2011: Design Less Restricted

While the Internet itself is still relatively young, it changes a little bit every year. In 2010, design for mobile devices boomed, typography emphasis flourished and many other aspects of web design took leaps forward as well. But now that 2011 has come and 2012 is nearly upon us, what’s coming next?

The Death of Flash

Adobe Flash was once a widely used tool thanks in no small part to its easily implemented interactivity, but its best days may be behind it. HTML5 and CSS3 are quickly becoming its replacement. For those not affiliated with Adobe, this is largely an exciting and welcome change because it will allow for more cleanly produced designs and the reduction of load times.

There are many reasons for the move from Flash. One factor is the implementation of CSS3 transitions and animations. These make it easier to create moving backgrounds, growing buttons, fading objects, and many other flourishes. Additionally, many JavaScript libraries are also growing in use, and allow for a more rich and interactive user experience. A prime example is that of jQuery. The jQuery slogan of “Write less, do more” is particularly apt, since it allows designers to more easily add interactivity, user feedback, etc. while the technical writing is simple and clean. One current trend in web design that takes advantage of this language is the single page website. These sites dynamically move content as a method of producing a clean and centralized design. Since that jQuery it is not a proprietary language, it will cleanly integrate with the other elements of the website—something that can’t be said of Flash.

Aside from competing technologies, the decline of Flash can also be attributed to the growth of the mobile market, in which Flash is weakly supported, if it is supported at all.

Typography is Beautiful

Good designers love typefaces, and the more ability designers have to manipulate their usage, the better. For many years, web design was stuck in a place where only a few fonts were known to be cross-platform, which restricted their usage. No more. Web design is now at a place where it has a plethora of options available, so the desired font can be used while still adhering to web standards! A few new technologies have made this possible.

Cufón is one, well-used method to ensure font stability by converting text into a vector (or line-based vs. pixel-based) format. One of our favorites is the @font-face method, in which actual fonts are downloaded with the website, giving complete access to every character and element. The concerns here are that downloading multiple fonts and weights can become pretty heavy, and different browsers require different file types to be read correctly. To address this, tools like Typekit and Google Fonts API allow for the adding of custom fonts, while not having access to the font files yourself. This works by choosing the desired fonts, then adding a line of code to pull that information from the respective source. All in all, this meets the requirement for cross-platform compatibility, and allows the artist to dedicate more time to creative endeavors instead of fiddling with technical limitations.

Adding Color and Textures

Another 2012 trend is the move toward more simple color schemes and textures. Let’s start with color. Forget about color and shades like black, white and grey. Instead, go for something really engaging. More and more web sites are experimenting with primary colors such as green, yellow or red, but it is best to limit palettes to two or three colors. Web designers can play with different shades of each color and create inspiring combinations to help communicate a feel or reinforce an identity.

In addition to a simplified color palette, textures are now being used to add depth and interest. Textures do not necessarily have to be bold. In fact, sometimes subtle is better. Textures can create additional layers of interest while allowing viewers to focus on the areas of most importance. Many viewers will never consciously notice that the background of your site has been made to look like weathered paper, or that there is “noise” (little flakes of color or black and white), or that the borders look like wood. But that’s really the point. Textures are about creating effects that add depth and dimension without being overpowering.

Mobile is Hot

Whether we like it or not, mobile devices are everywhere. This fast growing market adds a lot of excitement to dynamic web design, but also presents new challenges.

One concern in mobile design is the vast difference in screen sizes, and making content fit well on all sizes and resolutions. One answer to this problem is that of a gridded format, which can be resized and reordered to fit any screen size. Grid layouts are becoming more common, and allow for a very well structured site with clear organization and hierarchy. Another challenge derived from mobile devices is that of the touch interface. The mouse is non-existent, meaning all interactivity must be accessible through tap, or sometimes just the swipe of a finger.

The Future

It’s inevitable that more changes related to web design are on the horizon, and likely always will be. But regardless of what changes, designers can’t forget the importance of usability and creating meaning from the design. Good design will add value through its ideas. It’s up to the talented and resourceful designer to determine what technologies can help bring these ideas to reality.