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Web design trends for 2016

(Excerpts from article by Amber Leigh Turner, January Creative, Nashville, TN)

Design trends often span several years (even decades for some types of design), but Web design is a quickly moving and changing industry where trends come and go quite often.

We’re still working with some of those trends now: responsive web design, flat design, performance and speed, and perfecting the user experience. However, what are some of the new and emerging trends we can expect to see in 2016?

Still experimenting with navigations and menus

As a Web designer myself, I’ve noticed we just can’t seem to get the navigation or menu of a website down. We keep playing with it, experimenting, and doing different things to get it to work well and be useful.

We do things such as put it in a new and unexpected place, hide it behind a hamburger icon or just throw it up there because we know it is needed but it doesn’t look very good.

We struggle to figure out exactly the best way to showcase this important piece of content to make it usable no matter the screen it’s being viewed on. We continue to experiment in ways to figure out what works best.

Expect to see more experimentation as we work through trying to figure out how to do navigations and menus well. 

To scroll or not to scroll

Have we reached the point where scrolling increases readership, but we want less scrolling? Possibly. For 2016, I anticipate some sites going with minimal scrolling while others embracing the long scroll.

There’s benefits and drawbacks to both: long scrolling feels natural and is easier than clicking but it spaces out content and makes it harder to scan to find info while shorter scroll gets to the point quickly but it may be so quick that causes bounce rates to increase.

It will be interesting to see the scrolling battle play out in 2016 and which one comes out on top. Currently, there are more long scrolling sites than shorter scrolling sites, but only time will tell which is truly the best way to consume content.

Designing in modules and components instead of entire pages

Web design is moving toward modular and component design instead of mocking up entire layouts and comps for a particular web page. These components often involve designing how the search function will work, how the navigation will be laid out, etc.

We’ve matured into knowing that we have repeated elements on different screens, and that these elements need to be designed both so that they work independently but can still work with the rest of the site.

Not only are we more concerned about how these components look in terms of design, but they all carry their individual functionalities with it too. Designing with components and modules allows the same functionality to be replicated no matter where it appears on the site.

Design continues to flatten out

With responsive design pretty much taken over the Web, expect flat design to continue to be a dominate design aesthetic throughout 2016. Not only will there be websites that launch with flat designs, those sites who’ve already embraced the flat design trend will look to make things even flatter.

Take for example Google’s logo. The company changed its logo to make it more flat (losing the bevels) and changed the font. It found that a cleaner sans-serif font for its logo helped cut the size of the logo file used on sites by more than half. Google also found that it was easier to read on smaller devices. You can thank the drive and determination to get our websites to load faster and snappier, weigh less, and get content to viewers more effectively.

Material design takes off

Material design focuses around tactile but dynamic elements that remind us of paper and ink. Shadows that are realistic, items that overlap do so with regards to reality, interactions stay inside of material and don’t impact other material around it.

Since we’ve seem to have reached peak flat design, designers are opting for the next thing, and Google offers that up in their Material design language. I anticipate many more sites to follow this same material design aesthetic in 2016.

Ditching the stock elements for something better

We’re starting to see more and more websites ditching the use of stock elements such as stock photography and icon sets over something that feels much more designed and personal to the site itself.

Icon sets are another stock element that’s being dropped in favor of something more custom. There are thousands of sets out there, so it’s easy just to pick one and run with it, but for designers, they’re noticing that little extra touch to create custom icons can help set a site apart from others.

Rich but subtle animations

As Web design is flattening out, websites are starting to look more and more alike. One way designers have been trying to help make their sites stand apart from the crowd is through the use of rich, clever but subtle animations throughout.

Users are caring more about how a site functions than looks

Having a nicely design site is great and all, but it really doesn’t matter all that much if your site doesn’t function well. Users are becoming more keenly aware to when something doesn’t work properly on a website.

It’s becoming more common for users to leave a website because they’ve encountered something that isn’t working well for them. Imagine how bad this could be for an e-commerce site?

Designers want their sites to look good, so it’s important that they can make the site function properly as well. Give the people what they want: function and design.