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The internet has developed into an oversized information apparatus which is evident in the design innovations that have changed the appearance of the world wide web over the years. Above all, the mobile revolution has forced web designers to radically rethink their approach. Today, they are supposed to showcase the internet on the smallest of screens without withholding valuable information. But even on a more specific web design level, new trends emerge which offer a glimpse of what the internet of tomorrow will be like. We present nine of these trends so that you can prepare yourself for modern web design in 2020.
- What does web design mean in 2020?
- Trends and counter-trends in web design
- 9 trends that will influence web design in 2020
- Trend 1: Speed/performance is becoming more important
- Trend 2: CSS Tricks
- Trend 3: Micro-interactions
- Trend 4: Long/infinite scrolling
- Trend 5: Personalised user experience
- Trend 6: WebXR
- Trend 7: Chatbots
- Trend 8: Tidy interface
- Trend 9: Dark Mode
- Web design trends: a path to success
What does web design mean in 2020?
Over the last few years, we’ve seen a shift in web design practices towards a greater emphasis on mobile adaptations. Websites are now supposed to be even more efficient and user-friendly in order to keep up with the competitive online market, and they must be suitable for all screens – whether a PC, a tablet, or a smartphone. The bulky and slightly overloaded designs of the 2000s are long a thing of the past; the human eye is fed up with them now. The new maxim is a focus on the essentials.
Websites must be “user-friendly”, but “usability” is just as important in modern web design. Responsive web design is an important trend for the mobile market. It emphasises technical flexibility while also taking the user’s device into account. Modern web design therefore means that a website “reacts” effectively to the user’s device and presents itself accordingly. Responsive web design is consciously designed so that websites can react well to new or previously unfamiliar systems. Web designers no longer develop sites just for browsers anymore – many of the best-known website providers enable easier mobile use via their own apps.
Some web design buzzwords are following us into 2020. On the one hand, there is the Internet of Things, which sees an increasing digitalisation of everyday life and wants to offer users even more interaction possibilities. On the other hand, there have been significant advances in artificial intelligence research resulting in automated web services improving; web designers are likely to fully exploit this area as well. Last, but not least, the increasing focus on snackable content means that web operators aim to make their websites as catchy as possible and ensure that user-friendliness is a top priority. At the same time, these digital “appetisers” show a trend dating back to the bright and attention-grabbing vision of the 2000s. If these two trends – focusing on usability and snackable content – actually work together and other innovations and courageous ideas catch on, 2020 should be an exciting year for web designers.
Trends and counter-trends in web design
Web design trends don’t exist in a vacuum; counter-trends have emerged pulling certain design elements in a different or opposite direction. Sometimes counter-trends develop from a reaction to certain trends as they become more apparent. Web designers often rely on counter-trends in order to stand out as the internet designers of the future. Here are some examples of trends and corresponding counter-trends that we will encounter in 2020.
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Individual or authentic images: that radiate closeness and show people or companies as they really are in order to connect with visitors on a more personal level.
Symmetrical shapes: box shapes, flat grids e.g. horizontal-vertical web pages that are very easy to navigate; these pages follow the proven and familiar “rectangular” nature of HTML and CSS.
Asymmetric shapes: experimental designs, “broken grid”, just innovatively designed web interfaces, which go against common conventions and stand out through individualism and playfulness.
One page designs: all the important information is presented on a single page and the user is spared as many clicks as possible; it is better to let the (increasingly mobile) user scroll rather than click. Certain standard layouts are gaining acceptance, especially for digital companies.
Web-nostalgic design trends: bring back the principles of the internet interfaces of the 2000s (“web brutalism”, minimalism, text-based) or technical innovation menu bars and buttons that are still necessary to navigate the website, but are not too bulky for mobile use (hamburger menus, micro-interactions).
Colourful design: strong complementary colour and colour gradients that give the website a certain flair; in addition there is a deliberately used colour symbolism or colour association (blue for digital products, green for charitable companies, pink for cosmetics, etc.) to subconsciously “pre-colour“ the page for the user.
Colour minimalism: and lots of white space to distract a little as possible from the information provided. Strictly two-colour websites (“duotone”) focus on user-friendliness and forego complex colour design. In contrast, more attention is often drawn to brands and symbols.
9 trends that will influence web design in 2020
Overall, web design continues to evolve in the same direction that it has for years: a focus on mobile devices (responsive web design), snackable content, purpose-driven interfaces, and reactive or interactive user interfaces. At the same time, developments in artificial intelligence have an increasing impact on web designers and new technologies are becoming more accessible. 2020 will see the continuation of various web design trends from previous years and the internet landscape will not radically change. However, some trends indicate further improvement when it comes to user experience on platforms and will help shape the internet of tomorrow today.
Trend 1: Speed/performance is becoming more important
This is less of a trend than a basic principle of a well-designed website: page load speed is becoming more important driven by the mobile revolution. After all, website operators want their pages to be easy to access and space-saving. The faster the website loads, the better the user experience – that was the case 10 years ago. Nevertheless, web designers are increasingly foregoing time-consuming and memory-intensive elements in order to enable faster use of a website.
