It's hard to believe that we're halfway through 2020. Through a Slack discussion with a few of Speak's designers, we explored how the current web design trends are playing out, how to know if a trend is right for your organization, and what to expect from web design in the years to come.
Here's today's starting lineup:
Jessica: Hi all, thanks for joining to discuss design trends. Crazy that we are basically halfway through 2020 already. Before we dive in, I’d love for you all to answer why you think you’ve found yourself in design?
Josh: I started designing stuff way back in the day for a band I was in, and I loved it!
Jessica: We may need a picture of the band's album cover
Josh: I've texted my Mom and she's on the hunt for the first one, which was created in Microsoft Paint.
Whitney: I ran away from design as a career for a long time, majoring in biomedical engineering for 2 years. When I couldn't pass calc 3 I gave in and headed for design.
Leslie: I started designing websites as a grade school kid. Just because I loved them when I first saw them and really wanted to make one. That rolled into freelancing websites for local bands in high school and then just continuing on to get a design degree in college.
Stephen: When I was in high school, I was in a desktop publishing class that the teacher just decided to change into a graphic design class since she thought desktop publishing was boring. I ended up loving it and have continued ever since.
Josh: @Whitney I bet you wish you stuck with biomedical engineering :)
Whitney: haha! naw. I haven't looked back since. I wish more that I hadn't run away from design for so long
Whitney: I'm still in shock about the use of Microsoft Paint @Josh Cooper
Stephen: Hahah he started at a different time than us, that time required creativity.
Mark: Honestly, my design journey started when I was a kid in Paraguay. My brother Steven got a pirated copy of Adobe Photoshop, and he would make some crazy designs. This was the late 90s, so we’re talking brush packs and drop shadows. I wanted to learn, so I would play around with the software in my free time, and became engulfed in my own ability to photo-manipulate graphics. When I got to college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I figured ‘Graphic Design’ would be an easy blow-off class/major. The more I immersed myself in the requisites and the culture, the more pride I had in my own work. I really enjoyed it. Still do. And now I have a Master’s degree in it. Take that, Steven.
Jessica: Why am I not surprised that Mark's story includes a pirated copy of Photoshop haha
Stephen: I feel like everyone's did.
Stephen: Who here didn't pirate Adobe products?
Whitney: The first Adobe anything I had was a pirated copy.
Mark: can we talk about all the software we’ve pirated for a moment?
Whitney: Wait, should we be admitting this?
Josh: Wait can we publish this now? JK
Leslie: I actually started with Jasc Paint Shop Pro. Which is a rip off of Photoshop but only $60. Compare to the over $500 for photoshop back in ‘96.
Stephen: Ohh edgy
Jessica: Well I didn't have a pirated version, but my greatest designs have all been made in Paint, sooo that tells you about my level of design knowledge
Mark: also, Paraguay internet download speeds cap at dial-up numbers, so that anticipation…
Jessica: I'm glad that pirating was only a trend for you all (and that Speak now pays for your software). Let's talk about trends! What stands out to you as the biggest design trend you've seen this year?
Whitney: Dark mode for sure
Stephen: For me, I think that dark mode is
Leslie: Yeah dark mode
Stephen: especially considering Facebook made the switch
Josh: Did anyone say Dark Mode?
Whitney: I love that we are all in agreement on question 1
Mark: I’d like to venture off the path here and say dark mode
Mark: oh wait
Jessica: Haha okay then let's hear everyone's take on dark mode. Love it or leave it?
Whitney: LOVE IT!
Jessica: Caps are coming out
Whitney: That being said, there are some subjects and clients it doesn't work for no matter how hard you try
Leslie: Love it. Especially on apps.
Stephen: I think it is great, but I'm definitely still a sucker for lighter designs.
Josh: Although clients have been more receptive to a dark mode look than I thought they would be.
Mark: Another big trend I’ve been seeing a lot of is the use of type for design elements, as well as waves and curves. I feel like we’re moving away from the flat 2d grid that a lot of users are used to. We’re starting to get into loud design and things that encourage user interaction, whether that’s with shapes, colors, etc.
Leslie: Yeah I think it depends on the client and usage.
Whitney: It wouldn't be great for a wedding venue, I think.
Leslie: The industry is definitely moving towards more “broken grids” and asymmetrical design.
Jessica: Yeah talk to me about why you think dark mode works and why "loud" design as Mark put it is gaining traction?
Josh: I think because people are getting bored with the grid and they break it. We've seen it all, let's move on.
Leslie: Loud design is probably tied to the trends in other areas. 80’s has been having a resurgence recently in other media forms and fashion. So naturally, web design will be influenced by it.
Stephen: Yeah with any trend, once it gets common people will try to mess with it. Also, the state of what browsers can handle/coding abilities allow for it which wasn't as possible before.
Stephen: Or things that were used before come back in a different way. At one point, drop shadows were considered horrendous, but now you are seeing them lightly used all over the place.
Whitney: I think people are also learning more about how to really express themselves and push the limits of code in the internet realm.
Whitney: As a designer, I always love a good design challenge and when I get bored with design trends I tend to create my own challenge - like how can I make this website look less like a box and more like a fine work of art.
Whitney: I think all designers do that to an extent.
Josh: It's hard to get a client to go for a "trend" though. What is exciting to a designer, is sometimes scary for a client, and once they are comfortable with it, the trend is probably over or something new is happening. I've always struggled with that. Anyone else?
