Just about every month or so, design and tech blogs across the internet release articles about their opinion or predictions on the “top web design trends”. These lists focus on a range of design topics from design aesthetics to website functionality and interactivity. They all generally have valuable insights on which trends are popular now, and what will be popular in the future.
But trendy design does not always equal good UX. In fact, your specific business needs may require a specific user experience that the latest web design trends may actually impede rather than enhance.
Asking your agency partner for a website that is on trend is a totally reasonable request, but there needs to be a balance between designing a website that is trendy today and one that will be effective tomorrow. Trendy websites tend to become UX nightmares and obsolete sooner than a website that balances trends with best in practice user experience design.
Design for what works
Engaging with an agency partner to create (or redesign) your company or brand website is an exciting process. If you’re like many, you’ve probably scoured the competitions’ websites, found inspiration on your own favorite sites, and maybe even Googled “top web design trends”. Bringing your inspiration to the project is a great first step. It helps set the direction for design inspiration, but those cool features and amazing motion graphic trends shouldn’t drive the user experience.
The user experience should be driven by the data from actual visitors of the site. We call this designing for what works. A large video background may do a great job selling an experience or product for an outdoor experience company or software company, but it could potentially draw too much attention away from the purpose of the site (to sell a product or service). Using trendy design elements for the sake of having a trendy design element does not create more conversions.
How to keep your website converting and on trend
1. Your company’s industry.
The company’s industry often influences the type of functionality that benefits its website. Different industries require different types of conversions, thus different feature sets and functionality.
2. The goal of your company and website.
A website selling knives and a website requesting donations for a non-profit are two very different types of websites. While subtle parallax scroll effects may help tell a story for a non-profit, these effects could interrupt a user’s intention to search for a specific type of knife on an ecommerce site.
3. Your demographic.
This is most likely an outcome of the two factors above. The company’s industry, along with what the company sells or does, can determine who will be visiting the website. Certain trends may end up distracting a particular type of user, hurting conversion.
Trends to use cautiously
1. Minimized or hidden global navigation.
Don’t hide the primary navigation. There are a lot of marketing agency and tech websites that use a minimal navigation or have inventive ways to find (keyword: find) their primary navigation. It looks cool, sure, but they’re likely using these techniques to showcase their creativity, interactive, and development expertise. However, for an ecommerce or B2B website, hiding your primary navigation is asking for a lower conversion rate.
Tip: Users are on a website to find exactly what they’re looking for quickly. Make it easy for them. Make your global navigation clear, easy to use, and visible so they immediately understand where to find information or products. Avoid the bells and whistles.
I cannot stress this point enough. Stop it. Please stop using sliders. Yes, there are sliders EVERYWHERE. That does not mean they are effective. There are a billion articles and data out there to support this claim. Sliders have various accessibility and responsive issues, and tests have shown that around 1% of visitors click on sliders, that’s a 99% failure rate.
Tip: Use a single hero layout with one static image, one message, and one call-to-action. This keeps the site focused and conveys a point quickly and clearly. One benefit of using tools like Optimizely is that a singular image and message can be targeted (tested or personalized), and therefore be swapped out based on audience. There are plenty of opportunities to provide additional messaging on the brand’s story or products on the rest of the page.
3. Parallax scrolling effects
Subtle parallax animations can be nice for storytelling, depending on the content in question. However, use of parallax may have horrible SEO implications, can increase page load times, and is not supported on mobile. These are conversion killers and contribute to lower search ranking.
Tip: Use parallax wisely. It’s not the worst trend, but it is widely used, and widely used poorly. In order for parallax to be done well, it needs to have rich content to support it and have additional time to put towards making it an effective experience.
Fonts on a website can easily fall off the radar compared to other major issues to consider (e.g. content, photography, IA), but poor use of typefaces on a website directly affects the legibility of your content, and whether or not a user stays on a website or leaves.
Tip: Don’t save fonts for last minute. Website fonts should be complementary to each other, the brand, the content they’re representing, and visually clean and simple to read and understand. They’re an important visual aid to help a site stand out from the competition.
What to do now?
Whether you’re thinking of redesigning in the near future or reflecting on your current website, it’s important to always think back to your user. It’s easy to get caught up in how you want the site to look, feel, work, animate, and flow. What really matters is creating a site that helps your users complete the task they came to your site to accomplish. Focus on creating a site that is easy to navigate and understand. Your users will thank you by converting.
It’s always good to stay up to date on trends and know when and how to appropriately use them. Just remember there’s no need to overdo it. If you’re trying to decide whether a particular trend is right for your site, ask yourself how that trend may affect your user’s experience (and your conversion rate). Trends will come and go, what matters is that your site has an experience that is enjoyable and converts. If you do this, your site will accomplish what you need it to do.