The number is round, and the decade is new—2020 looks set to be a bumper year.
With the UK leaving the European Union, the US going to the polls, the Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games in Japan and the continuing—and tragic—bushfires devastating Australia, this year has a lot going on.
In the design world, 2019 was a year in which typography came into its own, with heavy integration into both layout and user experience. Google Fonts and Adobe Fonts have been offering ever-larger catalogues of fonts to play around with on the web. Last year also saw great advancement in webpage animation and microinteractions, and both trends look set to continue into 2020.
Here are some other website design trends and predictions to keep an eye out for throughout the year.
Deeper integration of design teams
For some time now, creative teams have often sat to the side of or supplementary to other operational teams within businesses and organizations. This was probably a by-product of the sudden rush to bring design teams inhouse in the not-too-distant past. They never truly integrated and as such have operated in silos.
The consequence of this can be a mismatch in understanding between the business goals of different teams, which in turn leads to tension and conflict. The end users then suffer as a result, because various teams and departments fighting for their own self-interests often have a lower regard for the needs and requirements of those for whom they exist to serve.
The problem is manifested in overly complex user interfaces that have an interest only in the business case, with monetary reward the only metric for success, and a lack of due care given to the user experience.
Whilst in-house teams aren’t going anywhere, there is some evidence that this is trend is now starting to reverse. The types of job listings going up, as well as experience working with clientside creative teams, has shown that businesses are more willing to integrate creative teams into the operational side of things, reducing the conflict and allowing greater collaboration. A positive side effect of this is not only better integration, but also a joint, organization-wide understanding of better UX and the users’ interests. Given time and effort, this will certainly reap rewards for all.
Experimental colour combinations
Brands have been using colour for various justifications since branding was invented—and monetized.
Trends with colour tend to focus on one of two things:
- Colour combinations and their associated tones
This doesn’t relate to a particular colour, more the often-unexpected combination of any set of colours (e.g. monochromes, strongly-contrasting clashes, etc.)
- A previously untrendy (or simply underused) colour coming to the fore
All colours are not made equal, but that sometimes gives rise to their use as a trendy feature for website design
A recent example of a trendy colour is That Blue, a particular shade of blue used in website design and branding which exploded sometime in 2018. It was more often associated with the default link colour in most browsers since the dawn of the World Wide Web, thus it was only ever used for that purpose in almost as strict a rule as underlining nothing but links.
Indeed, Pantone’s colour of the year for 2020 is Classic Blue.
In 2020, the types of displays we’ll be using will continue to progress and upgrade at a feverishly energetic speed, meaning artificial colour will never before have looked so vibrant and true-to-life. Because of this, we can expect to see much more experimentation with colour.
Gone are the days where colour on a webpage was used strictly for utilitarian purposes; brands will now more readily and proudly use colour to own their space. Don’t be surprised to see a trend towards full-bleed colour on pages, with more than one colour in use at a time, and less consideration given to the downsides of clashing colours and garish, in-your-face patterns. Large patterns using bright colours in backgrounds may also creep in, too.
More user-centric design
Remember the skeuomorphism vs flat design debate? Well, things have come a long (loooong) way since then. Whilst it’s true that designing for screens in their own right has continued to evolve since that epoch, the actual experiences users have hasn’t necessarily followed suit. That is to say, a page or screen may look slick, minimal and “modern” but that doesn’t mean the experience is concise, effective or efficient.
We’ve already seen attempts by companies at adding a minimalist skin to their products. A good example is banking apps. Consumer banking is an industry that has been in a state of constant movement since the arrival a few years ago of disruptors such as Monzo and Revolut. They burst onto the scene with purpose, and with them they brought sparkling apps that knew what they were supposed to do, and did it well. Cue the established banks slapping a new skin onto their still-cumbersome apps—as well as the downright stealing of features—without even improving anything about the user experience itself. The confusion between UI and UX remains strong.
Evolving a product category, and in turn the experiences users have whilst using them, is a common trend with many startups. They come with purpose and a refined, minimal business model and pass on those same qualities to the user experience of their products. And that’s before any effort has even gone into proper UX research and development, of which there is a lot.
This year we’re likely to see many, many more of these startups arriving to create a well-oiled niche, as well as more disruptors to shake up the establishment. This will undoubtedly have an effect on user experience design, and perhaps even encourage some of the big companies to up their game and create much better online and digital experiences for their customers.
The days of hiding a complex and cumbersome UI behind a slick, minimal design are numbered.
Microinteractions have been an innate and important part of designing user interfaces since we first started interacting with screens.
The high-contrast colour change of a button on hover, or a toggle switch moving from left to right on tap are both important visual cues that mean “hey, something will happen if you click this” for the former, or “you just turned something on” in the case of the latter. But microinteractions can (and should) involve something more than just the default.
Whilst the feedback and visual cue are the important basis for any on-screen interaction, microinteractions should also be implemented in ways that make UIs subtly more pleasurable to use. Users who are less time-poor will play around with it, and enjoy the visual effect it has on the screen in front of them. The evolution of CSS at the beginning of the last decade brought with it new and innovative ways to build these microinteractions using simple, semantic code that designers could understand, removing some of the barriers between creatives and developers.
And now that has matured to a point that the microinteractions are an intrinsic part of the research and design process. The way a user interacts with any given element on a webpage or app screen can now be manipulated in new and creative ways, meaning brand and tone of voice can feel much more baked-in. And whilst there is–rightly–an argument that the basic fundamental elements of user interfaces shouldn’t be overly “designed” or complex, anything that is more pleasurable to use is better than something that isn’t. As long as the input point is still doing its core job effectively, the subtle pleasures brought by good microinteractions are a nice-to-have addition to any webpage.
Going into 2020 we can expect more experimentation with microinteractions, building more complex and rich interactive feedback into everyday elements, helping them to feel less mundane. Expect buttons that have fluid movement, text links with exciting hover effects and richer, more visual page transitions not only on mobile apps but webpages, too.
We can also expect in 2020 some webpages to be far less usable than they should be as inevitably people try and follow trends without thinking more deeply about the user experience, opting to go for bells and whistles without giving the necessary care and attention to the UX.
The irrelevance of annual trends lists 😉
Groan, how meta. But hear me out…
Design has always been in a state of transition from one set of trends to the next. And annual lists of upcoming trends are becoming even less relevant as the iterative nature of designing for screens accelerates. This inevitably means things change so quickly and so regularly that as soon as any list is published, it’s out of date.
This also raises the question: who is setting the trends? Trends can be set completely by accident; a serendipitous process by which one way of doing things catches on and propagates ad infinitum. This was probably the case with That Blue. But trends can also be manipulated by those wishing to set them for the sake of setting them, and annual lists of upcoming trends can have that very effect.
That’s not to say predicting future trends always breeds the very trends under discussion, but predicting a whole year’s worth of future trends is now largely futile, because things change way, way more quickly than an annual list can keep up with.
So one of the trends we can probably expect in 2020 is more frequent trending updates, with smaller, more analytical lists.