Web design trends come and go. Flash, anyone? As technology improves, the web goes ever more mobile and user experience becomes the focus, these trends are evolving a heck of a lot faster these days. While we can all agree that page counters, scrolling marquees and pop-up windows are dead and done, there are quite a few modern web trends that have already outlived their usefulness.
You yourself may very well be attached to a dying trend. But as hard as it is to let them go, it’s time to say buh-bye to the following web design trends as we approach another new year.
Trend #1: Sliders & carousels
There are a host of reasons why auto-forwarding carousels or sliders are a bad, if not downright bloodless, design move, but chief among them within the realm of B2B web design are usability and conversion.
Auto-forwarding sliders are actually perhaps one of the worst elements you could possibly incorporate into a website from a user experience perspective.
Think about it…
If a user isn’t interested in what’s in front of them, they’re going to scroll away, not sit and wait to find out if the next slide is as droll and irrelevant as the first. Or what if they were interested and you just took it away like a playground bully. Did you expect them go look for it again? Why would you want to tease your users like that? Didn’t you put a lot of time and effort into building this site exclusively for them? Why are you being so mean?!
Then of course there’s that whole thing about the purpose of your site in the first place – driving conversions. Unless you’re some giant brand looking to create a unique digital experience to build brand equity, your site’s users are probably not interested in just hanging out and poking around. Chances are they have a problem and they want to solve it as quickly as possible because then they don’t have a problem anymore and can get on with more satisfying things like watching baby goat videos. In B2B, a conversion-focused approach should do very little beyond encouraging the specific action you want the user to take. Anything and everything on your site should be there for the sole purpose of convincing your user to take the action you want them to. Expecting them to voluntarily sit through a parade of marketing materials is just plain presumptuous. Just get to the point!
And if the theory doesn’t do it for you, how about some data? Guess how many people out there actually click on slider images? The answer is 1%. And 84% of that ridiculously small number ever get past the first one. Are you feeling me yet?
Ok, one more. They’re also bad for SEO. Now what?!
So what should you do instead? Well, that depends now doesn’t it? As sick as you no doubt are of hearing that answer, it’s the truth and you know it. There is no other way to determine what the best method of driving conversions on your site is besides testing and iteration.
Again, we could go on and on about how badly carousels need to go (and perhaps we will), but for now we’ll just say…
Trend #2: Flat design
Way back when in the early twenty-teens, flat design was welcomed with open arms, invited to sit at the table and given the biggest helping of mashed potatoes. “It’s so simple,” they said. “So beautiful. So… sophisticated!” But is it really?
Embracing the two-dimensional screens we view websites on for what they are, flat design finally stopped trying to imitate the real world the way Apple did with their skeuomorphic bevels and drop shadows. The minimalistic approach allowed us to minimize by stripping things down and focusing on usability rather than attempting to simulate familiar experiences we may be more accustomed to. Not to mention that websites with flat design look cool as hell and boy are they fast! However, cool as it may be, flat design isn’t without its own usability problems. Remember the Windows 8 Metro UI? Waaaaaaay too flat! It ignored the signals and context we need to interact intuitively with the web.
Then Google came along and figured out a way to put the third dimension and a little motion back onto the screen with Material Design, a framework complete with tools and guidelines that essentially requires its practitioners to drink the Google-Aid. An impressive albeit very Google-looking way of doing things, Material Design is certainly effective and naturally intuitive, but it’s also rigid and restrictive to silly little things like creativity and expression that we designers kind of pride ourselves in.
So what’s next? Well for now, hybridization seems to make sense as a natural starting point. There were things that worked in material design and flat design has certainly proven its effectiveness, so why not go with the best of both worlds? Flat Design 2.0 is here and it combines the user-friendly, mobile-centric, layered approach of Material Design with Flat Design’s super-speedy page load speeds and modern aesthetics. You can see it demonstrated beautifully in this seasonally appropriate example from none other than Google herself. It’s gorgeous and flat but layered and complex at the same time. What more could you ask for?
Trend #3: Complicated or distracting animations
Animation is hot right now and for good reason. It can be a powerful tool that reinforces design concepts and enhances the usability of a website in a number of significant and appropriate ways. If we’re calling this thoughtful and purposeful use of motion “functional animation,” it’s antithesis can only be referred to as dysfunctional animation and ohhhhhh, how it sucks.
