Within the ever changing world of Web site design, designers find themselves at the crossroads of two major criteria – good design and intuitive functionality. This often leads to discussions with developers and account executives on what is more important… brilliantly designed Web sites or strategically planned out functionality? The answer is, of course, that they are both extremely important. (Yeah, I know, it’s a cop-out, but it’s true!)
Here is a list of hot design trends for 2009, broken down into those two, all important categories.
Brilliantly Designed Web Sites
The one-page layout. The key here is that less is more. The use of one-page layouts is becoming more and more popular because the user can navigate an entire site without leaving the structure of the original layout. Recent advancements made in programming techniques allow page content to be hidden or revealed by sliding and scrolling effects which previously was only seen when using Flash programming. Not only does this type of layout provide a sleek, beautiful design, it’s also SEO friendly, as it still allows search engines to index hidden content, too.
The multicolumn layout. It’s been done in print for years, so why not the Web now, too? A more organized, visually appealing layout, multcolumn/grid layouts are now being used more than ever before to guarantee structural balance, hierarchy and order. These advancements in hardware and screen resolutions make multicolumn layouts more acceptable to today’s online community. Blogs are the one form of Web site that really seem to be benefiting most from techniques usually found in traditional print layouts. That’s because the design, much like a printed magazine, allows the user a quick, more concise read.
More white space. A predictable, but beneficial trend of 2009 has been the introduction of more and more white space in designs. In some cases padding of 20 to 25 pixels has become rule of thumb. Additional white space prevents the user from being overwhelmed and turned off by what appears to be too much content on a single page. After all, what good is quality content if the user will never pay enough time to actually read it?
PNG Transparency. Although still unsupported by about 17% of the Web population who are still using Internet Explorer, Version 6, PNG transparency is being used and experimented with more and more these days. Often used in headers and footers, PNG transparency allows designers to break out of the traditional layout grid for a more magazine-styled layout.
Overlapping elements, floating graphics, drop shadows, glows, masked shapes, large typography and graphics – often trademark style elements found in your a-typical magazine – are now features that stand out on Web pages and are really benefiting greatly from the use of this particular technology.
The Social Design Element. With the day-to-day growing importance of social media, social design elements are becoming a must in most Web design approaches today. Finding a prominent place to provide links to social media giants like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are extremely important not only for their popularity and ability to link up to large social networks, but also for the additional functions they can provide your business, and certainly should not be an afterthought.
Strategically Planned Out Functionality
“Speaking Navigation.” Some designers are using short, descriptive lines that “speak,” if you will, to the user and explain what to expect from different parts of the site after clicking upon a particular link. Navigation panels in this design specifically use words with less characters in them, so that they can then be displayed in a larger, more legible size and treated with some sort of design element to make it more visually appealing, and still leave enough room around it so as to be supported by a short descriptive explanation (ex: THE BLOG – Advice, Opinions & News). This type of navigation is often structured in “blocks” of the same size to make viewing easier.
Rich User Interfaces. Today’s Web site designers are now spending more time developing advanced, sophisticated interfaces similar to that of classic desktop applications. When coming up with the navigation for this particular design, the artist looks not just for the aesthetic quality of the buttons and links, but also focuses on web site usability as well. Site content in this design is structured with more filters; a sort of way to prune down the entire site’s content to material that best suits the reader’s particular interests. The introduction of more white space and padding here also allows for a friendlier user experience, too. Recent improvements made to this particular design’s functionality also allow for a more interactive and responsive solution.
Dynamic Tabs. Dynamic tabs are exactly what their name suggests… tabbed, organized areas where content can be loaded dynamically. This can be a very useful tool, particularly when organizing large amounts of content. The beauty of this is that, as opposed to the aforementioned multi column approach to a layout, different categories of content can occupy the same area of a page, thus optimally using the entire page’s real estate. For example, a frequent guest to a Web site can have their Welcome Message, News and Calendar all fit under a single dynamic tab system. This presents the user with a less confusing layout and allows for a more intuitive interaction with the Web site itself. Truth be told, it’s a win-win situation all around, from the Web site designer who needs to organize the site, to Web site user who is looking for an easier way to navigate through the site.
Summing It All Up
Web site design trends are ever changing… from day to day, minute to minute; staying current can be a challenge. The key to success is to be prepared, stay organized and always think of the user first. If you can accomplish that, your design will be successful and so will your clients.