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A Year in Web Design: How the Experts Saw 2011

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"What did you find most memorable about the world of web design in 2011?" That's the question I posed to some of our industry's shining stars last week. One word cropped up more than any other (can you guess?) and everyone had plenty to say. See for yourself after the jump, and let us know what rocked your boat in 2011!


The Contributors

A huge thanks to everyone who gave up their time in contributing to this article. We've collected commentary from Authors, Designers, Developers, UI & UX Architects, Speakers and Community Experts from all across the globe. Here they are, in no particular order.

Jump to any Section of this page quickly by following a link below:


Steve Fisher
Yellow Pencil

The web is not fixed width. Responsive design has helped us really understand that.

For me 2011 was the year where I feel like the web industry finally came to grips with its medium. The web is not fixed width. Responsive design has helped us really understand that. Not only that, it has helped our clients, the people we make these wonderful websites for, understand it. Abstracting our content, understanding its message, and informing our design decisions through that lens transforms how a website is created. I've never been more excited about web design as I have been this year.

Steve Fisher
web: hellofisher.com
twitter: @hellofisher
dribbble: hellofisher


Sarah Parmenter
UI Designer

I'm hoping responsive design isn't so much a buzz word in 2012 but becomes entirely part of what we do.

The rise of responsive design and content strategy has been most memorable to me in 2011. It's been a big year for both of these assets this year, and one that I'm entirely behind. I'm hoping responsive design isn't so much a buzz word in 2012 but becomes entirely part of what we do, and that we see more people understanding why the content of our websites is important, and to stop designing with "Lorem Ipsum" text.

Sarah Parmenter
web: www.sazzy.co.uk
twitter: @sazzy
dribbble: sarah


Vitaly Friedman
Smashing Magazine

we are getting better at working on the core of what design actually means

Most memorable for me was the growing acceptance of Responsive Design in the community. The times have changed and this year we started to completely rethink and reconsider how we approach Web design and how we find solutions to the new challenges caused by the myriad of mobile devices.

I feel that right now we are getting better at working on the core of what design actually means: communication and problem-solving. And it's exciting times to be a part of it. Seeing how responsive mindset is getting established in the various part of the Web design — be it audio/video, forms, navigation, ads etc. - is just intoxicating. I am sure that 2012 will bring us many new techniques that will benefit end users and improve the experience of Web users. And I am looking forward to those times! :)

Vitaly Friedman
web: smashingmagazine.com
twitter: @smashingmag
google+: vitaly


Paul Irish
Google Chrome

The ecosystem of tools has blown up in 2011

On a scale from blogs to webapps, there is a lot of grey area of how our best practices best apply to enhance the work. A clearer understanding of the inner-workings of browsers helps identify the best techniques, and thus creates the best possible user experience. Meanwhile, the ecosystem of tools has blown up in 2011: things like Sass & Compass, CodeKit, LiveReload, and ImageOptim are not only doing work for us, but can also solve browser support issues on our behalf. I'm eager to see what 2012 has in store to help create the most ideal authoring experience.

Paul Irish
web: paulirish.com
twitter: @paul_irish
google +: paulirish.com/+


Harry Roberts
CSS Wizardry

Pure CSS logos (yak!)

For most people, 2011 has been a year of responsive design, CSS experiments, pure CSS logos (yak!) and parallax scrolling.

For me, 2011 has been a year of powerful, pragmatic and performant front-ends. What some might see as the duller end of the spectrum I've been seeing as a more challenging, interesting and useful side of web development. As UIs get more complex, we need ways of keeping their code simple, as devices begin to vary, we need ways of keeping code performant. Whilst most people have been burying themselves in media queries and CSS3, I've been going back to the drawing board and working on modular, scalable, good ol' normal CSS and front-end development.

Harry Roberts
web: csswizardry.com
twitter: @csswizardry
dribbble: csswizardry


Jonathan Snook
Web Designer and Developer

We used to have a very singular perspective: the 1024 pixel wide desktop.

What I'm finding most memorable is the shift in how we think about and build web sites. We used to have a very singular perspective: the 1024 pixel wide desktop. It has taken the explosion in mobile and tablet devices to force us to think about how we design and serve our content in better ways.

Jonathan Snook
web: snook.ca
twitter: @snookca
flickr: jonathansnooka


Janna Hagan
.net Young designer of the Year

It's exciting to see the different directions this industry can take.

Most memorable for me during 2011 was the rise of responsive design with HTML5 and CSS3. It's exciting to see the different directions this industry can take and how quickly technology can change within a year. This kind of change is inevitable and we must be able embrace it as creatives.

Janna Hagan
web: www.jannahagan.com
twitter: @_jannalynn
dribbble: _jannalynn


Paul Boag
Headscape

2011 has to be the year of mobile.

2011 has to be the year of mobile. We have seen a continued explosion in mobile web usage and the emergence of responsive design as a solution to the challenges this presents.

It is now possible to adapt any website to work better on mobile devices without excessive expenditure. Best of all, new builds can be constructed from the ground up to function across almost all devices (both present and future). This can be done at a fraction of the cost of previous solutions.

From my perspective this is a huge step forward.

Paul Boag
web: headscape.co.uk
twitter: @boagworld
podcast: boagworld.com/podcast


Veerle Pieters
Duoh!

2011 has changed my way of thinking when designing for the web.

