Website design has come in leaps and bounds since the first basic site was published by Tim Berners-Lee in August 1991. Yet, not all site-owners have tapped into the key traits of modern website design.
Be honest, is your website a sight for sore eyes, or an eyesore? Because, more than twenty-five years after the launch of the World Wide Web, there are still many lessons to learn when it comes to producing websites that are inspiring, engaging and make the most of the online medium. Traits that are omnipresent in the best of modern website design include originality, ease of use, responsiveness, readability, technical performance and the magic to make a great user experience. Not forgetting high quality content (words & images) to help people find your site, and keep them glued too. If you’re struggling to tick-off just one or two of these traits, it might be time for a re-think. Your website could be hindering progress, rather than being a cherished asset. In which case, have the conviction to change it, because your website is an open window into your business. And, your competitors are only ever a click away.
Now, I’ll be honest, I’m addicted to the internet. In my world, it’s not a unique communication medium, it’s the only communications medium. Newspaper and magazines are out-of-date before reaching the newsstand. Some are free, granted, but so is McDonalds Wi-Fi. Virtually every piece of information I consume comes via the internet. Unlike traditional media, digital media is ever evolving. It never stops, never stands still. As I write this post, a new trend in web design will probably emerge, taking the sheen off my prose. Trends that occurred infrequently seemingly occur daily, and spread fast thanks to the proliferation of content marketers. News is tailor made to consume on my phone, iPad and laptop. Trends becomes traits in modern website design, and they’re changing our thinking, providing ways to tell familiar stories along different lines. New ways to manage the delivery of content continue apace. While advances in responsive web design display content across multiple formats and devices with ease. But, as strategic design and web developers, we need to take stock. We need to allow ourselves just a little time to savour how far modern website design has come. Before the next round of cosmetic modifications and technology upgrades take digital design in another, exciting direction.
While capturing every trend is an unrealistic expectation, it’s good practice to keep our eyes (and ears) open. Because any one of those new trends has the potential to change or sharpen our thinking. Trends happen as a result of experimentation and innovation. And trends in modern website design can significantly improve visual design, functionality and make for better user experience. As a result of this continuous innovation, we can all experience noticeable upturns in site traffic leading to more enquiries, sign-ups, enrolments and purchases. Whatever your performance metrics, they’re sure to improve through a dedicated digital strategy, with your website at the epicentre. I would always advise against a stop-start-stop approach to web development. Many organisations fall into this trap, but it’s a false economy. I’m speaking from experience when I say that websites are unlike any previous communications medium. Websites live on servers, not storage cupboards. They’re not created to be static, but are living extensions of your brand. They need to be nurtured.
Savvy website owners and managers keep a finger on the pulse. They turn trends into traits and create environments for modern website design to flourish. As a result, the websites they manage are always up-to-date. Approach your website and digital communications in this way calls for frequent, incremental changes – drastic intervention is rarely required. For me, this is where modern web design is going, if it hasn’t already arrived. Continuous development, user testing and rapid prototyping. Having said this, the best route can be a complete overhaul, especially if the issues are acute. For example, the architecture of your site might have become unwieldy as your company (and content) grew. Or the technology might have become obsolete. If this is the case, there’s good reason to start afresh and WordPress is the content management platform of choice for many companies nowadays.
Whether you’re evolving or reinventing, always keep a focus on the objectives you set out as part of your digital strategy. Many organisations go wrong by taking a scattergun approach to digital communications, and then wonder why the results are fragmented. They’re missing opportunities to build lasting relationships, and they’re almost certainly not the proud custodians of a modern website design. Although digital agencies need to shoulder some of the responsibility here, as a pro-active stance would prevent websites falling into disrepair, effectively becoming derelict.
Bear in mind that you can’t use the same communication techniques and approaches for content that you use for other channels. Modern website design is very different to other mediums, and demands tailor made approaches to attract and engage visitors. Internet performance and usage in the UK continues to gain huge momentum, but I could probably pull-off research informing us that the online experience is not always a happy experience, with businesses missing out on enquiries and income. While some organisations might baulk at the prospect of a continuous web development strategy, having to take emergency, remedial action is hardly efficient. Also, as this is a marathon – not a sprint – the investment will be staggered, and probably no more come to the finishing line. Evolution discards what doesn’t work and keeps the best bits. Revolution ditches the whole lot, but the results can be equally impressive. There’s no right or wrong, it depends entirely on where you’re at.
