We’re entering the last quarter of 2017 (I know, right?), and it’s time to review some of the biggest web design trends of the year, and to see how bang on the money we were with our 17 Web Design Trends to Watch in 2017.
This article analyzes which predictions we got right, features new insight into those trends, and explores new trends that we overlooked at the beginning of the year. As usual, we quizzed a ton of experts from around the world for some exclusive thoughts on how web design has evolved in 2017.
Here we go!
This year, an uncompromising movement that rejects mainstream web trends started entering the mainstream itself.
The term ‘web brutalism’ — named after architecture characterized by simple, block-like forms and raw concrete construction, which flourished in the 1950s and 1960s — was coined by Pascal Deville, co-founder and creative director of Freundliche Grüsse, a full-service creative agency based in Zürich and Berlin.
“In the last couple of years, I realized a trend toward streamlined, almost neutralized interfaces,” he explains. “They completely missed any sense for brand attributes or characteristics regarding the content or purpose they serve. Around the same time, I noticed that designers started to experiment with a kind of web design anti-trend; a rough and back-to-basics approach on how websites could work like outside a perfect UX world.”
Pascal started collecting the best pieces on brutalistwebsites.com, along with short Q&As with their respective creators. Two years later, Anil Dash tweeted about it and it immediately started trending on Hacker News, BoingBoing, and other blogs. Now it’s about to go mainstream.
Ignore the rules to come up with something unexpected. But to do so, you have to know the rules. At the end, it’s about what all brands want: differentiation.
So what can you learn from this trend?
“Ignore the rules to come up with something unexpected. But to do so, you have to know the rules. At the end, it’s about what all brands want: differentiation.”
2. Conversational interfaces
“We are in the Walkman Era of Conversational Interfaces,” he explains. “The current systems work better than anything we've seen in the past, so they're — relatively — much more enjoyable. However, they're nowhere near reaching their full capabilities and represent an entirely new paradigm of computing.”
We are in the Walkman Era of Conversational Interfaces.
Toscano predicts that, for the first time in the history of computing, users will no longer have to learn a new language or a system.
“The system is learning us,” he enthuses. “It is learning our system and our language, so that it can do the heavy lifting for us. Eventually, as the technology matures, anyone that can speak will be able to operate a computer. And because, depending on the linguistic expert you speak to, language is innate to our being, this interaction model represents the definition of intuitive computing. It will be the closest thing we'll have to a computer plugged into our brain, without it literally being plugged in.”
3. Virtual reality
Andy Budd also predicted that virtual reality was on the way to the ‘peak of inflated expectations’, but Diego González-Zúñiga aka diekus, a developer advocate for Samsung, argues that VR hasn’t been a fad at all.
“In 2017, WebVR 1.1 can be found in Samsung Internet, Nightly, Chrome, Edge, Chromium, and Servo,” he enthuses. “It is also enabled by default in Samsung Internet for Gear VR and Firefox. All the other browsers can use a polyfill. This makes WebVR the widest VR platform available to date, the easiest one to share experiences in, and the only one that can adapt to different devices.”
Diego adds that WebVR 2.0 is coming very soon and will bring support for WebGL2. This will allow for better performance and more complex experiences, enabling users to consume and interact with virtual content the way they want it.
“But most importantly, we are already seeing content come out from different agencies, developers and creatives built on tools and frameworks such as Babylon.js, A-Frame, Vizor.io, PlayCanvas that wrap up the specification, making it easy and accessible for content creators. This enables us to combine WebVR with other web APIs to create richer experiences that use Web Payments, WebRTC, Physical Web, geolocation, and more.”
Web developer and Shopify Expert Kelly Vaughn correctly predicted bold and bright colors making a comeback for 2017. Jerry Cao, UX content strategist at UXPin, thinks they will persist thanks to flat design and Material Design.
“Paired with crisp typography and tasteful visual effects (like gradients or illustrations), the technique really helps draw attention to certain parts of the screen,” he explains. “Balance is the key because you still need to meet usability and accessibility standards. Intercom is a great example — the colors aren't flashy, but they certainly make a statement."
5. Bespoke illustrations
“Brands have always used illustration in interesting ways,” argues freelance illustrator and designer Paddy Donnelly. “But more and more tech companies in particular are seeing the benefits that bespoke illustrations can bring to a brand.”
