Emerging design trends

Paul Boag

Web 2.0. brought with it a lot of things. One was a new style of design. However, design is a fickle thing and we are already seeing some new trends emerging.

Gradients, reflections, drop shadows and rounded corners are all classic elements of web 2.0. design. For a while now these kind of stylings have dominated emerging websites. However, I have started to notice a shift recently and I have to say I like what I am seeing. Below I outline a few of the design elements that are currently in vogue and why I particularly like them.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not to say that I think these design elements are new (many are blatantly not), I am simply saying that they seem to be becoming trendy again.

Goodbye to the Fold

With web 2.0. came bigger font sizes and bolder designs. A consequence of this was less emphasis on cramming content above the mythical line that is the fold. Although many elements of web 2.0. design are falling out of favor, rejecting the fold seems to be growing in popularity. You see more and more sites willing to embrace the idea that users do in actual fact scroll and at this years @media the whole subject was met with considerable passion!

Personally I view this as a huge step forward for design. In many ways it is as significant as the end to the web safe palette. We now know that users are happy to scroll and although it is still good practice to keep key content above the fold, that doesn’t mean everything has to be.

It was always a false concept anyway with the fold moving depending on resolution, browser type, toolbars and window size. Accepting this and moving on, is progress indeed.

The footer has always been an underused page element. Often it was used as nothing more than a nice way to finish off a design and a place to dump all of the crap that we don’t know what to do with! Now however, we are beginning to see sites that actually utilize this screen element to provide supporting navigation and information.

These “expanded footers” such as you find on Apples website, are being adopted more widely and provide some real “added value” to the user. They often contain things like; contact information, related links, and about us.

Resolution dependent layout

Another feature that seems to be growing in popularity is resolution dependent layout. This is where the layout adapts based on the viewable area. The most classic implementation of this is where at resolutions greater than 800 by 600 a third column of content is displayed. At 800 by 600 the content is pushed down to the bottom of the main column.

This is quite a hard feature to explain. It is much easier if you see it in action. Go to Patrick Haney’s website and reduce your window size. As you reduce it down you will suddenly see that the third column disappears and the content can now be found at the bottom of the page.

This approach makes better use of available space than either fixed width (with its empty space) or fluid (with its long line lengths). In my opinion this approach gives a real alternative to the fixed/fluid debate.

Right column navigation

Traditionally navigation on the web either appears on the left or at the top. Right hand navigation has somewhat been frowned upon. However, more recently this trend seems to have been changing with more websites adopting it. I think this is partly due to blogs, which seem to have right hand navigation by default. However, it has always struck me as strange that the convention is towards left. If you think about it there are a lot of good reasons for right hand navigation…

  • It puts the content first visually
  • Your cursor natural hovers near the scrollbars on the right
  • We are familiar with right hand navigation from tabs in books
  • We know from usability research that whether navigation is on the left or right, it makes no difference in the time it takes to complete a task

Overall I am hugely in favor of right hand navigation and I am glad to see it becoming more popular.

Focus on content

I have also observed a growing movement towards more content focused websites. By that I mean that more user interfaces are becoming understated in order to put the emphasis on the content rather than the design.

The most classic example of this is Garrett Dimon’s blog which is understated to the point of minimalism. The entire site is built to make the process of accessing and reading the content as easy as possible.

Although this doesn’t work well for every site (where there is as great a need to build brand identity as convey information) I do think that overall this is a healthy move. Too many designers are more concerned with showing off their design prowess than they are with focusing on content. The irony is it takes more design skill to build a clean, content orientated design than something more flashy.

Emphasis on typography

Finally, thanks to people like Richard Rutter we are seeing a growing interest in typography. For too long web designers have ignored typography concluding that we are too limited in fonts to do anything useful. However, typography is more than type. It is about things like leading, spacing, and style. Much more than typeface alone.

A growing number of web designers are recognizing this and doing ever more creative things with the limited number of fonts at our disposal.

So there you go. Those are the design trends I see emerging at the moment. What about you? Have I missed anything? What other things are going on that we should all be aware of?

Right, all I need now is some time to redesign this site :)