You might start off by asking yourself what graphic design even is, or if it’s even important. You might think that it’s just how something looks, and end there. But it’s far more than just the visual component of an app or a website. Advances in tech and societal trends have equal weight in shaping the look of today’s websites and apps. They interplay and react to create a variable and evolving online landscape. And remember: graphic design is not a luxury. Here are some of the top trends in web design we’ve seen most in 2017.
Although virtual reality is still in its infancy, the mindset behind it is already spreading. Users want to feel like no matter where they are in the world, they can be in the heart of the action (be it a game, a news story or a piece of art). To pull this off, designers are incorporating 360-degree video, hyper-responsive navigation and limited forays into real deal VR. The full-on VR experience is only possible for users who have access to the necessary equipment on their end, like Google Cardboard, Oculus Rift or PlayStation VR, but an immersive web experience can be created in many ways. Cinemagraphs (videos or GIFs that loop) grab eyes and put users in the moment, often with an option to watch silently or turn on sound. Responsive navigation tools allow users to engage with content at their own pace. By hovering over a piece, they can expand and explore it without navigating away from the original page.
Web designers are also engaging users in meaningful ways through Artificial Intelligence. Part of what makes this trend fun is the limitless possibilities for micro-interactions. These can be customer service oriented, replacing the need for large call centers and long wait times for simple questions. Tools like Botsify and Chatfuel are used to integrate AI chat technology into a range of sites. The technology can also be used for entertainment purposes. Virtual boyfriend sites allow users to have intimate or funny conversations with an intuitive bot. Google DeepDream can create entirely new images by sighting patterns in a selection of images. As AI technology improves, bots are increasingly capable of taking on personalities and synthesizing information using neural networks.
In the 10 years since the iPhone changed mobile computing forever, graphic designers have found the need to adapt to an ever-widening scale of screen sizes. Today, an effective site must be flexible enough to scale from the 5” (diag.) screen of the Samsung Galaxy Mini to the 75” (diag.) screen of a Sony Ultra HD TV, and adjust to every screen dimension in between. Within this scalability trend is the assumption that for most sites the bulk of browsing will be mobile. In both emerging and established markets, smartphones are becoming the primary device for web browsing and designers have adapted with more modular builds and open composition sites. Open composition allows the content on a screen to be easily stretched or compacted depending on screen size. It has an added benefit of creating a relaxed and free feeling web browsing experience for users. Modular builds can be used to stack or spread different sections of content in whatever space is provided. This results in a “scroll-oriented” experience on smartphones and a “wide-menu” experience on larger computer and smart TV screens.
Big, Bold and Bright
When Instagram switched from its classic brown camera logo to a new technicolor design, users were initially upset by the change (they always are) but quickly embraced the rebranding. Instagram was hopping on the bandwagon of a trend of bright colors and simple images that has picked up speed in recent months. Bold typography and bright colors attract eyes in a world where so much is competing for user attention. It is best paired with the open composition design strategy. Big space, with one bold bright message keeps users focused on the message without distracting them with clutter. Designers are experimenting with layering bright colors and employing gradients to produce eye-catching gradients. These bright colors are best paired with a clean and straightforward text style.
DIY aesthetic is alive and well online. Today, anyone with a smartphone can be a content producer and consumers appreciate a feeling of connection with the media they engage with. Snapchat and Youtube celebrities bank on their status as regular people to create an intimate connection with their fans. This trend manifests in web design through hand drawn and personalized graphics. These illustrations are being used to create a feeling of comfort and intimacy between designers and users. This connection can also be created using candid photography. Millennial and Gen Z users enjoy seeing real people doing real things much more than airbrushed models and stock photo scenarios. Web designers can take advantage of Instagram tags and other direct interactions with users to create a community experience on their website.
These trends are visual manifestations of current values in today’s web users. People are looking for excitement, simplicity and a personal connection (whether that be with a bot or a real human being). As the distance between content creators and content consumers continues to shrink. Web designers who create feelings of community and personalization see the most success in engaging with their users.
Keith Shields is the CEO of Designli, a mobile app development firm specializing in bringing certainty to the world of custom software development. Designli guarantees fixed price points, fixed scope of work 'deliverables,' and fixed timeframes for its clients as they build iPhone and Android apps for startups and small businesses.