So, before this blog post becomes obsolete, here are some key traits of modern website design…
More interesting typography
Big typography in design is nothing new, of course, but it’s relatively unusual online, until now, and is partly due to web designers having a larger pool of fonts to choose from. This has a knock-on benefit as companies can better align their online and offline communications, thus improving overall levels of consistency and increasing brand recognition. For a long time, typography has taken a back seat, but it’s finally found a way into the digital spotlight. Apart from being easier to read, big type and interesting typography has advantages that go beyond the practical everyday assumption. Big type simply reaches the parts small type cannot reach, in the sense that it provides ‘conceptual’ writers with ways to express the personality of a brand through top-level messaging. While there are more typefaces to choose from, it’s still important to select a font that’s supported by the common browsers, to ensure it displays consistently cross-platform and cross-device.
Large, dynamic imagery
Full-screen, dynamic hero imagery looks impressive and takes web design beyond the traditional concept of above and below the fold. It also complements the trend for large type, as the two go hand-in-hand. Subtle navigation cues can be used to encourage visitors to scroll down, scroll sideways or tap for more information. Large images are nothing new in modern website design, but what is new is the way they’re being used to present an organisation at the surface level, leaving the visitor wanting more. They also work equally well across desktop computers, tablets and mobile devices. An image is a powerful way to evoke a thought, or plant a seed and the theme for large images can run through your entire site, or feature at the top level only, as a visual veneer that sits between the visitor and your detailed content. Obviously, in this day and age, I don’t need to mention responsive, but I’ll mention it just in case… Make sure your website is responsive so visitors get the same great experience regardless of the device they’re browsing on.
Video at the top-level
I know, video has been around for ages. Longer than the internet even. But, have you noticed how it’s creeping into homepage design? In fact, some homepage designs are virtually all video with little else, made possible by faster connection speeds. Is this the future of modern website design? Will web-owners become custodians of personal TV channels, able to broadcast long into the night? While the benefit of video is clear, I should temper my enthusiasm. Yes, our brains process moving image and sound faster than they do a dense block of text. Video is effortless to consume. But, does your CEO have a penchant for a truly big production, and are resources are available to leverage the best from the medium? If not, tread carefully. The bar is set high (and not just by Hollywood) and anything other than a broadcast-friendly production will leave you looking amateurish. Video is just perfect for organisations with deep pockets, a strong social media presence, and a steady stream of organic traffic. For organisation requiring a lot of ‘on page’ content, a mix of video and web pages might be the way to go. Lights, camera, action?
Flat and semi-flat design
The notion of flat design seems like an oxymoron, in the context of modern website design. Still, when Apple made the shift, web designers took note. While previous years bestowed upon us bevels, reflections and drop-shadows, flat design moved in an altogether more subtle direction. Flat design is actually difficult to do well, and there is a risk of it looking unimaginative. Which brings us back to the simplicity of big type and the theory of conceptual, creative writing. In essence, flat design makes us think more about the quality of content, the overarching concept, and less about bells and whistles. Because flat design is naturally more sparse, web designers are embracing illustration, infographics, iconography, high-quality photography, ghost button and strong accent colours to add visual interest. Minimalist it might be, but there’s an assured confidence about flat and semi-flat web design. It also helps people coming to your site to understand what you do quickly. If you take this route, keep it consistent and implement flat design across the whole site, and not just at the top level.
Hamburger style menus
Collapsable navigation has been around for a while, and takes its cues from App design. At some point, a switch was flicked and it became mainstream in modern website design. While we were busily applying this menu style to client sites, we neglected to apply it to our own. Presently being rectified. Removing conventional navigation frees up space for an altogether cleaner, distraction free visual experience. Potentially hamburger navigation does create an additional interaction, but visitors will be used to this from their smartphones and tablets. This is one of the most noticeable shifts in modern website design, and is a welcome shift from traditional navigation methods that have been around for ages.
While thinking about trends in modern website design, it’s also worth bearing in mind things to avoid and update. These include everything from distracting animations to weird or confusing navigation, cheesy stock photography and the overuse of pop ups. I’ll save the rest for another day!
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