Seemingly everyone has access to the Internet these days. What's in question is no longer the availability of a Wi-Fi connection, but how and why we're surfing the web. What do people want to see? How can we develop our website to best suit their needs and wants?
We've moved beyond the need for a website to the need for making our website as good as it can possibly be. Aesthetics, usability, and platform dependency are all topping the charts headed into the New Year, with some interesting and innovative solutions to accommodate them.
The Once and Future King
Leading off the 2014 web design trends is the great equalizer: content. With the rising number of people accessing the World Wide Web comes a rise in the number of businesses who want their attention. While sites like Buzzfeed and Cracked have made a living off numbered lists and digestible humor, the future of web design is enriching and value focused content that makes a site worth the visit.
Content in the coming year should be of high quality. Regardless of the format and substance of your work, ensure this first. Quality will ultimately separate the cream from the crop, while increasing audience engagement in the process. Develop your skills as a writer or, if you lead a creative team, consider bringing on knowledgeable writers to improve and enhance your content and stand out from the crowd.
But quality is not enough. Content needs to deliver value to your customers. Avoid the commonly traveled path of self-indulgent corporate or personal blog posts that focus on your personal characteristics and determine how your knowledge can enrich the lives of your reader. Establish immediately how reading, viewing, or listening to your content will improve the life of your visitor and enjoy your resulting returns.
Every device is a window to the fount of information available to our modern society. Unfortunately for web designers, this means accommodating myriad platforms, resolutions, capabilities, and user experiences. For this reason, 2014 will see increasing adoption of "responsive web design".
At it's heart, responsive web design is part of an effort nicknamed "device agnosticism", which preaches that coding and design considerations should span all available devices that might access it. Through CSS3 media queries, HTML code can be adapted to the specific platform of its viewing, providing a coherent visual and content narrative. The key here is a single-code solution. Designers would do well to avoid implementation of multiple code bases, since updating each can be time consuming and lead to inconsistencies. Instead, focus on a solution that is both elegant and effective.
Flexible layouts present another solution to the responsive user experience quandary. Fixed header bars have seen increased use but will likely prevail as designers discover that the option keeps navigation at a user's fingertips, while being aesthetically pleasing in the process. Another user-friendly method, the adaptive grid layout, provides an elegant catch-all solution, accommodating content, links, videos, and photos large and small efficiently and without confusion.
Both of these points, however, focus on the trees instead of the forest. The big picture in 2014 is a focus on user experience first-and-foremost. With the ingestion of countless sites, media pieces, and conversations in a day, the average user is looking for simple and usable solutions to help untangle the mental web. Design your layout, content, colors, and fonts with the idea in mind that customer experience extends beyond the presentation of products and publications, and psychologically revels in the clear, concise, and friendly.
Aesthetic, Aesthetic, Aesthetic
Aesthetics, the cherry on top of the user experience sundae, will play an increasing role in the coming year as well. Before the introduction of visually flexible HTML5 and CSS3 tools, the Internet was a hard and sometimes boring place. Now, even academic sites are paying attention to the importance of a little visual candy to improve a visitor's mood.
Minimalism is the name of the game. This is because the design method achieves multiple things: clearing up the interface, emphasizing key points, removing distractions, and providing an impression of elegance and sophistication. With the release of Apple's iOS7, the company embraced the concept, eschewing Skeumorphism (the digital emulation of physical forms) for "flat design", distinguished by its simplicity, disdain of pseudo three-dimensional elements like shadows and vanishing points, and pairing down of any extraneous accoutrement.
In place of elements that give a visual suggestion of physical forms arises an emphasis on large-scale photography and typography. Full-page photographs as backgrounds are not only eye-catching and pleasing, the association of a quality photograph with your brand creates a powerful impression. Large typography creates a hierarchy of attention and emphasis, giving savvy designers more control over perception of their content. In tandem, the two methods can create a profoundly effective mood for your site and brand, thus explaining their increased implementation in 2014.
Overall, the prevailing trend in web design is a considerate and thoughtful drive toward simplicity, user friendliness, and platform responsiveness. Consider how you feel when you access your site, how easily you can get from page to page, and what a less knowledgeable customer or visitor might think of your site overall, and make some improvements in the New Year. After all, we both know you weren't going to use that gym membership; at least good web design is a resolution we can all keep.