| Design Trends, Web Design

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Today I spoke at Social Media Breakfast Maine about design trends for web sites and e-newsletters. If you’d like to find my complete slide deck, I’ve posted it to SlideShare. You may also like to read about e-newsletter and email marketing trends on the Mail on the Mark blog.

the evolution of Web Design

When we examine trends, it’s helpful to look at where we’ve come from, where we are now, and in what direction we’re headed.

We’ve clearly come a long way in the evolution of web sites to our current web standards, but it seems that most web sites aren’t as fully developed as they could be. Instead, they’ve become cookie cutter.

There is a sameness to them—that is an outgrowth of some very practical issues—but often their lack of customization makes them less than ideal for the web site owner.

market demands have led us to our current trends in web site design

There are three main reasons why so many web sites look alike as we wrap up 2016.


Web site owners want control of their site. It started with implementing content management systems such as WordPress so you can easily update text and add in imagery.

This demand for DIY solutions now includes people wanting to be able to update everything: add pages, change the navigation, create landing pages and call outs, and move any content, anywhere. This is often driven by marketing activities.

Then, it grew to wanting (or needing because of cost) to create the whole web site yourself. With pre-built themes and services such as SquareSpace, people can build and then change everything without any design or HTML skills.

Responsive design: web sites that work on any device

As web sites have evolved, we now want sites that work well on any device.

It is a complex design and development challenge to make sites work this way. Therefore, certain setups and frameworks make it easy for web site designers and builders to efficiently build these responsive sites.

Low budgets

Face it, the majority of small business owners don’t have a lot of money to work with. They are often willing to put in time, rather than cash, to create something themselves. Whether they use a pre-built software solution or a web design firm, it is only feasible to pay for a web site that relies on many pre-fabricated pieces.

So themes and plugins that make it easy to create highly flexible, responsive web sites have become the norm.

The Ikea Effect

We are in the era of IKEA. The bulk of web sites today have many of the same features, benefits and frustrations as IKEA furniture.

  • At first glance, they look great. There is a veneer of design to them that is simple and appealing, but there is a lack of quality.
  • They require a lot of do-it-yourself time, energy and likely frustration. You’ll save a lot of money, but may waste hours doing head-bangingly frustrating work to get it all to function as you’d like.
  • They cannot be customized. If the out-of-the-box solution works perfectly for you, it’s great. But just like you can’t saw an extra 2 inches from the wrong-sized IKEA bookshelf, you often cannot get your logo to sit exactly where you want (or some similar issue) in those pre-built themes.
  • They often don’t stand up well to the rigors of heavy usage. Again, if you are careful, these low-cost solutions may serve you well, but they will easily fall apart if you put too much stress on them.

Web trends of 2016-2017

What are the current web trends? Where are we now?

Because of this demand for flexible, responsive and simple design, we are seeing an overuse of the following items.

  • Large hero images. These may be one static image or a slider. They work well because one image can so quickly convey a story and can connect emotionally, but too many of the images don’t truly connect with the web site. One specific trend that hasn’t peaked yet and probably will in 2017 is video in this header image area.
  • Long scrolling pages with centered content. We have become accustomed to scrolling on our phones, so it is no longer bothersome to scroll through large amounts of content. Also, centered content is very easy to adapt from small to large devices. Using multiple columns requires a lot more skill and thought from a developer and designer.
  • Minimizing of navigational elements. People like the idea of making their web navigation simple, but it doesn’t always organize your content in the best way. The hamburger menu is disliked by many, but no suitable alternatives have come forward.

Predictions for 2017 web design

What’s next?

I believe that specific web design trends will emerge from well-funded but innovative companies. These companies, perhaps out of Silicon Valley, NYC or Boston, who can recognize the limitations of cookie cutter designs and have the funds to hire teams of designers/developers/user experience experts/writers will create the next wave of great ideas.

Then the design elements or development tricks will get shared and eventually put into plugins and themes for mass usage.

While I cannot predict the specific design trends, I predict that this will be the cycle of how web trends launch and progress for the next several years.

What can you DO with your site in 2017?

Knowing that you may not be able to take the lead, what can you do maximize your site for 2017?

The overlying trend is to distill your message. This is why the ubiquitous design of 2016 is so compelling. Simple imagery and clear text is a great formula for cutting through the noise. But you need to do it right.

  • Meaningful graphics. Stop using filler stuff like stock photos that just don’t mean anything. While stock images have improved greatly, we are bombarded with ill-fitting photos and we all start to just skip over them in our minds. They are too frequently irrelevant. Every image should either be emotional and/or instructive.
  • Engaging writing. Brevity, insight and quality need to be your focus. As we minimize the amount of text (to help with visual impact) each word counts even more. Hiring an outside writer can help you gain perspective as well as improve the quality of the end result.

You may also like to read about e-newsletter and email marketing trends on the Mail on the Mark blog.

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