Web Design Trends to Ignore and Explore in 2016

web design trends

It’s been a tough year for web designers everywhere, what with the onslaught of claims the industry dead, buried and half way to the cemetery for cremation. As you will have seen in our post on how web design is changing, not dying, we don’t buy any of that nonsense here at Web Designer Hub.

And with this in mind we figure now is the perfect time to run through some web design trends to ignore and explore in 2016. That’s right, proof designers will still have a job come the new year (the good ones at least) is in how much the web still mostly sucks. In fact, it was hard to narrow down this article to a select few trends on either side of the fence – which just goes to show how much work we still have to do.


Web design trends to ignore in 2016

So let’s take a look at some of the web design trends to ignore in 2016. The fact I can still talk about the need to drop these ‘trends’ as 2015 comes to a close is kind of embarrassing. The bad habits should have been forgotten as soon as we started preaching about user experience, but you still see them everywhere.


Ignore: Device focused design

Whatever your favourite flavour of mobile optimisation, the sooner we stop restricting our designs by devices, the better for everyone. Responsive design isn’t going anywhere, but it needs to be liberated from the shackles of display sizes. The poorly named mobile-first approach is a step in the right direction – at least it optimises for the smaller/weaker devices first – and the web would be a better place if more sites adopted it.

Pouring all your efforts into mobile responsive design is just as counterintuitive as the days when we focused purely on desktop. Your clients can’t afford to overhaul their website with expensive redesigns every time a new device changes the landscape. We need to start offering a more future-proofed solution that can be tweaked over time to keep brands competitive.


Ignore: Designing without the content in place

Content is the driving force of all your clients’ marketing messages – the hook between them and their own clients/customers. Which means diving into the design process before the bulk of a website’s content is mapped out makes no sense whatsoever. This goes way beyond layouts and visuals on the page as well. The very basics of site structure and information architecture (IA) can’t be taken seriously without the content coming first.

This leaves you and your clients in a sticky position if you rely too heavily on templates and frameworks (more on that later). Content isn’t there to simply fill the page and the gaps between your design; it’s there to guide users through the buying process and seal the deal. It’s there to get the results that matter most to your clients and if your design process doesn’t prioritise those same goals, then you have a real problem.


Ignore: Intrusive popups

If I didn’t see these with my own eyes on a daily basis I wouldn’t be able to believe we’re still talking about them as 2016 comes rolling in. They’re back with a vengeance, that’s for sure, and the reason is they get results – which I’ve got no problem with. I accept there are times when a popup serves a genuine purpose; there are even times when they can enhance user experience (if a popup’s message excites users, then you can hardly say it hurts their experience).

The problem with popups is always execution – ie: intrusive popups. Popup solutions have come a hell of a long way in the last few years, with the likes of BounceExchange and OptinMonster offering solutions that minimise intrusion – and you can design your own alternatives too. I’d still always recommend website owners more-than-carefully consider the impact on UX before going for any kind of popup. I’d also recommend you to advise your clients on the good/bad of popups and help them explore other options.

And the worst thing about popups in this day and age? Popups on mobile – what a surprise. I’m sorry, but there’s no excuse for using a popup where the ‘x’ button sits off screen or it’s so small even Ant-Man couldn’t hit it with his baby finger. So, come on, if you insist on using popups for mobiles, don’t take up the whole screen and definitely give users a way to exit the damn things.


Ignore: Auto-play videos and background audio

I want to start by saying I personally don’t have any problem with hero video backgrounds auto-playing – as long as there’s no audio by default and mobile users get a static image instead of choppy footage. Many will disagree with me on that – and that’s fine – because individual users all come with personal preferences too (as with all UX question marks).

What I can’t forgive, though, is videos auto-playing in the main body of content or in sidebars – especially when audio kicks in at whichever point the browser catches up with the page load. News sites are terrible for this and who are they to say their videos are important enough to interrupt users’ browser sessions. What if they’re listening to music as they browse or they’ve chosen to play a video from another site when yours interrupts? And those poor mobile users once again, having their precious mobile data sapped by your video intrusions. So rude.


Ignore: Pagination

Sometimes you have to wonder how certain ‘design’ trends ever caught on and this has got to be up there with the worst of them. Once again, there’s a place for pagination and you can read more about when and how to use it over at Moz. It’s another question of execution and the kind of pagination I’m raging about is articles split up into multiple pages – especially those ridiculous list articles.

