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It seems there’s always a new website design element or hot trend, as an ever-increasing number of e-commerce sites vie for visitors’ attention. So, do any of the latest and greatest website design trends deserve to be part of your next site design or refresh?
No single web trend should be added to a site simply because it is popular, according to Karl Norman, Director of Commerce for eWave.
Norman, whose business provides full-service enterprise e-commerce solutions to brands as Westfield and Nestlé, says every design decision you make must be guided by your site’s purpose and the customer experience. “Most important is that you understand the full impact a design change will have on the customer’s journey,” he says.
So, what are the big trends for 2014? And are they right for your site?
A site that uses responsive design has a web design that adjusts for the different screen sizes of mobile phones, tablet computers and various desktop and laptop computer screens. It ensures that visitors can read your copy, view images properly and click on tabs and buttons easily.
“Responsive design is good, but we approach responsive design in specific ways based on specific devices, depending on its purpose and on user behaviour,” says Norman. “Understand at which points in the customer journey people use each device, then you will understand if responsive design is the right investment for your brand.”
Norman says businesses need to understand how people use technology to interact with their brand. “Our research often shows that while most shoppers conduct research on mobile devices before they make a purchase, 80 per cent will actually complete their purchases on a desktop computer. So, in this case, your website and the mobile site should behave differently as they serve different purposes.”
With continuous scrolling, there’s no need to click on multiple pages. Instead, new content is delivered as the visitor scrolls down the page.
“Continuous scrolling is something we are seeing a lot,” says Norman. “It’s being used successfully in the e-commerce space right now, especially in fashion. But, again, it comes down to what products you have and what type of customers you’re dealing with. If you have completed your UI/UX [user interface/user experience] strategy, then you can make a valid decision around this.
“If the audience is older, for instance, sometimes continuous scrolling can be confusing. They want to click and see a response to that click. However, the younger generation is already used to continuous scrolling from websites such as social media feeds, so they are used to this seamless browsing experience.”
The reason everyone is moving to flat design – a trend Norman says was led by Microsoft – is because traditional design that included lines, shadows and 3D imagery was about introducing user to the internet, so that people understood that a folder icon with 3D papers served the purpose of a folder. As more users become more computer savvy, we no longer need the cues such as a realistic, 3D image of a folder to indicate somewhere to store our files.
“Flat design is now responsive to our behaviour, as we simply don’t need so many visual cues,” explains Norman. “Flat design is about being more user-centric and creating simplicity in your design. This also makes it great for the software design and development process, as it reduces design work and development costs. Flat design actually reduces the number of elements on the page, so it makes the page faster to load, too.”
“One of the reasons for this trend is simply because big type and buttons are a better user experience on mobile devices and touch screens,” notes Norman. “Big buttons and type can also be used for branding, but regarding useability, it’s really about the touch screens and the mobile space, rather than adopting this trend across all channels.”
To get an impression of how content grouping works, think of the way sites such as Pinterest group content into related and equally important sections – no pin is presented as more important than another.
Norman says that part of a website designer’s UI/UX research process should involve prioritising the content, then deciding which navigational flows and elements are most important for, and will be expected by, the customer.
Although content grouping may work when presenting products or blog posts, it may not work for sites that want to direct a visitor’s attention to a particular section of the site or emphasise a particular call to action.
Parallax is the displacement of various images or design effects on the screen as a user scrolls or runs their mouse or finger over a specific region of the page. Visit Every Last Drop to see an example of parallax in action.
“Many brands are using parallax, some more than they should,” says Norman, adding that it’s important to understand why they are doing it. “Parallax can be useful when you’re selling a product or a service and you want to grab people’s attention,” he explains, “but it’s not a design trend you should automatically feel the need to go to.
“Understand what you are trying to do by using this design element – you should be very careful about where and when you use it.”
Norman also warns that visual effects like parallax can’t be part of a site forever. If a visitor sees it multiple times, then it quickly becomes overkill. There are, however, several tools for designers to use to ensure an individual only sees an effect a certain number of times.