Many other trends in web design pick up from here. For example, the increasing minimalism in website design means that memory-intensive media is largely avoided and formats that don’t take up as much storage are preferred. “Long scrolling” websites, which place all the necessary information on a single scrollable page, are favoured because the user only needs to load this one page and not several sub-pages afterward. The increasingly popular “white space” also signifies the absence of elements that could slow down a website’s loading speed.
The internet has become significantly faster within a relatively short development period. But it is still often criticised for not being fast enough. Mobile data networks, in particular, are not yet powerful enough in many regions. Web designers, however, can already counteract shortcomings like these by designing their websites as simple as possible.
Other trends of modern web design such as interactive animations, parallax effects, or a dynamic background look impressive and improve the intake of information, if used effectively. However, complex website design often has a negative effect on performance. Web designers must, therefore, carefully consider which multimedia and interactive content offers added value for the user and which unnecessarily slows the website down. The general rule is: less is more – which does not necessarily mean a return to flat design.
Note: a website’s performance has a direct effect on the user experience. A distinction must be made between actual and perceived loading time. Delays are only problematic if they are perceived as such by the user. Web designers, therefore, use the following measures, among others, to intercept longer loading times:
If the visitor has to wait, they should at least know how long for. The progress bar doesn’t shorten the loading time, but it can make it more entertaining if it is designed in an interesting way. The aim is to keep the user on the site even if they are made to wait. After all, internet users today are becoming more impatient when it comes to accessing websites.
Load key elements first
Web pages should be programmed so that “above the fold” content is retrieved first and displayed in the browser. These are the parts of the page that are visible to the viewer without them having to scroll down. As long as this content is available, it doesn’t matter to the user whether additional content (“below the fold”) is loaded later.
Images embedded as progressive JPEGs do not build up from top to bottom in the final resolution when loaded. Instead, interlaced scanning is used: the viewer is first presented with a preview image that’s low quality, which is gradually refined until the data for the desired image quality has been completely loaded.
More tricks to improve website performance can be found in our article on website optimisation.
Trend 2: CSS Tricks
CSS is now a must when developing websites. Almost every website uses the style sheet language to adapt the design. Luckily, CSS continues to evolve, offering new and innovative possibilities to design impressive websites. The latest developments have focused on the flexibility of a website. That’s particularly important for mobile sites where pictures and other media elements are expected to be of reasonable size and form.
CSS Grid & CSS Flexbox
With the release of CSS3, the language now includes Grid and Flexbox. Both methods enable designs that automatically adapt to the size of a screen. Elements are distributed and scaled by an intelligent system, but web designers can still manually adjust minimum and maximum sizes.
The SVG image format is nothing new, but it offers some advantages that are gaining in importance. The format maintains a small file size, is flexibly scalable and can be formatted with CSS. That makes SVG a web design trend for 2020. Because it’s principally a XML data format, the source code (and graphics) can be adapted using CSS. This combination allows web designers to integrate graphics which adopt to a device’s display or the individual user’s needs.
Trend 3: Micro-interactions
Micro-interactions is a trend in UX design where selected user interactions are accompanied by small animation effects. For example, this could be a like-button that makes a user’s smartphone vibrate when they click on it. For UX experts such as Dan Saffer, these are the details that distinguish the user experience.
Trend 4: Long/infinite scrolling
The “mobile-first” approach does not only apply to viewports and the lossless depiction of web content across different devices, but will also have an increasing influence on web content in the future. One of the most important developments in this context is the transition from clicking to scrolling. In principle, the scrolling website is an old friend. However, design concepts such as infinite scrolling or the parallax effect continue to enjoy great popularity and will, therefore, remain in trend in 2020.
Infinite scrolling enables website visitors to discover new content by scrolling, rather than clicking. When the end of a section has been reached, the next part is automatically shown. Social networks, like Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, and Quora, have long since employed this method to present their users with content in a continual newsfeed. Infinite scrolling has also been a common tool used in blogs for some time now and is sure to play a large role in the future.
Infinite scrolling is ideal for websites with a wide range of information. While a blog with 100 to 200 posts can still be easily paginated, the benefits of page splitting on large web projects decreases as the amount of information increases. It’s unlikely for a reader to search for page 812 from a total of 5782 pages, for example. Infinite scrolling on the other hand, is typically used with sophisticated algorithms that pre-filter information and present users with the most relevant blog posts first.
Website operators, who want to jump on the infinite scrolling bandwagon in 2020, should, however, ensure they do so in a search engine-friendly way. While Google initially struggled with crawling scroll websites, infinite scrolling can now be implemented without worry thanks to detailed design guidelines from the search engine market leader. The following points should be taken into consideration:
- Individual URL for every subpage
- Overlapping content should be strictly avoided
- Visitors should be able to easily locate the sought-after information
- Loading time should be reasonable
An example of implementing infinite scrolling in a search engine friendly way is on the demo website by webmaster trend analyst, John Mueller.