Up to a certain point, 2011 has changed my way of thinking when designing for the web, because of the ever emerging mobile web. While designing I try to keep in mind that a mobile version of my design is possible. Depending on the type of site/project, and a few other parameters, it could go as far as creating a fully responsive design. When this is the case, my usual thinking path needs a lot of adaption, because I tend to forget boundaries and limitations for a bit when I'm in the middle of my creation process, because it has lead me to my most creative and successful designs.

Certain basic criteria are easy to keep in mind at all times, even in the middle of my process, but smaller obstacles are kept as a CSS challenge for me to try to solve later on. This way I also force myself to think more creatively during the coding process, and I try to push boundaries as well. With a fully responsive design, I need to keep more of these boundaries and limitations in the back of my head, and so it makes my typical way of designing that I'm so used to much harder. The challenge lays of course in finding the right balance between keeping some basic limitations at the back of my head, while still giving myself enough freedom to try to create a unique design. The fact that we also can add a level of animation in our designs is another factor that plays its role in this way different way of thinking.

Veerle Pieters
web: veerle.duoh.com
twitter: @vpieters
dribbble: veerlepieters


Aaron Weyenberg
UX Lead, TED Conferences

..you can't avoid it..

Most memorable to me in the web design in 2011 was the rate at which responsive design is being adopted by the design and development community. Over the last year there have been more tools, plugins, resources, tutorials and conference talks on this approach to web design than any other topic I can think of.

I'm still not convinced on the long term practicalities of this technique, but you can't avoid it -- everyone should be competent enough in what it is and how it's done to decide if it's the right approach to any given project.

Aaron Weyenberg
web: aaronweyenberg.com
twitter: @aweyenberg
dribbble: aaronweyenberg


Eivind Uggedal
mediaqueri.es

More and more web designers choose fluid grids in favor of fixed grids.

The growth Responsive Web Design has seen during 2011 was something I never imagined when I launched mediaqueri.es in January.

Not only has the amount of sites that are suggested to me risen, but more and more web designers choose fluid grids in favor of fixed grids. We've also seen several high profile sites like The Botson Globe and Barack Obama being relaunched with responsive or adaptive designs.

eivind_uggedal
web: uggedal.com
twitter: @uggedal
github: uggedal


Peter Gasston
Top10

If you make your living from building the web you can't fail to be heartened by this flourish of new life

I'd say that Microsoft's announcement of IE10 was the biggest surprise of the year; not only did it come on the heels of the release of IE9, but the previews showed it to be fast, standards-compliant, yet still experimental in the right ways. And not only that, but it would be used as the basis of the Windows 8 tablet OS - a real mark of trust in open web technologies by Microsoft, and a sign that they aren't ready to concede defeat. I firmly believe that strong competition around open standards is a great win for the user, so this was definitely the most memorable moment of 2011 for me.

I think it's been a really exciting year for our industry; the explosion of web browsing away from the desktop, HTML5 beginning to prove itself as the best option for cross-platform development, the newly-resurgent Microsoft making good browsers again... if you make your living from building the web you can't fail to be heartened by this flourish of new life. There's been a great appetite for discovery of new browser features, with lots of demos being made using cutting-edge and experimental CSS, HTML and JavaScript, so the curious amongst us have had plenty to satisfy us.

Slightly less pleasing was that the combination of the web explosion and the appetite for new features has led to making some people impatient, and leading to cut corners: people stating that they're not going to support legacy browsers on their websites, or making demos and examples that provide no fallback for non-supporting browsers (and are not maintained when those browsers do implement the relevant features). So here's looking forward to making the web work well for everyone in 2012.

Peter Gasston
web: www.broken-links.com
twitter: @stopsatgreen
book: The Book of CSS3


Aarron Walter
MailChimp

2011 was a year of design.

2011 was a year of design. Google redesigned Gmail, Reader, Maps, Search and many other web properties, and for the first time it appeared that designers not engineers were shaping the direction of their interface. Facebook acquired a great deal of design talent, and gave an impressive preview of their new story-based profile pages at their F8 conference. No doubt their acquisition of Gowalla will influence the design direction they pursue in the new year.

And the loss of Steve Jobs in October has so many of us reflecting on the role of design in the world. It stirs our passions and inspires innovation. Design was on our mind a great deal in 2011, which has set the stage for some big things to come in 2012.

Aarron Walter
web: aarronwalter.com
twitter: @aarron
book: Designing for Emotion


Lea Verou
Front-end Web Developer

The best is yet to come.

During 2011 we saw many advances in our field. Responsive web design evolved from a cool extra touch to being a necessary part of every website, CSS gradients became popular and were pushed to their limits, CSS and JavaScript preprocessors gained traction as "the new workflow", new layout techniques finally became somewhat viable, new APIs made things possible that used to need plugins or server-side code...

However, what I consider more memorable is not the individual technologies and techniques but the bigger picture. We’ve always had cool new toys to play with and make our work better. I think the last few years, especially 2011, will be remembered as the first time in history when browsers are fiercely competing for the attention of web developers, not against each other but towards the common goal of supporting open web standards.

If we tried to describe our times to the web designers of the past decades, they would have a hard time believing us. Let’s stop complaining for a moment and acknowledge how far we've come and how much better we have it now. Even better, the best is yet to come. Fasten your seatbelts, fellow webbies, because the train of progress is moving into high gear!

Lea Verou
web: lea.verou.me
twitter: @leaverou
github: LeaVeroue


Your Turn

So, what was most memorable for you in 2011? Let us know in the comments!

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