My annual prediction articles have become something of a tradition; glimpses at the future of web design, coupled with educated guesses about what things will be important to our craft. Here are eight things web designers should keep an eye on in 2017.
Last Year’s Predictions
There’s plenty of other relevant discussion in last year’s article, but now it’s time to look forward to 2017–what will design look like in 2017?
Last year, we predicted “more of the same”, with the growth being in the sophistication of existing design movements. For example, the IoT certainly wasn’t brand new in 2016, but became far more mature and mainstream.
This year, while we are once again unlikely to see major aesthetic shifts for pure web design, we will see more new products and design problems emerging on the heels of last year’s maturation.
1. Authenticity Technology
Twitter caught on to this early in a very small way: the “verified user” check mark is very important for knowing which Tweets are authentic, and which tweets are coming from a parody account.
But it doesn’t stop at simple parody. With the sheer number of media outlets continuing to grow, and quality production being easier to achieve than ever, it will be continually easier to generate counterfeit content. Furthermore, the general public is more aware now of this possibility for counterfeit (with headlines often carrying the words “fake news” and “hacking”).
One of the challenges for designers this year then will necessarily be creating patterns that are used to explicitly ensure trust and verification of the source involved. In a more accessible way than a peer-reviewed journal, designers are now challenged to help content creators prove both that their content is credible, and that they indeed are the creators of that content.
It is likely that designers will pull from the design solutions of cryptographers (making it more expensive to reverse-engineer than to create valuable original content), and consumers will likely have access to more artificial intelligence analysis tools to verify the likelihood of content credibility.
What You Won’t see: Adoption of a Single Standard
This is going to be a brand new field for content creators, and default standards typically don’t emerge during early stages of any technology. The challenge is to provide verifiable credibility to content in a way that is both technologically informed and explained simply enough for the general public to understand and trust. News organizations already struggle to relay information about “hacking” to the general public, and seeing one clear winner on authenticity technology is unlikely this early.
2. AI Leveraged for Assistance Design
Speaking of artificial intelligence, don’t ignore the major waves being made by large companies in the AI space. Specifically, the following companies are invested and hiring (either in research or in actual product development) in various AI technologies:
You might think AI is a distant future, but AI is likely the next wave for massive innovation in technology. If you talk to an average web developer, they will likely have little to no knowledge of how this may affect their field.
Let us be the first to tell you: prepare for this wave. It will change the way your design thinking will evolve, in every capacity. For example, you will likely have design assistant tools in the next year (maybe two, we’ll see next January) that utilize some level of machine learning to help determine the most effective layout based on constraints you, as the designer, provide.
You may also work with AI specialists, depending on the types of projects you work on, to develop procedurally generated interfaces based on AI inputs.
What you wont see: General Public Education
Artificial intelligence is a complex subject.
3. AR Will Act as a Gateway Tech to VR
Yes, VR is getting hyped. Yes, it’s cool. The tone of Samsung’s ads reflects the continued perception of VR: people still don’t understand it, and the technology looks out-of-place. Samsung follows through by showing the emotional responses of people using the VR - from the outside looking in.
The technology is powerful, and will be adopted in some form more over the next year than ever. But in order to get widespread adoption, there’s still a long acclimation process that needs to take place. All of our current technology are clearly simulations. We have context and visual/tactile references to the outside world.
With virtual reality, that reference is removed, in a very effective and convincing manner. Just search YouTube for videos of “VR fail” and you’ll see how true this is.
People seem to find this both incredibly engaging, but simultaneously not applicable to most technology stacks for the average consumer.
For widespread adoption of VR, we first need to become more comfortable with reality modification, in baby-step fashion. And that’s exactly what AR (augmented reality) accomplishes.
Augmented reality retains the reference to the “real” world, and lays augmentations over the top. And because of this, the business and consumer applications of AR are much more accessible than those of VR today.
Expect companies to ask for “Pokémon GO for X”; spatially-oriented products to encourage continuous and active participation and engagement.
What You Won’t See: Practical Application that Overcomes the “Game” Stigma
VR and AR are very difficult to get people to use. It could be argued that our phones have always performed AR, augmenting our reality by putting what was previously impossible communication at a touch’s reach.
But doing visual augmentation of reality, like overlaying digitally-derived information on top of a picture of the real world, is still going to be difficult to do in a “serious” way. The stigma that VR and AR both carry currently is that they are used for games. These kinds of technologies will take more time to fully develop in mainstream business applications. Snapchat is an example of the intersection between “game” and “business”. Snapchat Spectacles is an example of AR that likely will be an early gateway to the advertising world to enter the VR space. (If you didn’t understand why Snapchat was a big deal before, hopefully that gives you a bit of insight.)
4. More Messaging Design
If you haven’t designed an interface for messaging (or utilized a service that handles this for you) yet, you likely will soon. Messaging is only just beginning in terms of innovation. Paired with things like AR and AI, the power of messaging is still being unlocked. As natural language processing, rich message content, and media sharing technologies continue to evolve, message platforms will become much more sophisticated. Expect players like Slack, Apple and Google to continue to push more effort into their messaging systems particularly in the area of “smart” (computer assisted) messaging, and for clients to ask for more real-time messaging and communication to be a part of their tool, whether as a feature of the tool itself or as a way to connect with their clients.
