By Matt Fox, Digital Project Consultant, Reading Room
It’s starting to feel like spring again, so if you’re thinking of spring cleaning your website and making sure it’s achieving what you need, here’s our guide to what we see as being big in web design this year.
The visual effect
More and more clients we speak to aren’t satisfied with their websites just being searchable sets of text-based information. Their sites need to work harder for them as brand experiences and as tools to convey practical detail to their users – and both are improved by the effective and creative use of visual assets.
Whether it’s a video homepage, scrolling, Snowfall-style narratives packed with photography, illustration and animation, or interactive 3D models on product pages; imagery is going to win out over words every time. What this will mean is that photo and video shoots, or commissioning of illustration and motion graphics, will become a standard part of any web project. Sophisticated content and brilliantly constructed functionality working together will let the web fulfil its potential for organisations.
Substance over style
Having said that, you have to remember that substance wins out over style for users of digital platforms. As we become more comfortable with the fancy new frameworks available to web developers, the 2016 online user has become bored of unnecessary animation and 3D effects. If it helps your business message and is user friendly then that’s fine, but we are seeing web design come around full circle and concentrate on the message being conveyed.
We have clients ditching carousels, stripping back accordion lists and going minimal on superfluous interaction effects. This is all in the name of boosting usability and performance – especially for mobile devices. Mobile is still on the up and, by now, impossible to ignore. There is no room for fluffy embellishments anymore – users want information and they want it fast and fuss-free.
Web design is no longer about creating static layouts and page templates. To keep up with rapidly expanding businesses and the growing umbrella of sub-brands they need to accommodate, websites (or platforms, more appropriately) need to be flexible. More and more elements are now being created as part of a Pattern Library. This is a collection of repeating blocks that make up a page and allow for a consistent roll-out of content across a digital platform. This way of working has also been described as ‘Atomic Design’.
Once brand guidelines have been lifted into a digital styleguide, one can prepare all the code for the different elements that have been designed, so then they are easily implemented in any situation. You don’t need to tell people the rules any more – they are automatically implemented and thought through in advance. Pattern libraries can be used as frameworks for new web templates or elements, and any other design going forward.
Data is everywhere. With wider trends like wearables, home automation and the overarching ‘quantified self’ starting to take over, we are drowning in numbers. This year, more than ever, is all about tapping into the data available to us to make incremental improvements to our respective platforms and/or services.
This means targeting our efforts using analytics and phasing continuous improvement programmes through prioritisation. This is surging in popularity due to both opportunity (the data is there for the taking) and necessity. Project budgets are ever tighter, so prioritising scope empirically and focusing spend is a very prudent approach.
Making personalisation count
2016 has brought with it the challenge of more discerning digital consumers than ever, all with different needs and motivations. One-size-fits-all web strategy is beginning to run its course and delivering a personalised experience to their audience is on the minds of many of our clients.
Personalisation – the art of adapting page content to suit a particular user – is one thing, but we need to understand the whole picture before we get to that stage. It’s the ‘who, what, where, why, when’ that counts when attempting to personalise your digital platform. Up until now, a lot of people have been dipping their toes in the personalisation pond but it’s time to step back and think, ultimately, about the key question … ‘what are we really trying to achieve here?’
This year will be about taking that step back and approaching personalisation sensibly. Reflecting the drive to ‘substance over style’ it’s about appropriate use of technologies to meet business needs. We’ll be helping clients answer the questions like ‘Who are my audience segments?’, ‘What will I use to identify them?’, “Where will I provide personalised content?’ and ‘Why will this help our business goals?’.
Conversion over traffic
For years, people have just been concerned about traffic. “We want more traffic!” is often heard ringing through the room when discussing a new website project. In the effort of boosting leads or sales, the go-to strategy has almost always been to increase footfall. Banner ads (boo!) could be to blame. With diabolical click-through rates (of the order of 0.01%), it makes sense to invest in traffic and get a tiny sliver of the huge pie.
But forget about traffic. That conversion rate isn’t getting any better. Your website, Call To Action,or form isn’t going to convert a higher percentage of users just by getting more eyeballs in front of the screen.
2016 is the year of conversion. Traffic is only part of the story. Invest in optimising your conversion rate and you will continue to reap rewards long after your one-off investment.
Reading Room is a digital consultancy that identifies opportunities, creates experiences and builds systems to help clients benefit from technological change. It joined the Idox group of companies in 2015.
Enjoy this article? Read other blogs on digital from Reading Room and ourselves:
- Uncovering user needs through behavioural experiments
- Digital leadership: how should digital be represented at board level?
- Legacy systems and digital projects – the view from the IT department
- The UK digital economy: how can the government support digital businesses?
- eGov Singapore: award winning leader in digital government
- Digital Agenda Norway (DAN): international digital leader but still pushing forward
- e-Estonia: leading the way on digital government