Four Web Technology Trends Designers Need to Focus on in 2017

Material design infiltrated everything this past year, from mobile apps to websites to web-based applications and even social media. Users are accustomed to the minimalism it provides, and visual designers would rather focus attention on content than interface. Now, they have user buy-in to do it.

Over the past few years, e-commerce companies have adopted the multi-platform experience that material design enables on a large scale in order to create engaging sites with no clutter. Minimalism is the winning approach these days as mobile surpasses desktops for primary usage — especially for shopping.

Effects of a Mobile-First Society

Mobile-first design and the “hamburger menu” have come of age, with most sites employing both at this point. As the sheer amount of content and social media rapidly increases, businesses seek to break through the noise with stronger signals and tools.

[Related: 7 Apps for Designers & Creative Professionals]

One key emerging area is the creation of better tools for website visitors to surface content for their view, enable easier sharing, and promote content on business websites.

Over the coming year, in-house designers will need to focus on four key tenets to achieve these goals:

1. Web design isn’t dead.

Let’s not toll the bells just yet — recent claims that web design is dead are grossly oversold social media fodder. The world isn’t about templates. Cookie-cutter solutions, whether design or technology solutions, are for the mass market at best. In a sea of sameness, leading organizations in every sector, and those that aspire to join them, look to great design to differentiate their offerings.

What is true, though, is that the user experience is the top priority, perhaps more important than the “design” on top of it. When everyone has access to the same tools, human elements are vital. For example, while AI-generated layouts that evolve on their own simplify the technically laborious, time-intensive aspects for designers at Grid, a San Francisco-based startup, they must still make sure the final design is purposeful and on brand. Human emotion connected to your core product or service is still the most desirable outcome. If the experience isn’t solid, the design is lost.

2. Modular design is the way to go.

More and more sites migrated to modular layouts and card-based designs, providing increased flexibility to handle a variety of content types and ensuring that content is packaged for ease of sharing on social media from the start.

These layouts give marketers the freedom to adjust their pages to content and audience needs. Web and mobile apps are moving toward maximizing information in small spaces by offering portals to deeper information in the cards, which are much more visual representations of traditional text-heavy hyperlinks.

3. Website accessibility increases in importance.

As the focus on corporate responsibility and universal accessibility increases, so will the importance of ensuring websites are accessible to all users. It won’t be long before Google again wields its mighty sword to push for this, much like it has for SEO, mobile optimization, and website performance. Attention to detail makes design more accessible.

A solid user interface is the foundation of site accessibility, and a logical design with legible text will help visually impaired audiences navigate. HTML will always be handy for manipulating what people see, and color codes and clear text labels require attention pagewide to ensure readability. And don’t forget about hotkey shortcuts, as power users still appreciate them.

4. Artificial intelligence is more than hype.

We can’t talk 2017 web technology trends without mentioning artificial intelligence. Over the past year, AI has moved beyond the king of buzzwords with plenty of well-established use cases, from voice recognition to content search to visual object recognition and content optimization.

The Bryan Cave website, for example, is a content-rich site for a leading international law firm that features a search engine powered by AI and machine learning. These technologies optimize search results for queries based on semantic content and topic modeling, going beyond the typical keyword search most website content search includes.

AI is specialized, so expect the best solutions to be industry-focused. The bottom line, however, is that user interfaces to which we’ve grown accustomed continue to evolve at a rapid pace and are bound to change even more next year.

As the Internet of Things becomes more prolific and people connect to the web through more and more devices, the way we interact with technology will evolve in unforeseen ways. To remain agile and ready to use the next iteration of top-notch design to their companies’ advantage, in-house designers need to stay on top of these emerging web technology trends that will transform design in the near future.