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7 Tech Trends in 2016 That Web Designers Need to Understand (And Why)

Posted on February 16, 2016 by in Resources | 20 comments

7 Tech Trends in 2016 That Web Designers Need to Understand (And Why)

Web design and development go hand in hand. While design is by no means the lesser component, it’s the underlying tech which always sets the pace for advancements. Therefore, it’s crucial for web designers to stay on top of the latest developments in order to remain a step ahead in their fields.

While it’s impossible to predict the outcome of every trend, there are several that lead the pack and are likely to set the stage for the next generation of web development and, therefore, design. Knowing them is the key to staying on top.

After countless hours of analysis (and a truckload of coffee), we have compiled a list of what may be the most relevant trends in the near future. While this list is by no means definitive (since we lack access to a properly working 8-ball), it’s as good a place to start as any.

1. Machine Learning

A whirring machine.

Image by whanwhan.ai / shutterstock.com

Let’s kick things off with a blast.

Machine learning is a huge topic that a book wouldn’t do justice to, let alone a single article. To put it in terms we can all understand (we’re a bit out of our league here as well), think about machine learning as automated data analysis and model building. Imagine a fledging (and benevolent!) Skynet right out of the cradle, making insights from the world using learning algorithms.

This hypothetical Skynet won’t be starting Armageddon anytime soon though, since we’re still at a point where machine learning applications remain confined to single domains of knowledge. Take Google self-driving cars, for example – great self-learning drivers, but can they figure out how to make the perfect cup of coffee? Yeah, that’s what we thought, Google. Nice try.

Companies nowadays must deal with enormous amounts of data on a daily basis (have you heard of ‘Big Data’?), which makes machine learning applications for analyzing this information incredibly attractive and applicable to all fields.

When it comes to design, this information could be used to determine what customers would respond better to. Ad companies have been doing this for a long time and at this point, they probably know us better than we do ourselves, thanks to information collected from all over our web travels. In the near future, though, you and your buddies might be seeing many different designs when accessing the same pages simultaneously, thanks to a team of designers who worked hard to make something unique for all potential ‘targets’.

Where Can I Read More About This?

2. Wearable Devices

A collection of wearable wrist devices.

Image by gst / shutterstock.com

Google Glass might not have captured the imagination of the public, but wearables are here to stay. This is a market which is expected to be worth $31.27 billion by 2020, and there are new devices coming out all the time.

There’s Jawbones, Moov Nows, Fitbits, Apple watches, MyZones, Microsoft Bands, Pebbles, Misfits, Coconuts (alright, that last one is made up), and those are all just wrist devices. There’s also the exciting field of virtual reality wearables, such as the Occulus Rift, the Sony Playstation VR, the Samsung Gear VR, the Microsoft HoloLens and the Razer OSVR. Five more devices have probably begun development or launched their own Kickstarters during the time you’ve been reading this list.

In other words, it’s pretty safe to assume that wearables aren’t just a fad. From a design standpoint, they present exciting new challenges: all-new interfaces to work with, plus maintaining styles across platforms, since most wearables connect to smartphones or computers for one reason or another.

Smartwatches, for example, provide a unique design challenge due to their minimal form factor (and you thought designing for 480 x 272 resolutions was a challenge), and virtual reality devices require menus that must be easy to navigate either using eye-tracking or additional wearables such as gloves.

I, for one, am very excited to see what new design trends wearable technology will enable in the coming years.

Where Can I Read More About This?

3. The Continuing Growth in Popularity of Video

A tablet about to play a video.

Image by venimo / shutterstock.com

Back in the younger days of the internet, it made sense to include as few images as possible in order to keep loading times down, and simply convey everything through text. However, with a world average download speed of 5Mbps (which is, of course, dragged down by a few outliers) and averages ranging from 10 to 20Mbps in the developed world, designers no longer need to hold back so much when deciding how to make sites look attractive.

No format has benefited more from fast internet speeds than video. Video backgrounds are now relatively widespread, as are introductory videos to services and products, as well as video tutorials.

Designers have already adopted this trend with gusto by integrating videos into the overall design process, and the future is likely to make this trend more ubiquitous.

Where Can I Read More About This?

4. The Simplification of Mobile App Development

Two smartphones side by side showing different apps.

Image by naum / shutterstock.com

Mobile platforms keep making gigantic strides in terms of sheer time of use (digital media usage is now 52% on mobile versus 42% on desktops) and market size (the global app market is expected to reach $77 in yearly revenue by 2017). When it comes to apps, Apple alone passed the 75 billion apps downloaded milestone back in 2014, and the combined total of all platforms is expected to reach a whopping 268 billion during 2017.

Armed with this information, an enterprising developer can only reach one simple conclusion: “I’ve gotta get in on that action”.

As we all know, however, not all apps are made equal. There’s been a rise during the past few years of tools which are meant to simplify the app development process, and while most of them wildly overstate what they can deliver, there are a few outliers.

Regardless of the quality of the tools themselves, designers are expected to be able to work across all platforms and it might pay off to familiarize yourself with some of the more popular ones and increase your pool of potential customers.

Where Can I Read More About This?

5. The Rise of Collaboration Tools for Designers

Three men sitting side by side while talking.

Image by gst / shutterstock.com

Ask your grandfather how he used to design websites as part of a team back in his day and you’re likely to get a harrowing tale involving mailing sketches and prototypes under 20 feet of snow, and waiting weeks to hear back from your project leader.