Some publications will tell you this is good for user experience. After all, it breaks up the content into nice little bite-size chunks and saves people’s poor fingers from all that tiresome scrolling. Try not to laugh too loudly in the face of anyone who comes out with such jibberish though. Instead, you can point out that such pagination is basically a spam tactic to increase time on site, page views, impressions and other metrics – not to mention bombard users with ads.

As for your clients, they may be interested to know Google doesn’t buy into any of those pagination metrics and you can actually shoot yourself in the foot from an SEO perspective. Then you have the UX issues: pointless server requests, loading times and those ad attacks. No justification.


Web design trends to explore in 2016

Okay, so now the rants are over, let’s take a look at some of the web design trends we want to be exploring in the year ahead (if not already). Most of these are long overdue, in truth, but that only gives us more reason to get our acts together and create a better web for 2016 – how’s that for a new year’s resolution!


Explore: Content-driven design

This actually brings us back to two of our design trends to forget: device focused design and designing without the content in place. The phrase content-driven design has been around for years and it typically means having the content in place before the design process begins.

I’d like to take this one step further though and apply the concept to device independent design. If we drop the device focused approach to designing websites, apps and other platforms, what’s left? The content. That’s the only consistent medium between users and the messages we have for them, so this is where our design focus should be.

Good designers and developers have been basing their responsive breakpoints around content for years, so this is hardly a revolutionary concept. The problem is these designers and developers are in the minority and the working examples of responsive design typically lag way behind its full potential.


Explore: Ditching the themes & frameworks

One of the biggest barriers facing content driven design (as with many other design problems) is the overuse of themes and frameworks. I’m going to turn around and say you need to drop them altogether, but I would certainly suggest exploring other options.

How practical this is for you as an individual designer depends on your situation, but you’ll always be confined to design trends already a few years old by relying on themes and frameworks.

The answer could be teaming up with a developer who has more extensive coding skills or improving on your own programming magic. If you can find a way to make it work, though, you’ll be in a position to create the kind of unique web experiences that will help you bag the kind of clients who pay good money for your efforts.


Explore: Layouts

Another setback to the theme and framework approach is you’re limited to the same old layouts and design solutions. No wonder web design has become predictable when so much of it relies on foundations already set out by others. Sure, certain themes and frameworks are highly customisable to meet your clients’ needs, but what’s the point in using all that bloated code to then go ahead and override half of it (by adding even more code)?

Repetitive layouts aren’t limited to themes and frameworks though –  we’re all too often guilty of falling back on the tried and tested. Sometimes this really is the best option, of course, but we can’t use the same old UX script as an excuse to stop exploring new ideas.

We seem to have fallen into this lull where the only experimentation in the web is the glitzy, animated and incredibly unresourceful stuff. But when it comes to the basics, like intuitive layouts and original concepts, we’d rather stick with the usual and then go play with some JavaScript. Which brings me onto my next point.


Explore: Dropping the JavaScript/jQuery

Again, I’m not going to turn around and suggest you or your developers drop JS altogether and I’m not about to hate on the scripting language (I’m a fan). I could have named this section “dropping the pointless animations,” “dropping the stupid scrolling effects,” or any number of other poor applications of JavaScript.

As often proves to be the case, we’re talking about execution once again and far too many sites are overloaded with scripts or plugins. Some of them pull off some really fancy stuff too, but the vast majority are entirely superficial and perform awfully across multiple devices.

So I would suggest dropping the JS wherever possible (not entirely) and taking the absolute minimal approach. Keep up to date on the latest HTML5 and CSS3 developments to see what can be done without scripts and save the JS for the absolutely necessary. Perhaps I should have named this section “toning down the JavaScript/jQuery”.


Explore: Navigation alternatives

I’ll keep this one short, as I tend to bang on about it a bit, but I keep bringing it up because it becomes more relevant with every that passes. Even if we’re edging closer to the day where most people understand the ‘hamburger’ icon (and there’s a long way to go yet) this only scratches the surface of problems with the most common approach to ‘responsive’ navigation.

First of all, when did adding clicks to the navigation process equal good user experience? And then I’d like to know why we insist on hiding nav menus in the first place, as if those vital clues about site structure and content aren’t important to users. And my absolute favourite is seeing sites adopt the hamburger/hidden menu approach on ‘desktop’ layouts. That one really takes the biscuit, cake or whichever proverbial confectionary you prefer.

And, just to prove I’m not the only one harping on about this stuff, check out what our friends at TechCrunch have to say.


So there’s some food for thought on web design trends as we see out the last month of 2015. No need for web designers to hit the job centre just yet, but plenty of room for improvement if you want to keep your place among the designers worth employing for years to come.