Trends for Better Websites in 2017

As a web developer who works closely with design and marketing experts on a daily basis, I notice ways that website design is affected by both technology and human psychology. So when I consider what trends are likely to drive website design in 2017, I’m asking:

  • What is technically possible now, that wasn’t possible a few years ago?
  • How have designers already taken advantage of these new possibilities?
  • What “user experience” problems have arisen as a result?
  • How will those problems be addressed to create better websites in 2017?

For upcoming trends, the last question is key. My answers are less like predictions, and more like ideas for how website design can evolve to better meet the needs of users. These are the things that I expect (and hope!) will become bigger trends in 2017.

1. Disguising the Grid

Currently, most new websites are built on a grid. This is partly because of the increasing popularity of responsive websites, since a grid layout makes it possible to shift design components around to fit various screen sizes. We can shrink the grid, rearrange boxes along vertical or horizontal lines, or drop out some components depending on where the site is viewed (phone, tablet, desktop computer, etc.)

Although there is great value in websites using an underlying grid, it doesn’t necessarily need to be obvious in the design. I think this year you’ll start to see the strict boxes that form the “building blocks” of a grid camouflaged more often. Screen elements will appear to flow together rather than stand apart, and angles will mask the grid to make it less obvious where one section ends and another begins.

2. Using Full-Screen Videos in a More Subtle Way

In the past couple of years more websites have jumped on the bandwagon of full-screen videos, superimposed with text that conveys the business message. This is partly because video no longer slows down the page load time so much, and partly because it’s an attention-grabbing trend.

An effective video combines multiple elements (audio, visuals, and/or text) to create a message that becomes the takeaway for the audience. But you aren’t really seeing background videos used that way on websites. Instead, the (often stock) video serves the same purpose as a background photo, and the message remains separate. There is always a danger that the video will distract from the text rather than enhance it, especially if the video is funny or beautiful or artistic – all of which have been trending this past year.

The technology of full-screen background videos is exciting, but what many designers have yet to realize is that such videos can be used in a much more subtle way. For example, an island scene on a travel website can include a palm tree that sways slightly in the breeze. I hope that in the new year, more designers will take advantage of the potential of a background video to emphasize a website’s message, without drawing so much attention to itself.

3. Investing in Custom Illustration

Many websites use stock photos, since they are easy to access and usually cost less than commissioning original illustrations. If you want to maintain a certain style throughout your website, though, it can be challenging to find enough stock photos that work well together.

Part of Marstudio’s strategy for our clients is that we highlight what makes each business unique. One way to do so, which you may see more of in the year ahead, is through websites that incorporate custom illustrations matching the personality of the business.

Custom illustrations usually require more resources than the stock variety, but investing in illustrations unique to your company will distinguish their brand, sending a message to your customers that you stand above the competition.

4. Recognizing the Value of Human Strategy

If you search for ways to build a website, you’re bound to come across artificial intelligence (AI) software. You plug in content, and the software “designs” the website. Such tools often appeal to people who aren’t designers or developers because they can save time and money, but there is a trade-off when you consider the final result.

AI website design software is often problematic from a marketing strategy perspective, because it tends to either give you too much control or too little – it’s hard to strike a perfect balance. When you have a lot of control, the software may not assist you with decisions about design and content. But when the software removes the guesswork and starts making more decisions for you, some parts of the website will not be possible to customize. For a business, one area where customization is important is in responsive design – for example, making the decisions about what website components to shrink or keep on mobile devices in order to best reach your business goals.

Right now AI web design software is a cool tool in its infancy. As the technology improves in the next few years and becomes more common, I think people will start to recognize the value of the strategic human voice that is getting lost. I doubt that AI will ever be a perfect replacement for marketing experts with the experience (and intuition) to identify the website design, content, and functionality that will best serve your unique business.

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