Thankfully, that’s all in the past. In fact, nowadays working as a designer is pretty cool considering all the tools available just to make your life easier and your collaborative projects run without a hitch.

There are Trello and Slack for starters, which (despite not being custom-made for designers) do make everyone’s life a lot easier thanks to being able to keep track of your progress using meters, sharing mock-ups, remaining in touch at all times and being able to categorize all of your shared assets.

There’s also Flatsi.es if you’re looking for a simple and painless way to share your projects privately, and Red Pen if you want to give your colleagues or clients a chance to give you feedback on your designs in real time while keeping track of past versions. Invision enables you to transform your designs into semi-working prototypes. Cage and Concept Inbox enable teams to share files, manage projects, approve work, manage version control, and provide annotations. Conceptboard provides online whiteboards, plus chat functions and enables teams to arrive at faster iterations.

If there’s a task that needs to get done, chances are there’s an application available to help your team tackle it efficiently, and even provide additional tools you wouldn’t have thought necessary. In fact, with so many tools available to designers, keeping an efficient workflow across teams becomes a matter of finding the right balance of collaborative tools to use without ‘bloating’ the creative process.

Where Can I Read More About This?

6. The Proliferation of Touch Devices

A person unlocking a touch device.

Image by Jane Kelly / shutterstock.com

This is pretty straightforward. We’ve already covered how the mobile market shows no signs of slowing down in the near future, and touch devices are still predominantly mobile. However, touch screens are making some incursions into desktop devices, and a combination of these two factors is likely to make them even more ubiquitous than they are at the moment, at some point down the line.

Designers are already accustomed to responsive design, but what new opportunities do larger form factors enable for touch screens from a design standpoint? We’re still a long way away from the sci-fi future of touchscreens integrated into every electronic device (especially since they’re more expensive than their regular counterparts), as sci-fi has been promising us for decades, but then again, hardly anyone had a touchscreen smartphone a decade ago.

Where Can I Read More About This?

7. The Ever-Increasing Complexity of UI Animations

Two reels of animations showing a stickman jumping.

Image by Illustsee / shutterstock.com

When it comes to animations in UI design, you don’t want them to jump out at your users like tacky PowerPoint presentations. In fact, the consensus amongst designers nowadays seems to be that animations should be used sparingly to enhance the experience and provide cues as how to interact with an interface.

Nowadays, there are endless collections of complex animations being shared between designers in sites such as CodePen.io, as well as new JavaScript libraries popping up every day. Designers need to be able to separate the needlessly complex from the actually useful and find the best ways to integrate these animations into their designs to maximize the user experience.

Where Can I Read More About This?

Conclusion

Designers don’t have it easy – especially web designers. Not only do you need to have great taste, but also learn to use a wide variety of tools, and on top of all that, stay on top of web development trends.

Thankfully, web developers and designers stand side-by-side in the trenches, and the amount of resources available to keep your skills sharpened is second to none.

After going over our list of trends, we recommend also checking out the additional resources we compiled for more in-depth information. Armed with this knowledge, no projects will catch you off-guard anytime soon.

Did we miss any important trends? Let us know in the comments section below!

Article thumbnail image by Danielala / shutterstock.com

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20 Comments

  1. Thank you.
    Very nice article.
    Forestay and applying all the new trends.
    Kisses Tom !

  2. Very Interesting article, a great research behind

  3. Hey Tom,
    Great insights, wearable devices will be the next major challange.
    Cheers!

  4. Good stuff covering many categories… Thx!

  5. Articles like this keep me encouraged by the fascinating and constantly changing atmosphere of web design. Great post yet again!

  6. I agree, Videos are really beneficial now a days. Nothing works better than video marketing.

  7. Interesting summary, but let’s not forget the importance of communication. And some of the best, most communicative websites rely on imagination and humour rather than complex technical gimmickry. Indeed, I think we are seeing an eighth design trend there, which has been quietly growing for some time: the use of imagination, humour and surprise to capture attention, keep readers interested, and simultaneously entertain them. This means we’re also seeing designers spending more time thinking about textual content, rather than simply treating text as just another design element. Now that’s an exciting trend all on its own!

  8. Thanks for sharing good stuff to look into

  9. Thank you so much, this is a FABULOUS article!

  10. Practical, actionable and nicely illustrated. You rock!

  11. The video has grown in popularity allright, but faster loading times are still gold. Integrating a 5-10-20Mb in your overall design will still hurt your users’ experience, search engines placement and so on. Combine that with users’ mobility, wich also means switching between areas with good, weak, or no signal at all (think subways, passages, areas between tall buildings) and you will get lots of annoyed people closing the tab and moving to a working one.

    Sorry, we’re not there yet. Video is still in the early stages.

  12. Hi Tom Ewer
    Again you write a wonderfull post and you will explain every topic is very well. thanks for sharing us.

  13. Thank you, very well written.

  14. Keep it up, guys! Very informative and useful.

  15. I like the video part, but what is the best way to add regular video to your site. From an SEO and pagespeed perspective?

  16. Video sites with examples are not very up to date…

  17. Tom, Becoming a fan of yours very nice beautifully written. Thank you

  18. Having the right tools makes web designing job easier.

  19. Definitely a great article. Very data and source enriched. Keep this up.

  20. a great article
    thanks for the share

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