Parallax scrolling effect
Although parallax scrolling may not be among the newest web design trends, the next years will still prove to be important for the increasingly popular function. This motion parallax has been an essential building block for modern websites over the past few years. The special ability to move various levels of a website at different speeds creates depth perception. These special visual effects keep the fascinated visitor scrolling and, as a result, they stay on the page longer. These effects are ideally combined with elements that prompt the visitor to carry out a desired action. For this reason, parallax scrolling is an excellent feature to use in tandem with interactive storytelling. A particularly illustrative example of this sort of use is the website, “Every Last Drop”.
Trend 5: Personalised user experience
Targeted presentation of web content is one of the basic principles of modern web design. Especially in e-commerce, the selection of content and its presentation should be based on the requirements of potential customers. In the past, the focus has been on abstract groups of people, but in 2020, the focus has shifted to the user experience.
While functions such as “Pages you may like” are used by practically every online shop, some companies are taking it a step further by customising their products to individual consumers. The music streaming service, Spotify, and the video-on-demand portal Netflix are examples of companies tailoring their services to customers. This means that two users almost never see the same selection of recommended products on the respective website.
A web design trend of 2020 will be personalised websites where visitors see content that matches their usage habits. Web analysis tools such as Google Analytics and Matomo provide the foundations for personalised user interfaces. They give content providers a comprehensive overview of how web users interact with web content.
Trend 6: WebXR
Most users are aware of virtual reality (VR) within an entertainment context. Computer and mobile game developers, for example, invest many resources into VR technologies to create VR glasses and games. At the same time, a growing number of smartphones enable augmented reality (AR) content – melting the real world with the digital realm. The World Wide Web is following these trends. The fault-ridden WebVR technology has now been replaced by WebXR technology which displays VR and AR content in browsers.
Users can already view specially programmed websites in three dimensions using VR glasses. Much like navigating a room, they can move between menu options and content. The technology holds much promise for the future of e-commerce allowing online shops to replicate the in-store experience online. Those who own VR glasses can already test WebXR by Mozilla.
Trend 7: Chatbots
Communication programs are nothing new. Chatbots originate from the research area of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and are already used nowadays on corporate websites or in online stores. Usually, these are small dialog boxes that accept user questions and automatically generate responses. The machine’s learning algorithm creates personalized answers, which gives the user the impression that they are speaking with a human. Chatbots are used as virtual shopping assistants or as an alternative to the classic FAQ section.
Chatbots are rarely intrusive, but are usually operated via small interactive elements. The user, therefore, gets the impression that they are being contacted in real-time by an employee of the web service. In most cases, the user is able to respond to the request without leaving the website. The distrust of AI-controlled dialog partners has probably subsided somewhat since the success of Siri, Alexa, Cortana, etc. In most cases, however, chatbots are (still) nothing more than search bars that react more dynamically to search queries. It will be interesting to see how chatbots develop in 2020.
Trend 8: Tidy interface
Well-planned layouts are often copied and that trend is apparent in web design. Website and web app user interfaces are increasingly based on proven practices in the design and arrangement of content. The layout always influences a website’s user-friendliness.
Generally, you can’t go wrong with a tidy user interface (UI). Likewise, you can stick to the long-established portal design for extensive websites or blog design for smaller websites and rest assured that it will work since these designs have been tried and tested. But two layout trends in web design have emerged which, in 2020, will be found on many graphical user interfaces.
This phenomenon has established itself so quickly that many users already take it for granted in their menu layout: the small menu button, also known as the “hamburger button”. Initially, it was mainly used for drop-down menus on mobile websites and apps. Now, the symbol is being used as the menu button on many desktop PCs. As the name suggests, the symbol resembles a layered hamburger and is often presented by the mathematical symbol “≡”, which means “identical”.
The second, more recent web design trend affects how content is presented. Card layouts (also known as “card-based design”) present text and/or image-based content or “call to action” buttons in several boxes that are distributed across the user interface. This offers several advantages: websites can be presented in a clear and visual manner, and, from a pragmatic point of view, the individual boxes or cards act as containers for web content which means they can be easily moved within the site design grid. Redistributing site content is made a lot easier with a responsive web layout. The card layout has gained popularity mainly because of image platforms such as Pinterest or web design platforms like Dribbble.
Trend 9: Dark Mode
One major trend that’s not only apparent on the web but the entire software sector is the dark mode. A growing number of users appreciate an alternative to bright displays. When surrounding lights are low, bright interfaces can be particularly disruptive. Although many apps and programs can already be configured in dark mode, most websites are still configured for bright mode.
Web design trends: a path to success
The web design trends for 2020 are all about usability. Additionally, websites should become even more user-friendly and be quicker for users to access at the same time. Web content is not separately tailored to different devices, but is optimised with responsive design so it can be properly displayed on all devices.
Modern web design techniques provide an opportunity for web designers to create elegant sites that users enjoy browsing and engaging with. But it’s important to remember that trends do change and new technologies continue to being rapidly developed. At the same time, the future user should always be at the centre of a good design strategy. Designs should match the user group and auto-adjust their content accordingly.
If you’re building your own website or would like to update your existing site you can take inspiration from the 2020 web design trends – preparing your website for the requirements and expectations of tomorrow.