Website Trends: Helpful or Harmful?
Paying attention to website trends can be a good thing. It can inspire and lead to the latest in terms of design, technology, and information architecture. However, not all trends are created equal, especially since there is no one-size-fits-all approach to website design. Each website’s audience, content, and visitor journeys are different. Design choices should support website goals, not just follow a fad. Equally dangerous, following trends too closely can lead to a lack of differentiation and need for frequent updates when the next wave arrives.
We considered some recent website trends to help you decide which are right for your next website project.
1. The hamburger menu
This feature is becoming so widespread that it hardly qualifies as a trend. With the advent of mobile design, designers needed a solution to make navigation easily accessible and not clutter a small viewpoint. Hello, hamburger. Those three little bars are now a universal symbol for “menu.” However, just as desktop design isn’t optimal for a mobile device, mobile design isn’t always optimal for a desktop device.
Pros: It makes a site cleaner and sleeker, and draws the eye to page content rather than navigation.
Cons: It adds a barrier to discoverability with an additional click.
Suggestions: How will visitors know what to click on? This is the biggest fear that we hear about when proposing a hamburger menu. The fear that visitors won’t be enticed to follow a certain path if they don’t see navigation staring them in the face. However, the design of a page itself should be driving the journey. For example, if it is most important that your visitors click on your thought leadership, featuring this content on your homepage will be far more enticing than navigation. Remember, navigation is a utility. It needs to be easy to find and use, but page content should do most of the talking.
2. The long scroll
Designers used to be concerned about fitting content “above the fold,” a term from the newspaper industry. In website design, this means content that shows up within a single viewpoint upon landing. However, with so many screen and browser sizes at play, the fold has become less relevant. Simple scrolling allows much more content to live on a single page.
Pros: A scrolling website lends itself well to visual storytelling by allowing a sequence of topics to be treated in a unique and appealing way. By scrolling through your site the visitor takes the exact journey you were envisioning, no clicks required.
Cons: Elements at the top of a website are most prominent, and some visitors may not make it all the way through a long scroll.
Suggestions: Consider the journey you want your visitors to take first and foremost. And make it an easy one. Add jump links to quickly take visitors to a section of interest and try pinning navigation for convenience.
3. Hero images
Big, bold, in-your-face images are attention grabbers. Especially if they are powerful and relate to relevant content. Random, royalty-free stock imagery? Not so much. Weak images with prominent placement can make a bad first impression, and if supporting content isn’t strong enough to draw a visitor in, images become meaningless.
Pros: Big images grab attention and are memorable. Plus with advances in bandwidth and data compression, users won’t suffer from slow load times.
Cons: Poor quality images, or those that aren’t relevant, do more harm than good. Visitors are also not likely to sit through more than two rotating images on a carousel.
Suggestions: Think about your promise of value. Is there an image that communicates this to visitors? And is there supporting copy that can help point them along the right navigational path? If not, consider using a more graphical or minimal approach. Also consider what your competitors are doing. You want to stand out from your competitive set in the minds of buyers.
4. The card approach
Who doesn’t love Pinterest? This popular social media platform led the way to websites adopting a card approach where content is presented in a gridded system.
Pros: Information presented in cards is easy for scanning. Cards are also ideal for responsive design since they can easily be rearranged at different viewpoints.
Cons: Cards can be limiting. Long headlines, multiple images, and unique functionality don’t work so well in a neatly gridded system.
Suggestions: Think through your content and which aspect will grab a visitor’s attention. Oftentimes, this is just a catchy headline. The author, date, and subtitle aren’t necessary and draw attention away from the headline. If this is the case, a card approach may work well for you. Consider whether there is a way to weave related images into your cards without breaking the grid system. These are important since stories with images get better engagement than those without. The key is simplicity.
It’s alive! As website technology progresses, more opportunities for movement and unique page effects are possible. Subtle animations are an unobtrusive way to grab attention and add visual interest to a page. They can be especially effective in infographics since movement helps bring the story to life. Whereas websites previously were limited to static images or video widgets, designers are now experimenting with new ways to bring movement to a page.
Pros: Animated hover effects make using your website more intuitive. They give visual feedback about a feature’s function or purpose.
Cons: Too much animation can distract and cause slower page-load times. Some animations on desktop will not work on mobile or tablet due to the inability to hover.
Suggestions: For functional animations it is important to stick to convention. Confusing visitors is not a good idea. But animations for Infographics or other content types can be experimented with to set you apart. Page elements can spin, change colors, burst outward, flip over, and more. Also consider using cinemagraphs in your website design. These are moving pictures that are less obtrusive than videos and very interesting to look at.