How long is it since the beginning of the commercial internet revolution? Not long. So we can expect the industry to experience change at a rapid pace until it reaches maturity. New trends will affect the industry, much like a growing child’s body alters, they grow taller and eventually become an adult.
What trends are affecting the industry that have an impact on businesses locally? Keeping abreast of these changes will help you continue to make informed decisions about your web strategy in the coming years.
The shifting sands of web design trends come and go, but this post is meant to inform my readers of movements that look likely to cast long shadows – ones that will influence how every day people interact with the internet and alter our way of perceiving it. This matters to you because businesses need to respond to changes around them, in order to fill their customers’ or clients’ needs.
This means an occasional tweak of your logo or brand identity, your message and approach – and your website, whether a complete redesign or some minor alterations here and there to keep it current, relevant and engaging. In this blog I’ll give you a brief outline of one of the main issues facing web design in 2012: Designing for a Mobile World.
It’s been almost a decade since the “web 2.0″ revolution; where designers and major companies started to realise that they were no longer designing websites for use on desktop computers only: that we were standing at the dawn of a new “wireless” era; that the internet had become “un-tethered” or liberated from the constraints of offices at work or at home.
That freedom has meant great things for the connected world as you know; however it’s also been a bit of a headache for us designers. New technologies have meant new devices, new ways of seeing the web. As well as technologies changing, meaning new browsers to design for (did you know that each browser interprets website code slightly differently?), but also that screens sizes are no longer standard.
Before this era, screen sizes were mostly around 14 inches from corner to corner, meaning you could design one piece of fixed artwork to fill that “canvas”, if you like. Easy peasy (relatively speaking!)
But now, screen sizes have forked into 2 major categories: a) large screens for desktops and laptops, perhaps 17 inches across or more, oblong rather than square and in landscape format. b) small screens for smartphones, typically portrait sized.
This challenge has really helped designers think in practical ways about how they design: chiefly the way that people recognise perceive the brand they are representing, and then the way they interact with sites they create. If there is such a wide variety of devices, how do they keep the branding the same? How do they provide an experience that’s consistent no matter the device used to access it?
Puzzling questions, many of which are not fully resolved yet. However, it has brought a level of maturity to the industry; we have been forced to rethink our very role. And that has been a very liberating and positive experience for most.
I have personally moved away from showing a client a design for their website before I begin work. I’ve followed larger and well-respected agencies in doing this because the design is in fact very subjective: what browser shall I show the site in? Internet Explorer or Google Chrome? What width will I show them – is it likely to confuse them when they look at the result in a screen that is larger – or smaller?
In fact, what is more important is how a person INTERACTS with the site. What they see of the brand that’s represented – by the colours, the fonts and the overall attitude and experience of the site. How the site is laid out, what content goes where. And how they move around the site too.
Now, finding that a design is only telling half the story, I prefer to sit down with the client and discover their brand’s attitude: edgy, adventurous and exciting – or corporate, trustworthy and stable. I discuss colours they wish to use, and design a site around their logo concept to give it a unified feel.
Then I work out what is the objective of the site: is it to encourage purchases on an online store? To sign up for a newsletter, or make a telephone call to the client? This aim or “flow” considers that people may need to investigate the company for different amounts of time before deciding to make a commitment; and helps them to reach that conclusion without any “roadblocks” that might put them off.
Layout has an important role in this; what information is presented on the home page that will encourage them to dig deeper into the site, increasing the chances that they’ll take the action that you wish them to take, and further to that, to trust your brand more.
The mobile revolution has forever changed how web designers act. We must work with these changes, or wind up in a backwash. As a business owner, you need to decide whether to keep up with these changes, with the investment that might require and considering the trade-offs in terms of the value of your brand, your customers’ experience and the ease at which they can make purchases or invest in your services.
And it’s also changed the thinking of web designers, from artists and geeks … into facilitators, into a new field of technical precision that is similar to that required of architects.
… but that’s a discussion for another day!