There's a lot going on out there in the wonderful world of web design, but I see these five trends emerging.
ONE. Mobile + Desktop In One: Responsive Design Website
Duh right? I know its rhetorical, but in the 16 years that I've been doing this, this ranks among the most significant evolutions in web design. Its adoption is also break-neck. This time last year, we had one responsive design in production - and it was our own. Right now, about 60% of projects in production are responsive. Every lead that we're following calls for responsive design. That's impressive. I doubt we'll ever create another mobi site.
The influence of mobile stylistically is largely based on usability. Interactive features need to work with fat thumbs now, so buttons and navigation are larger. Usability is taking yet another leap.
As mobile came in, Steve Jobs pushed Flash out. The freedom to create interactions anywhere on the screen. The scalability. The end of boxes and right angles. That's over for now. The challenge with responsive is to avoid slipping back into the box.
TWO. Longer "Engagement" Pages
Fold. Schmold - I'm done listening to people squawk about the fold. The fold is for newspapers and both are dying. Two things are ending this discussion. The first is mobile. Mobile users love to scroll - what's more fun than flinging down the page. Mobile users would rather scroll the page than deal with navigation and wait for pages to load. The second thing is content. If the content is good, users will scroll.
The conflict though is for those sites that need that page load to enable an impression-based ad unit to make them money. This article in Ad Age about Chartbeat reveals that good content drives eyeballs below the fold. These eyeballs stay on the page longer -they call it "engaged time" and its in this zone that ads perform better. I wouldn't be surprised if we soon see an ad unit priced on "engaged time".
What I'm seeing now are longer pages that draw you in and provide a full story without loading a new page. One of my favorites is the Four Seasons. Check out the homepage for any destination... here is Costa Rica. What I dig about this is the sequential panels of info that draw you deeper and deeper and provide you with key visuals, information, and regional context to assess the destination. These panels are very tablet friendly - but sadly, the site isn't responsive.
THREE. Single Page Websites
Each section of this site is a single page. Elegant transitions using parallax scrolling effects deliver the sense that this resort is of another level.
FOUR. Photography & Endless Scrolling
Pinterest became addictive because you could never reach the end. With every swipe of the tablet more and more shoes, jackets, edible yummies, and architectural wonders. Everyone has jumped on to feed our our addiction for visual stimulation. I love it. We're starting to redesign our photo galleries now and will be pushing out larger photos. So long lightbox!
FIVE. Enhanced Content
Before I read this story, Snow Fall - The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek by John Branch of the New York Times, I'd have said that I'd always prefer paper over screen. This amazing story of this terrible tragedy provides a glimpse into the future of online content and story telling. This piece of art incorporates multimedia and transitional effects that brings the content alive on the screen. I'm sure this will win awards on both technical and journalistic merits.
There are two pervasive themes throughout all. One is mobile. The other is content. The mobile-first approach focuses on content as much as design. It forces us to prioritize and focus on what really moves the needle. While I miss Flash so very much for the freedom it granted us, we have incredible new tools that are shifting our focus from the design of the shell towards what matters more - the content that users consciously consume. Any site that does that right will win on all levels.