In recent years, we’ve seen trends for responsive design and a mobile first approach, long-scrolling sites, hamburger menus, loading animations, flat design, minimalism, and parallax scrolling, to name a few.
Some trends, like responsive design and adopting a mobile first approach, seemed destined to stay as they fit with the ways in which we interact with the internet today. Others however, don’t have the same staying power.
As humans, we’re no strangers to trends. After all, they’ve influenced us since childhood when, driven by a desire to belong, we followed blindly, even when the trends in question did nothing for us (yes, I’m looking at you shoulder pads and spandex!).
But for web designers, trends can become something of a bugbear when our clients want to incorporate the latest design fad into their website, even if it doesn’t accurately represent their brand.
The Nature of the Beast
Trends can be fickle creatures. Often short-lived, they come and go, much like today’s celebrities – talked about non-stop for a few days, then casually dismissed as they become old news and people move on to the latest hot gossip.
The ever-changing environment of the internet only fans the flames, as trends spread at a rapid pace and people jump on them so swiftly they quickly become old hat.
For designers, finding a balance can be somewhat tricky. On one hand, it’s our job to provide what our clients want – after all, we don’t want a reputation for sticking to boring, outdated designs.
However, it can also be a slippery slope to yesterday’s news. Jump on a trend too swiftly and a brand will appear inconsistent. Worse still, if that trend is of the fleeting kind, a website can go from hip and trendy to lame and outdated quicker than you can peel off those spandex leggings!
So how do we, as designers, stay abreast of the latest trends without falling victim to the duds? Is it possible to tell the difference between a trend with staying power, and one that’s destined to become old news before the year is up?
While you can never accurately predict the outcome of a trend, there are some fundamental elements that can give you a good indication of whether that trend is here to stay, and whether it fits with a brand’s image and values.
1. Look at the Parent Trend
It’s notoriously difficult to predict the staying power of a trend, but you can get a reasonable idea of its evergreen potential by looking at the parent theme. Because ultimately, every new trend is the result of experimentation as designers tinker with current trends in an attempt to create something fresh and new.
Once you’ve identified the inspiration behind the new trend, do your research on the parent trend(s). See how long it lasted, look at which brands adopted it, and at the success it enjoyed. If the parent trend had good staying potential and was successfully adopted by influential brands, chances are you could be on to a good thing.
In addition, consider how long this current trend has been around. If you’re one of the earliest adoptees and you’re not entirely sure of its potential, it may be wise to observe from a distance for a while to see how it develops.
2. Is It Aligned with the Website’s Goals?
Each website has a goal – to raise brand awareness, get visitors to sign up to a newsletter or for a trial, sell products, etc. – and some key performance indicators to check it’s on track.
So before adopting the latest trend, you need to weigh up its effectiveness in driving visitors towards the required action.
To establish this, head for tools such as heatmaps, session replays, and perform A/B testing to see if the new design trend will help or hinder in achieving the goals of the site. If testing suggests the new design will improve the efficiency of the conversion funnel, you could be on to something that’s both functional and relevant.
3. Does It Affect the User Experience?
Usability is everything in web design – when visitors arrive at a site they’re usually seeking something specific. How quickly they can achieve their goal has a huge impact on how long they stay on the site, and how likely they are to return.
If they can’t find what they want quickly, they’ll be hotfooting it to your client’s main competitors. And if they find what they’re looking for there, chances are, they won’t bother returning anytime soon.
Even if the trendy new design has an instant wow factor for visitors, if they can’t work out how to effectively navigate it, you’ve lost them. So if it’s a decision between an on-trend design and usability, always go with the latter.
4. Does It Align with Your Brand Values and Target Audience?
Sure, the latest hot design trend may look sleek and sexy, but does it really complement your client’s brand? Does it fit with the brand values and will it appeal to their target audience?
It’s human nature to want the latest new fad – we’re seekers of novelty after all – but before you incorporate that sexy new design element, consider whether it actually fits your client’s brand values. If they’re an established brand, they’ll have longstanding, loyal customers and power users. And when these guys arrive on the new site, they’ll have certain expectations and you have to ensure these are met.
For example, is it wise to adopt a large hero image on the home page, like Airbnb, or will it thoroughly confuse the target audience and make the brand appear inconsistent?
Remember, users are the number one priority. If they don’t like what they see, or find it difficult to navigate, you’re in danger of losing them.
Once you’ve evaluated all these options, you should have a pretty good idea of whether to adopt a new trend or not. Remember, although it’s your job to provide what your client requires, you’re the design professional here so you also have a duty to gently guide your client to what’s best for them.
However, if a new design trend doesn’t appear to work, but the client really likes it and think it has good staying potential, don’t give up. Tinker with it to see if there’s a way it can be adapted to meet the website’s goals, match the brand values, and provide users with an excellent user experience. After all, that’s how new design trends are born…
What criteria do you use to evaluate new web design trends? Have we missed anything out? Join in the discussion below…