Design Trends for 2016

trends 2016The Internet is more crowded that ever before with no end in sight. Standing out is more difficult; getting found is an art in itself. Websites are no longer what businesses and nonprofits need in order to to be digitally available to clients, donors, and consumers. Social media, news feeds and blog articles, and quick bites of video all extend a site’s reach, lifting it ever higher on the wings of Google, Yahoo, and Bing. So what trends in 2016 are worthwhile?

Minimalism. Not just straightforward design, but fewer words, better said. Good design continues to chase the User Experience, and that user has become overwhelmed. Minimal design respects that each user’s time is valuable and every second spent on “your” website is golden. A lead, a comment, or a purchase…platinum! (actually the ruby is rated as the most expensive mineral in the world, but did you know that?) Fewer moving objects, slideshows, pop-ups, or unexpected audio soundbites the better. Content is now read in mental “bursts” lasting nanoseconds, and at best maybe 20% of a website’s content is even scanned, and no page is ever read to the end. The ancient phrase “Keep It Simple, Stupid” is now “trending.”

Flat design. Websites need to look good on all sorts of devices that are all sorts of sizes with all sorts of lighting conditions: indoors, outdoor, low light, bright light. The art of website design has fallen flat. Not uninteresting—yet the illusion of 3-dimensions like drop shadows, gradients, and textures have fallen out of grace. Flat design is the art of clean open spaces with crisp edges, bright colors and 2-dimensional flat icon-like imagery. Flat design gets down to the job of communication without distraction.

Natural-looking photos. People will always make decisions or purchases based on emotion, and images will remain the catalyst that moves us. But the cheesy stock photos of smiling people with perfect teeth is over. The trend is towards more natural-looking photos that genuinely resonate with audiences. Other trending imagery are icons and video. Icons are illustrations that help us visually navigate site content and that create connections between shapes and words. Video communicates ideas and emotions and build real-life experiences.

Better typography. Thanks to Google and other outlets for free typography for websites, typeface choices have expanded. With so many choices, there’s a tendency to decorate sites with outrageous choices that detract from the message. Good design uses typography that sticks to sound principles of compatibility, load time, and design purpose. No project should have more than 3 typefaces, each of which match the tone and messaging of the brand.

Responsive design. With almost 70% of searches being made from a mobile device, responsive design is critical. In the past, designers built one site for desktops, and another stripped-down version for mobile. Now one responsive site delivers a great user experience across all devices and screen sizes. When content is updated or an SEO strategy is implemented, everything happens on one site. The time and cost factors benefit both site owners and their developers.

At the end of the day, trends come and go. We think these trends will stick around at least through 2017. What never changes is the personal branding experience: how you or your company is perceived by others. As Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon says, “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” Always pay attention to your brand.

User-Centered Design

Slam-dunk site building methods for the user experience

You’ve found the site, now you need one piece of information that you’re sure is there. But where? After several clicks into a maze of dead-end and wrong way streets, you give up. You scream, “I can’t find the information I’m looking for!” So you leave the site, another disappointed user left stranded and frustrated on the Information Stupor Highway. We believe that Websites need to be intuitive and predictable. Structured according to the mental model of the user.

Building the prototypes

Long before the finished product is uploaded to the host server, we model a site’s structure by creating two types of construction: wireframe and graphical.

These preliminary structures serve as prototypes. The wireframe rests on ActiveCanvas’ development server. The graphic prototype is delivered via static images.

Wireframe Prototype

The wireframe prototype includes text, structure, and navigation but not graphics. It allow us to concentrate on the copy and framework of the site without being influenced by it’s look and feel. As with any prototype, the wireframe can change through successive iterations.

Graphical Prototype

Graphics are constructed and placed within the site structure. Nonsense text is inserted where text would normally be. This allows us to focus on the look and feel without being distracted by the text.

How users view a site

Information is placed in the wireframe according to how individuals typically view information. For example, users usually look first at the headlines, then the article summaries, and then captions, and ignore graphics. Concise meaningful titles and headers help the user understand the content and meaning of a Web page. They ignore information low on the page, or anything that looks like advertisement.

In organizing the content, we keep the number of user clicks to a minimum to avoid user confusion. And we keep the navigation scheme visible throughout so the user always knows where they are on any page.

How users read a site

A concise style of writing is vital. Text is written to be scanable. Tone is objective, not promotional. We use highlighted words, bullet lists, and one key idea per paragraph when possible.

Once the client approves the wireframe and graphical prototypes, we combine all the elements into the final version.

Everyone benefits

This site building method is good for the designer because the wireframes and graphical prototypes takes less time to build. Changes are easier and no time is wasted. In fact, it speeds the final phase of the project by practically eliminating further iterations.

It’s good for the client because it provides a simple interface for the approval process. In the wireframe, clients pay attention to language and accuracy. In the graphical prototype they aren’t distracted with the copy. It helps everyone on the project team focus on the original site goals.

Ultimately, it’s good for the user. And that’s where the rubber meets the road.