It is never easy to look at any industry and say, “this is what you should be doing in this instance,” or “this idea will definitely happen.” As anyone involved with web development and design is all too aware, making such bold statements is always impossible in that particular field. It is not that analysing likely trends is difficult, but that we never know when something fresh and new is going to appear on the horizon.
When you are web developer, the innovative piece of code or great idea you implement to make a clients’ site a world-leading one can be amazing today, but made to look amateurish within a month when something even bigger and better comes along to steal your thunder.
We have explored some of the ideas and trends that are either already popular, or will become so in the months ahead in the world of development and design. What we’re not going to say is whether they won’t be surpassed. Many of these will run and run, others could be lucky to see the northern hemisphere summer, but will be big for a brief period.
Make no mistake, this is definitely something that the ‘big boys’ and savvy web developers got hold of last year, with many already making it their trademark, or using their knowledge to secure the biggest and best contracts available.
Still, for those yet to catch on, the coming months will be when responsive web design goes from something quirky, that a few sites makes use of, to something that is a given for all. This will have a profound impact on the way in which websites across all industries look, and how consumers interact with them. Only this week we have seen Facebook announce changes to their newsfeed function that they have been working on since early last year, with the appearance steeped in the principles of responsive web design.
However, it is likely that this in itself will not be the biggest development story of 2013, but rather the events and trends that stem from it.
During recent years, the business that did not have a great looking and functioning mobile site to complement its desktop offer was considered to be missing a lot of potential custom. How ironic it is then, that having spent a lot of that time attempting to come up with an answer, that mobile specific sites will become an increasing irrelevance over the coming months, likely to be phased out completely by 2015.
Of course, it is not that we will suddenly stop developing sites for mobile devices, but the continuing move towards ever more responsive web design will mean that businesses have one website, predominantly optimized for mobile, but great looking on desktop devices, too. Designers producing cleaner, simpler designs that look amazing on any device, screen size, or browser will in turn, fuel this development trend.
Instantly, developers’ and business owners’ lives will get easier, although adapting to the challenge of fitting as much information and quality content into the smallest possible package could prove tricky for some. Still, if it helps move websites further towards quality over quantity from a content perspective, this can only be a good thing.
Mobile applications have been something of an elephant in the room for many months. This is especially true in terms of those that are essentially a carbon copy of the websites or brand that they represent.
With design and development firmly on the path to a ‘one site for all’ way of thinking, the need for an app to look at something on a mobile device is certain to dwindle. As designs get simpler, that will also mean apps, widgets, and other add-ons that we have become accustomed to seeing on homepages and throughout a site will become less commonplace. The web page of the future will be developed so that it is a combination of essential information, social connecting and sharing buttons, and perhaps QR codes for quickly downloading contact and location information, for example, to smartphones and tablet devices.
Maybe we are not about to see the end of apps, per se, but the end of non-essential apps. If we were to go through iTunes or Google Play, how many apps would we find that add real value? In much the same way that websites will be developed for multiple platforms, expect apps to go the same way, especially as we are synchronizing all of the devices we use to a greater degree than ever before.
Everything we have looked at thus far points to here. Despite web development experts, industry heavyweights, and even highly respected academics telling us to avoid having too much content and massive websites for the sake of it, developers still insist on having sprawling websites for no apparent reason.
Why does this happen? Some in the industry still believe that the more content you have to index, the better your chances of ranking higher. We have said it already and we will say it again: quality over quantity.
Corporate websites may need to run into the hundreds or even thousands of pages. Ask yourself, does your small business need to? Unless you are hosting a reasonably large e-commerce platform, the answer should be ‘no.’ Forget about ‘look at us’ flash introductions, too, and anything else that stops the customer getting to the information they want.
Developers should be turning websites into lean, mean, high performance machines over the coming months, especially as Google and other search engines become ever more focused on ranking sites with excellent user experience metrics as highly as possible. A simple philosophy will extend to individual pages, too, and less will definitely be best this year and beyond.
Although there are dozens of design and development trends out there to exploit and create a wide variety of websites, one common criticism leveled at the internet, in general, is that many sites tend to look the same.
While responsive development and design will assist in removing a lot of that, it still presents a challenge to those even at the very top of the industry. The difficulty is that what makes a great website isn’t a well-kept secret anymore. Anyone who wants to put together a design and build can easily Google what they need to be doing.
The question then, is how will developers and designers take what we all appreciate to be the very best elements of a website, and fit them into a bespoke plan for everyone they deal with? The beauty of the problem is that there is no one correct answer, meaning we can expect to see the use of minimalism, dynamic design aspects, photography, and much more, either as separate entities or all together, as developers look for something we haven’t seen before.
Any quest to discover something new means that experimentation is going to be high on the list. If a developer does not enjoy trying 999 things that go wrong before number 1,000 works, then they might want to consider a career change before 2013 is through.
Expect the coming months to show us things that we have never seen before in terms of design, with the only certainty being that we will have as many “don’t ever do that again” moments as we will “why didn’t we do that before?” ones.
At the same time, design will become much more consumer-led than it already is. Rather than metrics such as traffic and conversions being used to decide whether a design is good enough, sites will do even more to get customers completing feedback surveys and seeking suggestions for how they can develop their platform further.
In terms of learning, courses teaching the basics of web development and design are becoming more common. Over the coming months and years, more individuals with skills in these areas will emerge, which in turn will improve the ‘ideas pool’ and make the industry a much more diverse entity. Perhaps the most exciting aspect is that many that are new to design and development will be fully tuned into the new, modern ways of doing things. They won’t even learn about the old tricks and habits that many experienced developers will still follow, and this will put them in a great place to become respected experts in a short time.
We have covered much of what developers can expect to experience over the coming months and years, and the challenges that they can all expect to face. As always, a key component when it comes to the user experience is the appearance of a site.
Responsive web design points the way, but what are the specific aspects of design that will make a site look great for years to come?
As retina display devices become more popular, more sites will be built or redeveloped to be optimised for such screens. A balancing act will need to take place, however, as a site specifically for retina screens won’t look too great on a regular one. Although this is an exciting step, not implementing it until the latter half of 2014 may well be the safest option to avoid a dramatic fall in your sites’ visual experience.
Fixed header bars are becoming more popular, however as we move toward ‘sites built for mobile’ it is debatable whether they will remain so. Don’t expect these to disappear altogether, but if you are designer or developer it is definitely worth giving careful thought to whether you need one at all.
As already alluded to, ensuring that a site is always on the leading edge of innovation and user experience is difficult to do. It is possible that it will be even more so during the coming months, as the changes in design and development trends expected to happen represent a profound move away from what many have believed to be ‘the right way’ to do things for much of the past three or four years.
For businesses, designers, developers, search marketers, and anyone else with a role within the industry, being quick to adapt, try out the new techniques, and learn what is possible, will be the key to future success.
The future looks more exciting than ever, and the biggest plus point is that the whole industry appears to be getting simpler and more accessible, rather than more complex and technical.