We are already one-twelfth through 2016 and oh, how things are changing for digital. Here is a taste of what we see being big in web design this year.
The Visual Effect
More and more clients we speak to aren’t satisfied with their websites just being searchable sets of text-based information. Their sites need to work harder for them as brand experiences and as tools to convey practical detail to their users – and both are improved by the effective and creative use of visual assets.
Whether it’s a video homepage, scrolling, Snowfall-style narratives packed with photography, illustration and animation, or interactive 3D models on product pages; imagery is going to win out over words every time. What this will mean is that photo and video shoots, or commissioning of illustration and motion graphics, will become a standard part of any web project. Sophisticated content and brilliantly constructed functionality working together will let the web fulfil its potential for brands.
Substance over style
With all that, you have to remember it’s substance that wins out over style for user of digital platforms. As we become more comfortable with fancy new frameworks and iterations of steadfast languages available to web developers, 2016 has become bored of unnecessary animation and 3D effects. If it helps your business message and is user friendly then that’s fine but we are seeing web design come around full circle and concentrate on the message being conveyed.
We have clients ditching carousels, stripping back accordion lists and going minimal on superfluous interaction effects. This is all in the name of boosting usability and performance – for mobile devices particularly. Mobile is still on the up and, by now, impossible to ignore. There is no room for fluffy embellishments anymore – users want information and they want it fast and fuss-free.
Web design is no longer about creating static layouts and page templates. To keep up with rapidly expanding businesses and the growing umbrella of sub-brands they need to accomodate, websites (or platforms, more appropriately) need to be flexible. More and more elements are now being created as part of a Pattern Library. This is a collection of repeating blocks that make up a page and allow for a consistent roll-out of content across a digital platform. This way of working has also been coined as ‘Atomic Design’.
Once brand guidelines have been lifted into a digital styleguide, one can prepare all the code for the different elements that have been designed so then they are easily implemented in any situation. You don’t need to tell people the rules any more – they are automatically implemented and thought through in advance. Pattern libraries can be used as frameworks for new web templates or elements, and any other design going forward.
Data driven decision making
Data is everywhere. With wider trends like wearables, home automation and the overarching ‘quantified self’ starting to take over, we are drowning in numbers. This year, more than ever, is all about tapping into the data available to us to make incremental improvements to our respective platforms and/or services.
This means targeting our efforts using analytics and phasing continuous improvement programs through prioritisation. This is surging in popularity through both opportunity (the data is there for the taking) and necessity. Project budgets are ever tighter so prioritising scope empirically and focussing spend is a very prudent approach.
Making personalisation count
2016 has brought with it a complete mixed bag of rather more discerning digital consumers than ever, all with different needs and motivations. One-size-fits-all web strategy has begun to run its course and delivering a personalised experience to their audience is on the mind’s of many of our clients.
Personalisation – the art of adapting a page’s content to suit a particular user – is one thing but we need to be concentrating on before we get to that stage. It’s the who, what, where, why, when that counts when attempting to personalise your digital platform. Up until now, a lot of people have been dipping their toes in the personalisation pond but it’s time to step back and think, ultimately, about the ‘what are we really trying to achieve here?’.
This year will be about taking that step back and approaching personalisation sensibly. Like previous points, this follows in the same vein of ‘substance over style’ – no more geolocating for the hell of it. We’ll be helping clients answer the questions like ‘Who are my audience segments?’, ‘What will I use to identify them?’, “Where will I provide personalised content?’ and ‘Why will this help our business goals?’.
Conversion over traffic
For years, people have just been concerned about traffic. “We want more traffic!” is often heard ringing through the room when discussing a new website project. In the effort of boosting leads or sales, the go-to strategy has almost always been to increase footfall. Banner ads could be to blame. With diabolic click-through rates (of the order of 0.01%), it makes sense to invest in traffic and get a tiny sliver of the huge pie.
But forget about traffic. That conversion rate isn’t getting any better. Your website, CTA, form, whatever isn’t going to convert a higher percentage of users by just shoving more eyeballs in front of the screen.
2016 is the year of conversion. Traffic is only part of the story. Invest in optimising your conversion rate and you will continue to reap rewards long after your one-off investment.
By Matt Fox, Reading Room, an Idox company