Design for Impact
There are plenty of articles and blog posts about the most popular new trends sweeping web design. From grid and “card” layouts to bold, geometric fonts, there are a lot of elements web designers have to work with right now. But before we get excited about new layouts, new fonts, and new tools, it’s time we take a look back at some of the web design trends that need to end in 2017.
This blog post is not meant to call out different designs for being “ugly” or unappealing. Many of the design elements we point out actually look nice (they’re certainly much more attractive than the 90s-era “web brutalism” movement that is currently in trend). However, when it comes to web design, it is important for a design to do more than simply “look nice,” hence UI/UX, or user interface and user experience. When designing, you need to consider both in order for your site to have the ultimate impact.
Checkov’s Gun for Web Design
Perhaps to understand this concept best, it’s helpful to look at another art form. There’s a theory creative writers use when crafting their novels: Chekhov’s Gun. Based on advice from the famous Russian writer Anton Chekhov, the theory states that if a gun is present in the first act of a story or a play, it must go off by the third act. In other words: every element of a story, every object that the author takes the time to describe, must have a purpose other than to serve as flowery language with which the writer can show off his or her skills. It must be cohesive. Like a puzzle piece, it must fit into the novel as a whole.
A similar focus should be taken in web design. Every element a web designer creates for a site must serve some sort of purpose other than to look nice. Each must meet the UX demands of UI/UX and improve the usability of the site in some way. If a website’s goal is to increase leads or garner donations, each element of the site’s design must work towards that end goal.
The web design trends we outline below fail to do that. They make usability harder, not easier, and even muddle the purpose of their websites. For that reason, it’s time for them to finally be laid to rest.
Trend #1: Hamburger Menus for Desktop
“Hamburger menus” are the three lines you’ll see when you’re browsing the web on your mobile device. They’re useful on a condensed mobile screen and help prevent clutter in a very limited amount of screen space. They have become such a standard in mobile design that they aren’t so much a trend as they are a facet of usability.
Mobile responsive designs have become so popular and their functions have become so ingrained in our minds that web designers have taken to implementing mobile features, like the hamburger menu, into desktop designs. However, the simple three lines of the hamburger menu aren’t as user-friendly on a desktop device. They hide your global navigation and bury your pages. They lower visibility and decrease your chances of “organic discovery,” or the discovery of content and info that occurs naturally by a user.
Hamburger menus work perfectly fine for returning visitors or for visitors who know exactly what they’re looking for. However, if a user simply comes across your site and is interested in browsing, that user will probably lose interest rather quickly because all viable choices and services are hidden in a sidebar.
However, while the hamburger menu may be a trend to avoid, it is still important to take mobile devices into account when designing a website. In fact, as mobile devices become more popular, some experts are recommending designing for mobile first before ever considering designing for other devices. Mobile design presents so many restrictions, it really makes a designer take a second look at the elements and content present on the site. Doing so forces him or her to narrow content down to what is absolutely necessary.
Trend #2: Homepage Carousels
Carousels are a rather new trend in web design, but they are one of those trends that probably should have never gotten off the ground in the first place. Perhaps if your site’s only goal is to show off images and captions, carousels may be alright, but if you want to share well-written and engaging content, they’re to be avoided if you ever want that content to actually be read.
Studies have shown that carousels actually lead to less visibility than even a hamburger menu would. One study done by the University of Notre Dame’s technical director found that only 1% of visitors to Notre Dame’s website actually clicked on a page’s carousel. When broken down even further, about 84% of that minuscule percentage didn’t even navigate to the other slides of the carousel.
In addition, carousels slow down your site. Even worse: they negatively impact SEO, the very thing you try so hard to maintain and improve. They devalue your keywords and push body content further down the page, out of eyesight. If the goal of your website is to get someone to learn about your business, nonprofit, or school, they’ll never do so if they can’t access your content.
One new trend that may have the same visual appeal as a carousel, without any of the negative side effects, is the cards UI. This layout will look familiar to Pinterest users. The cards UI utilizes a series of boxes, or cards, that show content and images. Unlike the carousel, the layout doesn’t require the user to click through. For a desktop user, the design only requires that he or she scroll up or down the page. Like a carousel, its design is clean and organized. Unlike a carousel, its content is immediately visible and clear.
