Web design trends may seem like useless fads, but some actually have a huge impact on the user experience of a site. Designing a beautiful site is nice, especially if you come up with your own groundbreaking designs. It may even make your site more memorable to the user as they probably haven’t experienced a design quite like that before.
However, form without functionality is more or less useless, especially when it comes to web design. That’s why you must always consider how a trend might affect your site’s user experience before you consider incorporating it into your site’s overall design.
Here are 6 web design trends that improve user experience.
1. Google’s Material Design
Google first announced Material Design at the Google I/O conference of 2014. The design was created for mobile UI, specifically for the use of the Android mobile operating system, but it has slowly but surely moved itself over to desktop environments.
The main principle of material design is to improve the user experience of a piece of software or website for all users regardless of their abilities. In Google’s words:
“A well-designed product is accessible to users of all abilities, including those with low vision, blindness, hearing impairments, cognitive impairments, or motor impairments.”
Material design uses a material thickness of 1dp and combines that with shadows on two to three edges to make certain elements, such as the edges of a card or button, more visible. It also uses visual cues, sounds and specific animations to tell the user what the software would like it to do and to visually or audibly confirm actions made by the user.
This includes animating a button once it’s been pressed on or playing a sound when the user makes a click.
Material design is essentially an extension of flat design. You can see in this example how the principles of material design, that is a 1dp thickness and strategically placed shadows, makes the top card easier to see in this example:
Designing UI environments with these principles in mind enables you to use small modifications to make big changes.
Google released an entire style guide detailing the principles guidelines of material design. Click here if you’d like to check it out.
2. Card & Grid Layouts
Following the material design trend, another trend that can improve user experience is the card and/or grid layout trend. This is especially for editorials and news websites. I’m specifically talking about layouts that use cards or tiles of different sizes.
Larger cards can represent articles that were recently published, are the most popular among readers or stories publishers see as the most important of the day. Smaller cards can represent stories that don’t get a lot of traffic or are less significant than the main headlines of the day.
There’s a lot of content on the Internet, and you should take that into consideration when using this type of design. Visually showing what the hottest or most important stories of the day are is a quick and simple way for your readers to see what they should read in the small amount of free time they have to catch up on the latest news.
They won’t need to scroll through a list of articles deciding which one is most appealing to them. Their eyes will be drawn to the larger cards, making finding a story to read as simple as can be.
3. Hero Section with Call to Action
If you’re building a site for your own business or building one for your client’s business, you’re attracting users to your site for one main purpose — getting them to convert. A simple way to get them to convert is through the use of a hero section, meaning a large background image above the fold, combined with a clear and concise call to action.
It helps the business owner increase their conversions, but it also helps the user decide what their first step should be when they visit your site for the very first time.
The example above is the homepage of Squarespace’s website. Squarespace uses a hero section that features a background video filled with creative professionals, small business owners and even couples who need a simple way of building a professional website.
The video is paired with a white button that says “Get Started.” Folks in a rush will have a simple way of deciding where they should start when they visit this site. You’ll still have all of the important information about your business beneath the fold, so those who wish to know more can just scroll down.
Check out Sufyan bin Uzayr’s post Discussing the Hero Header Images in Web Design if you’d like to know more about hero sections, how they work and what types of designs work best for them.
4. Guide the User Through Your Layout
This is another slight nod to material design, though this web design practice certainly wasn’t introduced by Google. Guiding the user through your layout with the use of visual cues is one of the simplest ways you can make the user experience that much easier while also controlling the actions users take on your site.
You can make things subtle by creating hierarchies that clearly demonstrate which elements on your site are more important than others. This can be done by making text with important information larger than text that contains less important information.
You can also make things not so subtle by directly pointing to what action you want your users to take. You can do this by using actual arrows that point to a call to action or having a larger element point to it, such as a hero section that features a large background image of someone looking directly at the call to action.
If you look at the image above, you’ll see that Google suggests using descriptive visual cues to let the user know what they can and can’t do. The example clearly shows the user they’re hitting an error because they exceeded the maximum amount of characters allowed for that app.
You can also use animation to quickly show what a user must do to get through a unique layout, such as one you’ve designed yourself. If you’ve built a graph that scrolls from left to right, place left and right arrows on either side of the graph and have the graph move from left to right for a quick second when the user first scrolls to that section of the page.
These subtle hints show users how to use your website, especially if you went a creative route.
Microinteractions are a simple way to improve the user experience of a site. One such way is through the use of an article progress bar, pictured above on an article at Bloomberg. The bar grows as you scroll further and further down the article.
This small microinteraction lets the user know how far they’ve got until the end, which is especially important if you leave call to actions at the bottom of your site. They may have skipped out halfway through the article in the past. The progress bar may keep them around a bit longer as it clearly demonstrates they only have X amount of reading to go.
Another simple microinteraction is the use of subtle animations or transitions with buttons. The animation or transition you choose to use can have a simple yet meaningful impact on the way the user interacts with that button.
For example, the Play and Pause button icons have been used for decades. Physical music players and video devices had to print both of these icons on the same button in the past, but web design allows you to display the Pause icon when the music is playing and the Play icon when the is paused.
You can also make the color or shape of a button change when the user hovers over it or clicks it. This lets them know that an action can be taken with the button as well as confirming the action when they do click on it.
6. 360° Product View
This one is primarily a recommendation for ecommerce sites. 360° product views allow customers to check out products with a somewhat virtual tour. Product images can only do so much. An actual 360° tour of a product provides a much better example of what a product looks like from all angles.
If you use WordPress and build sites using WooCommerce, there’s a premium plugin you can purchase to integrate this feature into your site. It’s called Smart Product Viewer, and you can check it out here.
Approaches to web design need to be considered carefully, and you need to consider whether or not a design will have a positive impact on a site’s design before implementing it on your site. That’s why you shouldn’t simply implement each and every trend you come across.
There are, however, several reasons why implementing a popular new design trend can be beneficial, and we hope this post has demonstrated that.
If you’d like more inspiration on what styles and trends to use in your next project, check out Sufyan bin Uzayr’s analysis of Web Designer Depot’s site redesign.