Three trends that will influence the future of web design
We all want to know what the future holds. And while that’s almost impossible to forecast, it’s still important that we’re as prepared as possible. So last month Sergio and I spent two days at the Future of Web Design conference in London.
This was Sergio’s second year at the event and I was attending for the first time. We were both interested to hear about upcoming trends and changes that could affect our industry from leaders in the field. And there was plenty to get our teeth into. The main “track” featured experienced web design speakers and professionals, while a “rising star” segment provided a platform for fresh thoughts and ideas – as well as experts with more controversial views on web design.
When it was all said and done, there were three themes that struck me as playing the most important roles in shaping the future of web design.
(Image credit: Future Insights on Flickr)
1. In-browser design will become more prominent – but only if it’s done right
I’m a huge advocate of designing in the browser – it’s a core part of my role at The Frameworks as Senior Digital Designer. And it’s only going to become more important as designers seek to create responsive and accessible websites quicker, because it enables us to design sites and create complex prototypes at the same time. But before I get stuck in, I like to start a project outside the browser using programmes like Photoshop and Sketch, which enable me to mock up layouts and experiment with colour schemes to get a feel for the site I want to create. Then I switch to in-browser design tools like Webflow. Once I’ve defined the visual layout, I can mock up the rest of the pages before liaising with front-end developers like Sergio, who then flesh out the idea and ensure the site’s functions are supported across multiple browsers and any devices.
Which is why a talk from brothers Flurin and Adrian Egger surprised me. Flurin is a front-end developer and Adrian works as a designer – and both advocated not using any “what you see is what you get” (WYSIWYG) tools like Photoshop or Webflow at all. Instead they argued that designers should work entirely within the browser, designing “in code”.
I think this way of working is incredibly limiting. It forces designers to think semantically from the start instead of creatively – and it assumes that they know as much about code as front-end developers, which usually isn’t the case. In my opinion, using WYSIWYG tools in conjunction with in-browser design platforms is a better workflow, which, consequently, produces a better end result.
2. Designers must factor in accessibility from the start
Timescales for web design projects are rarely generous in any work environment, so managing the design process and workflow is critical. And one thing we need to consider right from the start is accessibility. It’s something that Sergio feels passionately about and has mentioned before – and a talk from Léonie Watson, a blind web designer, hit home at the event. Her message? “Design like you give a damn”.
There’s a misconception that creating websites that are accessible to everyone takes a long time. But if designers embed accessibility from the word go, we actually save time because we don’t then have to add accessibility options later. And it’s not just about designing for people with impairments or disabilities – it’s about considering how everyone will interact with your site. Are they using a keyboard or a mouse? Or touch? What device are they using?
Watson’s parting message to designers was: think of yourselves in 20 years' time. We’re all likely to need larger font sizes and clearer site layouts one day – so designing products that are accessible for all will benefit us as well.
3. The responsive design revolution will continue
Ensuring websites are responsive – meaning optimised for any internet-connected device and browser – should now be the minimum requirement for any web designer. Tech advances (particularly the mobile explosion) ushered in the era of responsive design, and continuing developments mean the game is set to change again.
In a talk about the future of responsive design standards, Den Odell, Head of Web Development at AKQA, predicted big advances in the field. Currently media queries, the technology behind responsive websites, are quite limited. They can detect the size of the device the end user is looking at, but they can’t drill any deeper, for example to say whether the visitor is using a keyboard instead of a mouse.
Odell forecasts that responsive web design will move beyond browser-based websites and into other areas like apps. For example, if you’re using an app while running, it could be designed to detect the motion and then make the text or buttons larger; or an app could have different design themes depending on the time of day. These advances would certainly benefit the end user – and would open up a host of new elements to factor into the design process.
These three developments all have two things in common: they will ultimately deliver a more valuable experience for users, and they will provide designers and developers with new ways to work – as well as new challenges.
It's impossible to predict the future, but there’s more than enough evidence to suggest that it’s going to be a bright one for web design.
- Web development
- Responsive design
- Web design
- In-browser design