Trend #3: Visual Methods
Nowhere is the idea of Chekhov’s Gun more important than in the masthead of your site. The area at the top of your web page should look nice. It should be visually appealing. It should capture the unique culture of your business or the mission of your nonprofit. However, if you are only using your site’s masthead as a place to show off your web design skills, you’re wasting a pretty significant piece of user interface.
Mastheads need a call-to-action. Whatever you are trying to achieve, you should make it clear in your masthead. Are you trying to sell a product? Get donations? Advertise a service? Show off work in a portfolio? Whatever you are doing, make sure your purpose is clear and give users a pathway to learn more.
However, don’t overwhelm your masthead with options. Your masthead is your map. It should give users a firm idea of where they can go on your site. Showing visitors too little or, conversely, inundating your visitors with calls-to-action, is a sure way to lose their patience and attention.
Trend #4: Parallax Scrolling
While agreement on the fact that elements such as carousels and hamburger menus have no place in desktop web design is unanimous, parallax scrolling is a topic that no one seems to be able to agree on. While some designers are calling it the “hot new trend” of 2017, others are advocating that it be avoided at all costs. We fall into the latter group.
Parallax scrolling can be a lot of fun, as well as visually stunning. It gives designers the chance to work with a ton of graphics. It helps a site become engaging and unique. But it comes at the cost of poor performance and slow load times on mobile devices. When it comes to load times, your site has no time to lose. Most users give a site only about 10 seconds to load before losing interest and logging off. (In many cases, that time could be much lower. Ten seconds is being generous.) As a UI/UX designer, you should be doing everything in your power to cut back on those ten seconds.
Also, if you care more about your site’s search engine visibility and optimization than you do about your site’s design, parallax scrolling isn’t the trend for you. It hurts SEO and pushes your site further down in the Google and Yahoo rankings. Furthermore, this type of graphic-heavy design has also been found to cause nausea in users, which makes your site far from user friendly.
If parallax scrolling is something you feel your site must absolutely have, at least take a step back and consider what it will add to your site. If it will fit with your business’s environment or meet the needs and wants of your very unique audience, then perhaps parallax scrolling may be an exception for you. However, if you can’t think of an important reason as to why parallax scrolling will help your organization get its point across and attract more leads, consider moving forward with a different type of web design.
Trend #5: Complex Load Screens
As mentioned previously, 10 seconds is the limit that users will give a site to load before becoming impatient and losing interest. Users understand that a site takes time to load, but designers should try and do everything they can to make sure these few seconds are as far from inconvenient as possible.
Some designers, however, take this as a reason to develop complex load screens with fancy animation and loading bars. However, giving a loading bar or a loading percentage is just reminding users that they’re waiting, while adding any complex design may slow down the load time and cause users to wait even longer. Not to mention, if your site is really slow and takes a significant amount of time to load graphics and other elements, users may think your site is broken, which will lose you both a possible lead and a positive reputation.
It’s best to distract users from the fact that they are sitting and waiting for a website to load, but stay away from home page introductions, like videos, which will slow down your site. Instead, think of using a black and white image that changes color as time goes on or consider using a graphic that grows and develops as the site loads. Both have the same overall effect as a loading bar or percentage. However, they are a less-dull way of showing your user your site’s progress. They are just detailed and engaging enough to distract your user, while not completely slowing down your site.
Changing the Game in Web Design
Here at KDG, we have a group of web designers who will make sure your business, nonprofit, or school has a lasting and positive presence on the web. Our Lehigh Valley-based web design experts, small business web designers, and nonprofit web design team want to change the game more than they want to set or follow trends.
Whether you need a new website for your business or IT management, our team is ready to help. Anyone can design a website with a free template online; however, when it comes to designing a website that fulfills all of the requirements of UI/UX, you need a partner who can help you create a site that is both attractive and user friendly.
We understand that a positive or negative impression a user gets from your site will last much longer than the design trends that come and go every year. If you want a website that will leave a lasting first (and second and third…) impression, fill out the form below and our Lehigh Valley web design team will be in touch.