Whitney: oh yes
Mark: I think the answer to that is pretty split. On one hand, we’re in a time where people are glued to their devices. Offering a “dark mode” with dimmer colors and comfortable hues allow the user to comfortably rest on their journey. It encourages a relaxing environment where the user will hopefully stay and interact, or purchase something. It’s a great change of pace from all the stimuli a brighter atmosphere might create. On the other hand, some companies take the opposite approach with the touchpoints of their brand. More and more companies are trying to differentiate themselves, and the use of brighter colors, odd shapes, asymmetrical design, etc. definitely makes the brand stand out. It can invite the user to discover certain interactions that they didn’t know they enjoyed so much.
Leslie: Regarding what Stephen said about drop shadows. Web design is still relatively new and ever-evolving so when these things were first out they were maybe overused. As technology and time have changed, people are figuring out more subtle and sophisticated ways to use them.
Jessica: These are all great points. To Josh's question, what would you say to a client or really anyone who is hesitant to go for a trend?
Stephen: I feel like there is a balance. Trends can often be really forward in terms of design elements, which can be great for people who are looking for things that are considered "fashion forward," but might be an awful experience for your grandmother who is trying to navigate a site.
Stephen: And you never want a user to be overwhelmed because your really fancy design puts them off since it doesn't feel welcoming/familiar.
Leslie: It all really depends on who their target market is. If it’s appropriate for their target market then you have to show research to back that up. Brands are more willing to try new things if you can provide solid research to back them up. Another reason UX has become such a big pairing with UI.
Whitney: That really does depend. If it's a client I know will not update their site but every 10 years, I might make the design less trendy. It will look outdated too fast. But if it's a client that updates their site every 2-3 years, I say hit up all the trends!
Jessica: Organizations that wait 10 years in between updates are my nightmare as a user lol
Mark: @leslie makes a strong point. I think we have more flexibility with clients who have demographics that can handle these loud/exciting designs or interactions. Design, at the end of the day, is just a means to solve a problem for people.
Whitney: Problem-solving is the no. 1 reason I love design!
Leslie: Yes, it can’t just be pretty. Really good design has to solve a problem. Design isn’t successful if it isn’t also functional.
Josh: Yes, I think it's about identifying the trends that will become best practices and use those to solve the problem.
Jessica: "Design isn’t successful if it isn’t also functional." Putting this quote everywhere. How have you all learned to balance when to push clients to go for something adventurous and when to pull back?
Stephen: I feel like that really just comes out of talking with them. For example, when I worked with an organization that serves disabled-individuals, ADA-compliance was at the forefront of my mind, so I didn't even think to try to make something that was too adventurous because that wouldn't serve their audience.
Stephen: So communication is key.
Josh: I think initial discovery with the client is very important, asking the right questions to see how far they would be willing to with the design or even better, how far do they need to go?
Whitney: You really have to gauge the client's comfort level with the adventurous. If they love it but are scared of it, I usually try to push them towards it a bit and see if their comfort level increases.
Josh: So, basically what Stephen said :)
Leslie: I try to only push for something if I think it will “break the design” (and it’s function.) Otherwise, at the end of the day, it belongs to the client and they need to be happy with the end result.
Mark: On the projects that I have been a part of, there’s a discovery process that takes place, when we get to find out about the client’s goals. Most of the time, they know their demographic. Their brand’s voice, tone, and presence leads a lot of the direction. Sometimes, however, there is a disconnect between how the brand is being perceived by the audience, or it just isn’t as efficient as it can be. That’s where we come in. We do our research, really define their brand. Using what we know about design trends and UX, we craft an experience that carries the user through the brand. They get to experience what we discover from the client. Sometimes we get pushback from the client. But we start a conversation, at least, where the client sees certain facets of their brand that are quantitative that we can portray to our users. It’s a collaboration to make that voice louder.
Jessica: There is so much more that goes into good design than I think most users realize. Let’s end on the impossible. Do you have any predictions for what web design will look like in 5-10 years? What can I, as a user, expect to see?
Leslie: It’s hard to predict that far ahead, but I think we will continue to see more video and animation become integrated. And more to the point messaging.
Stephen: One thing that I think is going to be interesting to see is the marriage of development and design. As tools get better and better, eventually I could see there being less need for coding knowledge. I could see eventually there being a Photoshop-like tool created that would just export your design into fully-functioning code.
Stephen: Which would allow so much more creativity and speed.
Leslie: Adobe has actually been working on a tool like that for several years.
Whitney: I think as people get more used to interactions with mobile and only mobile, sites are going to have less obvious "click me" areas. It is going to become way more common to just swipe, scroll, move this way and that without being prompted.
Stephen: Do you all think people will ever be extremely comfortable with horizontal scrolling?
Leslie: Possibly. It depends on the device and usage. They are already used to it on Netflix for example and that has presented more in web design as a result.
Mark: keep horizontal scrolling to mobile, please.
Whitney: I actually love horizontal scrolling. I also like to play with the scroll-like the user scrolls like normal and the screen seems to scroll horizontal.
Jessica: It’s fun to think about what’s possible and I learned a ton! Thanks for sharing your design skillz with us.
Stephen: Thank you for having us!
Whitney: Thanks! This was fun!
Stephen: Don't go report to the police about our adobe pirating
Jessica: Well this is about to go on the blog, so no promises haha
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