What you wont see: Major Aesthetic Differences
The messaging aesthetic has been relatively the same since the early days of the web. From the days of AIM, to Slack, to iMessage–there’s very little variation. This kind of “end-of-the-road” for design paradigms is something to watch out for, not only in message design, but across the board.
Somewhat of a convergence will occur in most fields, where the basic form of an idea has been, more or less, “completed”.
5. Back to Type
Every few years, we have some kind of shift in the kind of elements used as primary design features. Over the past year, design has relied heavily on large shapes, line art (a la 80’s pop line art), big soft drop shadows, and heavily saturated colors. This year, you can likely expect a shift, and the trend seems to be leaning towards typography as a primary design element once again.
However, unlike in previous trend shifts, webfonts are no longer a “new thing”–that is to say, using webfonts doesn’t necessarily make your design unique any more. Expect more depth in font usage and type layout, and perhaps a slight uptick in the number of typefaces being created.
What You Won’t See: Major Departure From Current Type Trends
Sans-serif and serif type isn’t just a fad. In many ways, typeface popularity is tied directly to human factors. While there are some erratic typefaces that break these moulds entirely, we aren’t likely to see a major dying off of, for example, sans-serif titles and serif body copy. We also aren’t likely to see a lack of hand-lettering and high-touch logotype treatments. People see the same letterforms over the course of their entire lives, and shifting that large of a tide is extremely unlikely.
6. Mature Animation
The past few years, animation has become very important. In fact, last year we predicted that the ability to write at least basic animations would become an expected skill for front-end developers. This year, we expect animation to inherit some of the “seriousness” that the rest of our tooling processes have cultivated. That is to say, instead of adding an animation in using basic techniques, developers will be charged with making animations performant.
What You Won’t See: Widespread use of WebGL
WebGL, while impressively powerful, is fundamentally different from what most front-end developers are using today. Furthermore, the use of WebGL requires an entirely different design need.
WebGL is more likely to be used by animation studios and game studios than web designers. This may shift more this year than ever before, because of the rise in popularity of VR. However, because VR is still not to mainstream maturity, WebGL and similar technologies will most likely still be quarantined to highly specific development cases.
7. Better Calls to Action On Home Pages
This sounds like an obvious shift for some, but many websites that are currently using popup subscription nags and scroll-down sales pitches will drop these in favor of something that doesn’t block content. This is in large part due to the changing Google standards that penalize a website for utilizing these patterns, as they have long been known to degrade site performance and user experience.
This presents a huge opportunity for designers and developers to craft more engaging, higher quality calls to action in the primary content of customer-facing home pages.
What You Won’t See: Death of the Carousel
While the carousel pattern has been a go-to way to condense content into a smaller space, the pattern also has major drawbacks. For example, the content on the 5th slide is much less likely to be seen than the content on the first slide. Unfortunately, because this pattern is so widespread, the over-use of the carousel may even see an uptick as companies move away from popup nag screens.
8. More Seemingly Bizarre Products
When Amazon announced that they were creating an in-home speaker and assistant, there was a large group of the public that felt this was a strange move for Amazon.
Analyzing what Amazon’s direction in the future will be, it’s not surprising that they want digital ears to listen to their customers’ preferences and habits in as many places as possible.
Expect other seemingly strange product releases this year from companies that you wouldn’t expect to release those products. A physical product from Twitter? No rumors have been spread about this, but this kind of cross-discipline product release is certainly not out of the question. So how does this effect design? As designers, you have the opportunity to move a company forward. To help develop the concepts that may drive brand new products, however unexpected those products may be.
What You Won’t See: Lots of Major Product Reveals
Tech products no longer move in mass deliveries. Gone are the days of the “unveiling” of major tech products, at least for now. Instead, iterative products and “micro” products are being released, each with micro-interactions built in that support a larger experience.
People have so many products to choose from, and choosing a smaller, less expensive option to fill a small need is much more viable than choosing a larger, more expensive option. This is why the gaming industry has tons of games that are less than $10, and only some successful games that are more than $50.
Much of the innovation is now in the supporting tech. This means that designers now more than ever should be investing less in single, large product design, and more in distributable system design, driven by pattern libraries and platform-agnostic guidelines for design decisions.
Design always evolves. In 2017, we will see design evolve with new technology. We’ll see fewer aesthetic shifts, and simultaneously much more variety in types and contexts of interactions. We’re likely to see major investment in AI research, coupled with new AI products and micro-products from large companies. We will also likely see AI play a major role in product offerings, allowing smaller products to harness the insights that AI and machine learning afford.
This means now, more than ever, designers must connect with the human elements–psychology, messaging, customer support, privacy, authenticity–these aspects of design will become more important than arbitrary aesthetic decisions, this year more than ever.