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Before diving into what next year’s trends will be, it is important to remember that regardless of what is happening in the realm of visual design going into 2016, what is most important for the creative we develop for our clients will still be: developing targeted, relevant, audience-specific content and user experiences; listening to the data we get back from our site analytics, user research, user testing, and other CRO activities as drivers of design and content; and ensuring that site and landing page messaging is compelling, cross-channel consistent, and aligned with ad messaging. That said, here are the most significant trends in digital design that we need to keep our eyes on in 2016:
PATTERNIZATION OF UX DESIGN
If you haven’t noticed, sites and landing pages are starting to look very similar to each other. In the past year we witnessed a broad homogenization of site and page layout design. Some designers are pointing to a proliferation of design “patterns”, with primary page elements (hero, CTA, headline & subhead, description icons & copy, video) designed using similar styles, and placed in similar layouts . The move to mobile and the need for responsive web design (RWD) has played a role in this phenomenon. The rise and spread of WordPress and other drag-and-drop web templates has also helped push design in this direction.
In 2016 I predict there will be a continued homogenization of site and LP design patterns, and for good reason: the templates and patterns that are becoming most commonly used follow design best practices, offer effective visual cues and clear information hierarchy, and deliver compelling user experiences. What will make sites stand out in this environment of sameness will be: hard-hitting copy, bolder and more creative use of typography, and eye-grabbing hero imagery. I also predict that many of the design devices used to differentiate will be the drivers of the design trends in 2016.
EMPHASIS ON TYPOGRAPHY
As I mentioned above, one design element that will help differentiate brands from their competitors is use of typography. With the introduction of the Google Fonts directory and Google Fonts API a few years back, higher quality web fonts have been slowly making their way into mainstream web design. And thank goodness, now we are no longer limited to vanilla fonts such as Arial, or comically ugly fonts such as Comic Sans. And along with the greater availability of high quality web-compatible fonts, I predict that in 2016 we will start seeing more creative and bolder uses of typography as a primary design element, not simply as a means for transposing page copy.
One word of caution though: as new web compatible typefaces become more readily available, be mindful of how they are used and combined. Too many different typefaces on a single page or site reduces readability, can create clutter and leave visitors with a chaotic experience. Be bold and creative, but keep typographical treatments simple and straightforward.
DOMINANCE OF MATERIAL DESIGN
Material Design was developed by Google as a specification for unified visual, motion, and interaction design that could adapt across different devices and different screen sizes. Google introduced Material Design back in 2014, in an effort to make consistent UI simple, with a focus on mobile. At that time the trend was already moving away from drop shadows and design flourishes, in favor of flat design.
Since then, and with the growing move to design for mobile first, we’ve seen a steady growth in adoption of Material Design and in its use as a primary driver for design motifs. Its hard to escape Material Design when most of the apps we use (Gmail, YouTube, Google Chrome, Google Drive) have incorporated it into their design foundations. In 2016, look for even greater adoption and proliferation of Material Design as the dominant force in application and site UI design.
RICHER & MORE INTEGRATED ANIMATIONS
In 2016 look for a continued utilization of both large-scale animations (such as parallax scrolling, galleries, slideshows), as well as small-scale animations (loading mini-animations, hover effects, background animations). But look for a trend in greater integration of these animations into the overall UX, and with more detail to the design of the animations themselves, and richer overall animation experiences.
The trend in the use of animation in a more integrated way means the use of animation to enhance the natural flow of the on-page user experience, rather than for its own sake. Smooth scrolling offers users more control over how fast or slow they want to scroll, and this subtle but important UX element is dependent on animation. Hover effects can allow for a more interesting and immersive interactive experience, and can offer more effective use of real estate by having hover states present element detail copy. Designing these with the user flow in mind can be a great asset to any UX design.
GREATER USE OF CINEMAGRAPHS
These are still photos that utilize video to produce a repeated and subtle movement within the image, bringing them to life in a way that is more realistic and eye-grabbing than standard still photos. They are commonly produced by taking a series of photographs or a video recording, and compositing the photographs or the video frames into a seamless loop of sequential frames. This is done such that motion in part of the subject between exposures is perceived as a repeating or continued motion, in contrast with the stillness of the rest of the image.
In 2016 I predict we see more Cinemagraphs in social ads, as well as landing page and site hero’s. With the proliferation of tools that allow for easy creation of Cinemagraphs such as Flixel, and with HTML5 Canvas more prevalent, expect to see a greater and more creative utilization of Cinemagraphs.