New trends are abused, it happens. We were all kids once (some of us still are) and we’re all guilty of falling for the shiniest new toys. We may have grown up, but we’re still susceptible to losing our minds over the latest innovation and allowing our enthusiasm to take over until what once had potential loses all purpose. Animation has purpose though. Unfortunately we forget that sometimes, possibly because the word itself conjures images of our favorite childhood cartoons or the medium’s potential to be limitlessly expressive. But when we do forget this, it just gets in the way and instead of reinforcing design concepts, it distracts, it confuses, and it frustrates. And the last thing we want to do is frustrate our users. Right?
In the future, let’s all agree to validate any and all motion on our sites. You should be able to defend the function of every animation for its purpose in providing context or encouraging action. If you can’t, get rid of it. If you disagree, maybe you should be working for Pixar?
Trend #4: Scroll jacking
Remember the last time you found yourself in a situation you couldn’t control and thought to yourself, “Gee, this is great! I love the restrictive way I’m being forced to experience this!” Having some trouble? I thought so. That’s because you are a human being with free will and a brain capable of making inferences and decisions on your own, not a host on Westworld doomed to repeat the same behavioral loops over and over again. You don’t need anyone to tell you how to use something that should be intuitive in the first place.
Scroll jacking is like an overbearing mother or a micromanaging supervisor always over your shoulder. It’s annoying and honestly a little bit patronizing. You’ve probably been a victim of scroll jacking if you’ve ever done any research on a new Apple product and been forced to suffer through slide of explanation on why you need their latest device, OS or app. If you’re like me, you’ve at least experience that “Get me out of here!” moment of helplessness and frustration, but beyond the simple annoyance of it all, there are gigantic accessibility and usability issues that only prevent users from interacting with your site.
Websites and digital products should be intuitive. They should not require the guiding hand of “the Builder,” but rather be open to exploration by the user, capable of being experienced in the most appropriate way for that individual or persona. The most important information should be accessible but not force-fed. Visitors should have the freedom of choice to explore that which is relevant to them in the most logical way. Do the tiniest amount of user testing and you’ll find that different personas are likely to interact with the same product in completely different ways. Sometimes people need to be left alone to learn and discover things on their own in order to make a confident and informed decision. Scroll jacking flies in the face of this concept and is just plain arrogant in its assumption that there is a one-size-fits-all best way to experience a site.
Trend #5: Sidebars
This entry may be better suited for a similarly themed post with 2014 in the title. Enough already! It’s time to put purposeless sidebars to pasture.
This is the age of minimalism whether you like it or not. And not just in web design. Flat, Material, Flat 2.0… these are the design trends moving forward and they work because they’ve stripped out unnecessary and gratuitous conventions like the sidebar. You see them all the time on News sites which makes absolutely zero sense because their objective should be to get you to focus on the content, not bouncing from story to story like a caffeine-addled spider monkey. While it’s safe to say these sites likely have ulterior motives for emphasizing page views over time on page or driving a specific action, that should not be what informs the page design of a B2B site with a clear conversion strategy.
Let me ask you something. What do you need a sidebar for? Navigation? What’s wrong with your primary navigation? Well, fix it, don’t just make it redundant. Redundant or irrelevant sidebar content does nothing but distract attention from whatever it is you are supposed to be communicating to the user on that particular page.
When conversions are the name of the game, you should be taking every possible step to maximize them through testing different CTAs and their placement on the page. Convinced that the sidebar is the most appropriate place for that button or form? Doubt it. This company removed their cluttered sidebar, moved their CTAs in line with the content itself and saw a 71% increase in conversions. Remember, it’s all about experience. If a blog post is written with the intent of compelling a user to act, it makes for a far more natural experience after all when the CTA is presented at the exact point at which the user is compelled.
Sidebars are almost always nothing more than a distraction and in this age of minimalism, distractions should be the first things to go!
Bring on 2017
You may very well notice some of these conventions on what are otherwise highly effective sites. In fact, we may have used some of them in our own work in the past. But the past is exactly where we intend to leave these and other tired conventions, replacing them with innovative new experiences that are backed by experimentation and testing. So don’t think of this as the Burn Book from Mean Girls so much as lighthearted constructive criticism intended to make your website better and the internet in general a tidier, less annoying place.
Suffice it to say that we are looking forward to a new year and the web design trends that follow, but no matter how shiny and hyped they may be, we’ll always rely on that which is backed by data and results. Check back soon to see what new web design trends we hope to see take the spotlight in 2017!