Trends and fashions are fascinating things. In hindsight they always appear clear, but trying to forecast them requires a mix of information, intuition and luck. If you can correctly predict where things are moving, and you’re willing to back yourself, then you can position for the future. Years ago I had the good fortune to correctly see that WordPress themes and website templates were taking off and had a big trajectory. This gave us the opportunity to position a marketplace to help people sell them, and that turned out pretty well!
To be good at predicting where the industry is going you first need to wallow in it. Living and breathing the space gives you the background to draw on using intuition. Next you need to consciously be looking for what’s working, what’s taking off, and what outside factors like technology are affecting the industry. Finally you must consider patterns like counter-movements and influencer groups. Like many things in life, the way to get better at seeing where the world is moving, is to practice.
As Envato’s CEO, it’s important for me to be working on this skill. So I decided to spend some time thinking about the future for web and online design, and to take a stab at what next year and beyond might hold. If all goes well, this article will look awesome in a year. And if it doesn’t, well it sure is fun to speculate!
Moving Past Just Flat
This last year cemented in place ‘flat design’ as a kind of authentically digital interface. Things culminated with iOS7’s release which took the concept of flat design mainstream.
The clear designs we’re seeing at the moment are evolving as designers seek to differentiate, adapt and grow on the clean lines and simplicity of flat design.
Flat has a long way to go yet, and so the main changes I think we’ll see in the next year are more fun, but faddish, trends like long shadows and the like. In similar fashion I think we’ll see some more depth, layering, graduations, and other visual distinctions making their way back in, but in a more refined and subtle way than the old days.
There’s also still plenty of life left in the hipster end of design as well, with its handstyled and handset typography, big designer photos, and nods to craftsmanship. This often gets mixed with an otherwise clean flat design to great effect. I’m interested to see if this develops further into more of a reaction to the simplicity of flat design. Now that we’ve gotten comfortable with type on the web, will we see the online equivalent of David Carson’s distressed typography of 90’s Raygun magazine?
Incorporating motion in its various forms is another logical build on flat design. Everything is pointing to this becoming a major piece of interface design going forward. First we have the resurgence of animated GIFs, the beautiful use of video content and transitions on sites like Apple’s Mac Pro page, the increasing popularity of video on Instagram and Vine, and more use of SVG graphics together with animation. Throw in constant improvements in bandwidth and video production tooling, and motion feels set to ramp up.
For web and interface designers, motion will be used to differentiate the otherwise very simple flat design ethos, as well as create more engagement.
If history is anything to go by, as it gets popular, motion will be not just beautifully used, but also totally abused and inappropriately deployed. But so long as we don’t go back to the days of ‘skip intro’, I think we’ll all be fine.
WordPress Dominates, Challengers Accumulate
It’s very hard to see WordPress doing anything other than continuing to dominate the open source CMS market. Its position feels unassailable thanks to a heady combination of usable software, massive community, and constantly improving product. Detractors often point to the limitations of its codebase, but even that is consistently improving.
But the CMS market is simply too big for there not to be constant challenges. I think we’ll see continued growth in flat file static website builders like Jekyll, Kirby and the like. There are hundreds of them already, so this is not a new phenomenon. But with front-end designers getting more adept on the engineering side, there’s a growing realisation that sometimes a full CMS is simply overkill.
On the other side the hosted CMS market continues to build momentum and revenue. Wix has been the first to go for the IPO, and I expect we’ll see Weebly, Squarespace and some of the others following on their heels. Meanwhiles Y Combinator continues to birth products in this space, most recently Strikingly has been picking up pace quickly as a mobile-first website builder. All of these products present an incredibly easy experience for mainstream users, so their growth prospects are very strong in 2014.
Tooling for Modern Web Design
While web design has moved forward incredibly rapidly in the last few years, the tooling for creating it has been going a little slower. After the heyday of Dreamweaver and Flash, Adobe seemed to momentarily stop caring so much about the space. But they are now coming back with a bit of gusto. Their Edge product suite is slowly building out, and Edge Reflowis looking both promising, and not over-promised.
Adobe’s lack of tooling over the years left a nice open gap which has seen products like Sketch, Typecast, Codiqa and the upcoming Macaw, try to step in. I love seeing great indie products, and am extremely excited to see how Macaw goes.
Along with tools for creating, are the tools for collaborating, measuring and testing. Zurb is a great example of a company putting out a set ofproduct design apps for exchanging mockups, collecting user feedback, and testing prototypes.
I think 2014 will see even more diversity in the tooling landscape from indie software development houses, SaaS companies, and the big A.
Changing Nature of Interface Design
Will 2014 see the release of an Apple watch or an Apple TV? Who knows. What we do know is that interfaces are about to propagate like mad as the Internet of Things develops. From Pebble to Glass, Nest to Fitbit we can expect to see a continued rise of devices going far beyond just mobile screens. Interface design is unlikely to have major requirements changes in the upcoming year, but stay tuned in the long run. I expect a world in the future where interface designers will be thinking about how their site or app connects to a new array of screens and displays.
In the meantime the roles of web designers continue to develop organically into a broader and deeper set of disciplines. Most of the change in the last few years has been the increasing importance of UX-related disciplines and the steady deepening of front-end engineering into an increasingly full-blooded developer role. But I think we’re also seeing the beginning of more data-driven design.
As the tooling from companies like Zurb improve, so to will the demand for decisions to be made backed by data. Designers by nature mix analysis and data with intuition and creativity. So I think we’ll see a growing trend in 2014 of thought leadership pieces about how we can use data to do better design and UX work.