Donnelly names Dropbox, Shopify, and Intercom as great examples of companies that have been lighting the way with their effective use of illustration.
More and more tech companies in particular are seeing the benefits that bespoke illustrations can bring to a brand.
“As web design has become so similar over the last few years, it's important for brands to be able to distinguish themselves,” he explains. “Bespoke illustrations are one way in which companies can have a distinct look, communicate complicated concepts, make an otherwise negative experience, like a 404 page, delightful, or add a little fun to their brand image."
Micro-interactions are being embraced more and more by designers to heighten engagement, provide extra feedback, or reveal functionality.
“They’re absolutely worth the time you put into them because they add something tangible and memorable to any experience,” stresses Val Head, a design advocate for Adobe and author of Designing Interface Animation.
Val’s recent favorites include the stretchy dog and chat bubble when you pull to refresh your messages in the Rover app, and the word-triggered animations on Facebook when you tap on words like “xoxo” or “congrats” in posts. Both are designed in a way that meshes well with each app’s ethos, she explains, and that makes them even more effective.
“Over the last few months, I’ve also noticed more micro-interactions, including sound as a layer of feedback,” she adds. “Often these are only in the mobile app version, but I wouldn’t be be surprised if we start see this starting to spread to more traditional desktop contexts, too.”
7. Context awareness
Design for context has always been a big thing in the design world. However, Chui Chui Tan, an experience research and strategy consultant and founder of Beyō Global, points out that you shouldn’t associate contextual design only with devices, location, and time.
“There is much more to it than just design based on the type of devices people are using and where they are at that moment,” she says. “Understanding users’ context is also important — their emotions and mental state at the point of use, or their social context — interactions they have with people around them, direct or indirect.”
Chui Chui explains that over the last year, designers have been focusing more and more on user experience as whole, not on specific channels.
“Whether you call it contextual design, or service design, or cross-channel experience design, it's not important. Ultimately, it’s all about designing users' end-to-end experiences, based on their context of use. You design based on the tasks a specific user is trying to complete, at a specific location, in a specific environment, at a specific time when they are with specific people. That is contextual design.”
Chui Chui adds that one of the key topics that’s been widely talked about in the last year is designing for global and for different markets, which is also part of contextual design.
“You design for audiences who might have different context of use because of the environment they are in, their traditions and customs or their country’s technology and infrastructure. Understanding your international users is crucial as their context of use will certainly be different from one country to another.”
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Bonus: Third-party vulnerabilities
Not exactly a web design trend per se, but in our January article, Peter Smart, head of UX and product strategy at Fantasy, predicted more “agents targeting core parts of the internet’s infrastructure with increasing frequency, resulting in disruption to our daily dependencies on the web”. Boy, he wasn’t wrong there.
Guy Podjarny, co-founder of security startup Snyk.io, says that while the fragility of the web's reliance on key third-party services continued to manifest with Cloudflare's Cloudbleed and other attacks, 2017's attacks to date highlighted the risk of third party software more than services.
While vulnerable libraries remain the larger risk, we've recently seen the first true case of malicious packages in the npm registry, shaking the community's faith in open source contributors.
So, in its quest for efficiency, the web is increasing its dependence on third-party services and software to provide ready-made functionality. As Guy points out, awareness and tooling to address this concern are evolving, exemplified by Chrome's lighthouse adding testing for vulnerable libraries. But we should make sure we’re alert because our dependency counts and complexities will keep growing.
You might also like: 15 More Chrome Extensions That Will Increase Your Productivity as a Web Designer
Make your site stand out
It’s been another exciting year in web design, and we’re not done yet! Who could have predicted ‘brutalism’ to become an anti-trend? One thing is clear: our digital toolbox has never been greater, but rather than blindly following trends that lead to all websites looking the same, we should aim to set our sites apart, put users first, and understand their context of use.
Adapt trends and add your unique angle, whether that’s a bespoke illustration unique to your brand, a delightful micro-interaction, or a user interface that’s different than everything that’s come before.
We can’t wait to see what 2018 has in store for us. Check back in January — we’ll be here to inspire you.
What kind of trends have you followed this year, and which trends do you predict for 2018? Let us know in the comments below!