As we leave 2015 behind the in the rearview mirror, it’s worth taking stock of what’s working—or not working—on the website design front. Businesses of all sizes have some difficult choices to make in that regard. Beyond the general costs and benefits associated with some web design trends, it also goes without saying that your needs and interests may vary. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach one should adopt, and that’s a good thing. It’s the diversity of design options that keeps the internet such a lively and interesting place. That said, we like some trends more than others.
Website Content and Stories
Providing visitors with useful, interesting or entertaining content is one of the best ways to keep them engaged. While your first priority may be the nuts and bolts of commerce, it certainly doesn’t hurt to incentivize your users to stick around for a little while. In turn, you should always consider giving them something to read. Besides the engagement perks, you’re also likely to increase your traffic organically—a big plus.
But while content marketing is a growing and welcome trend, it comes with some caveats.
First, be sure your content doesn’t come at the expense of your site’s responsiveness. If you’re losing out on mobile users, any kind of content strategy becomes significantly less effective. So, for example, photos and graphics can bring your content to life—but they can also slow your page’s loading times. You should also think about about font sizes and line lengths.
“Ensure line lengths for your story are optimal for both large and small screens,” writes TNW News’ Jeremy Girard. “Lines that are too long are hard to follow, while line that are too short break the flow of normal reading. Strive for a range between six to 75 characters per line and adjust font sizes as needed to achieve the best results.”
Second, make your content as shareable as possible. In many ways, that’s a function of what you’re writing about. Is it unique, provocative, inspirational? Are you tapping into trending and current topics? Aside from search engines, social media is your content’s best friend. That also means you shouldn’t hide on-page opportunities to share it.
“Make it easy for readers to share the story with others,” adds Girard. “Consider placing sharing functionality at both the top and bottom of the content so that readers do not need to scroll to do use these features. This is especially helpful on small screen layouts that require substantial scrolling. Also make sure that these buttons can be easily used on touch screens.”
Not of this guarantees your next piece will go viral. But nor is your content’s exposure automatic. It should be mobile-friendly, shareable and plenty engaging.
Website Design Simplicity
Fewer pages and clutter may trade off with SEO exposure to some degree, but there’s actually a lot to be said for a more minimalist approach. Busy design can increase loading times, increase the need for maintenance and distract visitors from important content or calls to action. Conversely, simpler designs are generally easier for visitors to use and navigate.
Quicker loading times may be reason enough to think twice about adding unnecessary elements.
“Loading times directly affect your bottom line,” explains DigiTech Web Design. “Minimalist websites have less items on the website and so are automatically geared to load faster. In fact, according to a recent study conducted by E-Consultancy—40% of participants will abandon a website if it takes more than 3 seconds to load. A minimalist website has less, which obviously means that it is going to load faster and more consistently on all platforms including mobile phones, laptops, tablets, and desktops.”
There’s also much to be said for adopting marketing approaches that encourage visitors to focus there attention on a few concise and salient take-aways. By stripping away unnecessary graphic, animation, text or menus, you encourage users to zero-in on stuff that really matters.
In a bid to be ever more mobile-responsive, there is such a thing as over-simplicity. This tends to happen when menus all but disappear.
“From drop-down and fly-out menus that are revealed on hover to the infamous ‘hamburger icon’ to navigation drawers, hidden menus are used to save space while still making those menu option available to a site’s visitors,” notes Girard. “While the benefit of saving space on a responsive design is undeniable, there have been a number of people who have argued against the practice of hidden menus. Menus that are hidden to save space are less likely to be accessed than those that are consistently shown.”
Indeed, one website’s experimentation with side navigation resulted in half the engagement time, quickly prompting a return to a row of tabs up top. It may not qualify as a conclusive reason to reject the strategy, but it’s certainly reason to think twice. Without readily accessed navigation, users may have difficulty finding the information (or products, services, etc.) for which they’re looking. They may even miss out on what brought them to your site in the first place.
As Skift recently put it, “Websites only have a few seconds to capture user attention; if users can’t find what they want within that short period of time, they’ll leave. That’s why the most important information has to be readily available in the navigation, and the navigation must be easy to find.”
There isn’t necessarily a perfectly right or wrong answer here. But you should weigh these considerations carefully before making a snap decision about where and how your users navigate.
Hero Images Vs. Text
What’s the first impression you should make on visitors? Some sites opt to use a massive, so-called “hero image” while others prefer a more stripped-down, text-only approach. In either scenario, you should strive to make a bold statement that succinctly expresses your brand. Who are you, and what do you do? Don’t keep it a secret. The big question is whether to send your message graphically—or simply with words.
“These two competing trends each offer their own benefits and drawbacks,” argues Girard. “Using rich images can add visual flair to a design, but giant images mean additional time for those images and the site to load. Removing large hero images may decrease the visual richness of a design, but the loss of those images speeds up load time.”
To be sure, some are unabashed fans of hero images—even maintaining that load times shouldn’t dissuade you from using them.
“Since vision is the strongest human sense, HD hero images are one of the fastest ways to grab a user’s attention,” writes Awwwards’ Jerry Cao “Thanks to advances in bandwidth and data compression, users won’t suffer from slow load times either. One common layout you’ll find is a hero image above the scroll, followed by either zig-zagging sections or a cards-based arrangement.”
But Girard counters with the idea that “reducing the visual complexity of a page” can actually make it more attractive. As with the question about hiding menus, there’s not yet a definitively correct answer in this case. Whatever you do, make the space on your page count for something. Images and text can both operate as powerful symbols. Don’t let them serve as anything less.
There’s a natural impulse to make sites more dynamic, entertaining and immersive. Various forms of animation can certainly do the trick, and an increasing number of sites are following suit. We see it during loading, when hovering over items, with galleries and slideshows, via scrolling and in backgrounds. Of course, there’s a strategy involved in each case.
As Cao puts it, “Animations are being used more and more to enhance a site’s storytelling, making the experience more interactive and entertaining. However, you can’t just stick animation in anywhere. Consider carefully whether it adds to your site’s story elements and personality.”
Indeed, designers can certainly go too far with animation.
“Used effectively, animation can make a website visually engaging and help direct a user’s attention to relevant areas on the site,” argues Skift. “But it can easily backfire. Go overboard and things can start to feel confusing and chaotic.”
Balance is key. So too is a sense of purpose. If you find yourself wondering why you’ve used a certain kind of animation, it may well be unnecessary. It might even be counterproductive. Ideally, there’s a rhyme and reason behind each animation choice. Use of animation should also be consistent with your brand. If you perform a particularly serious service in the financial sector, you’ll want to focus more on accessible information than having things move all over the page. If your industry is more creative in nature, some relevant animation may be totally appropriate.
As with all trends, consider all dimensions of the issue carefully and decide whether it’s right for you. Some of these things will be here today and gone tomorrow. You’ll want your web presence to endure throughout.