quite rightly leave and go elsewhere. It’s no different in the digital world. Great user experiences helps attract and retain customers, and failing in this area can make or break a business.
User experience can be split into two parts. Functionality and creativity. Functionality is the extent to which a website works, and how easily you can find what you’re looking for and achieve what you want to achieve. Creativity is how much enjoyment a user gathers from a website, from the flourishes that a designer puts in that intrigue and excite visitors. To continue the comparison with bricks-and-mortar stores, these are the decorations that make a person enjoy staying inside and convey a sense of the brand, whether this be a sense of sophistication, or fun. It is also largely these that mean users will recommend it to friends.
Because of the pace at which the internet has evolved, and changes in people’s web browsing habits born through technological advances, the imperatives of providing excellent user experience change often. For example, the amount of scrolling a user should be forced to do is a matter of great debate. The great increase in the use of mobile phones also brought with it the return of the ‘long scroll, where as much information is fit onto one page as possible. This is because people are limited by data caps and would prefer not to click from page to page. Obviously, this goes against the perhaps common sense view that users don’t want to have to scroll for ages to find what they’re looking for. The main issue with this is that often when you accidentally click off the page, you don’t come back to the same place and have to scroll down all over again. Which is intensely irritating. Over the next year it should become clearer which is the priority for users, and which they prefer.
During 2015, we saw a broad homogenization of site and page layout design, driven by increasing awareness of what works best, the need for websites to be optimized for mobile and, the general rise of web templates and WordPress. Primary page elements, the hero image, call-to-action, headline & subhead, and so forth, are all designed using similar styles, and being placed in similar positions on the page. Websites are also becoming simpler in layout, and as such the small creative flourishes will become more important. Icons are one area that people can have fun with, but animation will also become more prevalent in helping to set a website apart and differentiate brand. Hover animations in particular are something that designers will look to more and more, but animation in general is set to be used in a more integrated way that helps to enhance the natural flow of the on-page user experience, as opposed to being purely for its own sake.
Among the other small flourishes that will set sites apart is typography, as more designers and companies focus on the font they use and the size. The style of font has perhaps been underrated in its impact on a user’s perception of a site in the past, and increasing awareness of this should see a greater focus on getting it right.
These are just a few of the trends we are likely to see over the next year, but it is likely that there will be many more changes as designers adapt to things like wearables and adblockers. It is doubtful that these will have too great an impact on design this year, but we should start to see sites optimized to take them into consideration.