Trend is an unattractive word. More often than not, a trend is something that is scoffed at or looked down on. In fact, trends and secret societies share a very specific characteristic: Whether you’re talking about Skull and Bones or flared pants, you’ll rarely find anyone who admits to being associated with them. The word “trend” is even derived from the Proto-Germanic dialect; possibly the least elegant origin an English word can have. Vocabulary used in common parlance that shares this distinction includes wort, bald, felon, irk, cheap, doom, and sick, to name a few.
But a trend doesn’t have to always be an unattractive concept. Trends are often patterns, and in web design, these patterns can show the most effective responses to a restraint or problem. For example, when Google announced the release date of their “mobile-friendly” update this year, the responsive design holdouts rushed to ensure that their sites met the company’s standards. This resulted in a torrent of website redesigns, and because responsiveness sets certain parameters around your options, designers looked to other sites to learn how their predecessors had most elegantly worked within these limitations to create effective UI design. Imitative practices like these eventually become trends, and in 2015, UI similarities across the web had perhaps never been more prevalent.
Design trends can also mutate into standards that are eventually beneficial for everyone. A contact form is generally laid out like a contact form. Attribution is generally in the footer. Logos are generally in the top left- or right-hand corner. Having design schemas allows users to navigate through websites more easily and find information more efficiently. They also allow designers to rely on the familiar for certain audiences and innovate for others.
Yes, there have been flares, mullets, and ironic mustaches. “Under construction” graphics, 3D Flash buttons, bevelled and embossed anything, glossy buttons, hit counters, etc. But like acid-washed jeans, they all seemed like a good idea at the time.
Even the good trends or improvements can go off the rails at any time; however, I’m optimistic about some of the improvements we saw in 2015. Below are my top three trends for the year that I am cautiously optimistic about.
2015 seemed to be the year that the cliché stock image finally lost the last of its grip on web design. No longer do we have to be greeted by rooms of multicultural business people stiffly grinning at us on home pages. Never again will we see the same photo of a pharmacist used on three different drug company websites. (Maybe that’s being too optimistic.) However, high-quality, custom photography is in, and $10 stock photos are out. Designers are finally pushing for visually impactful and professional images, even if it means paying a pretty penny for them.
Between Adobe’s Typekit and Google Fonts, designers now have affordable (and free) options for web design. This freedom was evident in 2015 from the amount of websites that used large, prominent fonts, type-centric designs, and decorative and mixed type. Sure, you throw lots of options at people and there will be lots of misses. But some of the hits have been fascinating examples of attractive typographical design in a medium where controlling type is not at all easy.
You remember those pixelated dinosaurs that hula hooped across the neon-green backgrounds in the ‘90s? Back when only people who understood basic HTML could create pages dedicated to themselves with the assumption that anyone cared? Well, animation is back, and it’s become an effective UX tool. A movement to guide the user, a statistic that counts up for emphasis, or a very subtle drop shadow on hover can now be immensely impactful. Unfortunately, some are already abusing it like middle management with PowerPoint’s animation features in 1998, but that doesn’t mean that when used well, movement is a design trend that has been revived in all the right ways. for good reasons.