Web Design Trends That Ruled the Roost in 2016 (And What’s To Come In 2017)

Almost 40% of people in the world have an internet connection in 2016. To put that in perspective, it was only 1% in 1995. In fact, more than 80% of Americans have internet access. As such, the debate is no longer about whether it pays to have a website; instead, the focus has now shifted to what a website should do.

Eventually, every business wants to see more conversions from its website. To do that, it’s important to understand the prevailing trends and how users are responding to them. As someone who deals in web design day in and day out while running a company that designs user experiences, I’m offering my two cents on what will stay — and what will make its way out — in 2017.

Flat Design Is Here To Stay

Google introduced material designing, which relies on grid-based layouts, effects such as lighting and shadows to create depth, as well as responsive transitions. As smartphones continue to become ubiquitous and more aesthetically pleasing, users will expect the same from websites — especially from mobile design. Material designing allows for a more comfortable, confident experience that can lead to more conversions. Material design takes inspiration from ink and paper to create visual cues that are more realistic in nature. There is a definite hierarchy amongst design elements that include space, color, typography, grids and imagery.

Micro-Interactions Are Trending

The whole idea of modern web design is to somehow keep users engaged so they spend more time on your platform. That’s where interaction design and micro-interactions come in. Micro-interactions are interactions within an interaction. For instance, visiting a social networking site is a macro-interaction; logging in to your account on the website is a micro-interaction. The best example of a micro-interaction is Facebook’s launch of new reactions. You can now do more than just “like” posts on Facebook.

For micro-interactions to be successful, it’s important that they aren’t too cumbersome. They should not hinder the browsing experience. Apple’s foray into force touch and other gestures with the iPhone has opened up several possibilities for engaging user experience design. Other smartphone companies are expected to follow suit, which means micro-interactions could be a game changer.

For instance, as force touch becomes ubiquitous, UX designers could build apps and games that feel more realistic. Consider an app that lets you use your smartphone to control the thermostat at your place. Force touch can be used to make it seem like you are turning knobs on an actual thermostat. That’s just one creative possibility to build micro-interactions that elevate the overall experience.

Familiarity Is Not All Bad

Flat designs, premium marketplace themes and responsive interfaces have meant that most websites today look like clones of one another. However, that is not necessarily a bad thing: After all, familiarity creates confidence. That said, de-linearity is expected to be the norm in 2017 when it comes to the user’s journey. As users mature, they are likely to expect more decision-making autonomy instead of just jumping from one screen to the next. De-linear design gives you choices to make at each step, which gives you a sense of control. For example, the interface for the transportation app Uber is a linear journey: You set the pickup location, get the ETA, pay the driver and rate your ride. You could delineate Uber by allowing users to choose a driver or choose a car.

User Anxiety Is A Factor

Users are momentarily left in the dark after clicking a link as they wait for the next screen to load. High load times can trigger anxiety, which can drive the user away from a website. In terms of interaction design, this is called interstitial anxiety. The remedy for this is to create transition elements that alleviate the feeling of the “unknown.” For instance, a quick preview of the next page is shown, both to entice the user and to instill confidence.

The trend is already being used by intelligent interaction designers and is expected to become mainstream in 2017. In fact, the trend could neatly tie in with a 2015 finding that users are willing to wait longer for web pages to load as long as there is the promise of quality content. While the general advice is to have page load times as low as possible, maybe reducing them only slightly in exchange for more complex design elements can help increase engagement on websites. The key is to get the transition right; a simple progress bar won’t work.

Responsiveness Is Mandatory

This one is a no-brainer. More people are accessing the web through mobile devices than ever before. Different screen sizes and operating environments make responsive design a necessity today rather than an option. Google penalizes websites that aren’t mobile-friendly. That’s just one reason why you should hire an intelligent designer who understands the ins and outs of mobile responsiveness. Take this Google test to find out if you have a mobile-friendly website or not.

Google Maps, for example, nails responsiveness. The website is exactly same as the app, and the two even offer the same level of agility and control. BuzzFeed is another brand that has a superb, responsive website. Given that a lot of BuzzFeed’s users access the viral news site on mobile devices, it was imperative for BuzzFeed to create a seamless mobile experience.

Whether 2017 will see age-responsiveness is debatable. An age-responsive website would render differently for an 8-year-old than for an 80-year-old. Given that internet adoption rates in the U.S. are highest for those between the ages of 18 and 29, it remains to be seen if companies will be willing to make that extra effort. That said, with virtual reality finally picking up, 2017 can be an exciting time for UX designers.