A couple years ago, HubSpot pushed more than a few web designers back on their heels with their game-changing article, 17 Things People Absolutely Hate About Your Website.
That blog read like a laundry list of all-too-familiar web design boondoggles, everything from sites that "take forever to load" to intrusive popups, convoluted navigation, bad (read stock) photography and "About Us" pages that tell visitors everything but what the business is about.
The rationale for HubSpot choosing these design mistakes over the many others that frustrate site visitors and businesses alike was that they all substantially diminish user experience, confuse prospective customers and, as a result, cut into ROI and profitability. They also serve as a cautionary tale: if you want consumers to trust your business and buy your products, you need to provide an exemplary online experience.
By the numbers
Spoiler alert: what you think about your website doesn't amount to a hill of beans. It's what your customers think that counts - and that means you need to know what web design trends are hot (read, effective) and scrupulously test your site's efficacy in improving user experience (read, getting prospective customers to do what you want them to do). Why? Because what might seem a minor slip up to you can cost your business dollars.
Consider for example the following user experience metrics from Design Advisor:
- Almost half of businesses never conduct user experience testing.
- For every dollar you spend on testing, your company reaps as much as $100.
- An exemplary user experience can boost conversion rates by as much as 400%.
- You can identify more than 85% of user experience problems with usability tests on as few as 5 users.
- Almost 55% of designers in a recent survey said "clutter" was the biggest problem with strong user experience.
Feeling the love: It's all about clarity and intuitive design
To get someone to do what you want them to do or go where you want them to go, you need to be clear - and engaging. The web design trends that will be dominant in 2020 all center on these goals. Said differently, the companies that bring clarity to users in a compelling manner will be the ones that achieve their principal marketing objectives.
As Wix points out: "At a time when push notifications and never-ending open tabs keep competing for our attention, it may come as no surprise that this coming year, web design will be all about intuitiveness and clarity of use. In an environment that's awash with information and stimuli, today's websites need to be delivering their messages all the more clearly in order to stand out."
With an eye towards achieving the twin goals of clarity and engagement, forward-learning designers will focus on the following 8 web design trends for 2020:
1. Oversize site elements
Inundated with promotional messaging, consumers need to understand quickly and intuitively what your site is about, and what it is you want them to do once they get there. To avoid any confusion, designers will push magnitude in everything from typography to imagery to menu items - and reduce the number of design elements on individual pages. This trend will include more sites featuring full screen imagery (or video) with large type above the fold to communicate their key message quickly and without fuss.
2. Split screens and color blocks
Limiting the number of design elements goes a long way to creating clarity, but even as few as two principal messages will be made clearer with split screen design and the use of color blocks. For example, splitting the screen down the middle will help prospective customers untangle messages of equal importance - but designers can also give one slightly greater messaging priority with uneven splitting.
The use of color blocks—several square or rectangular sections - will achieve much the same effect. For example, you can use 2 of the blocks for messaging (perhaps one with your value proposition and another with a call to action) and relegate the others to compelling images that reinforce your messages.
3. White space - the power of nothing
The use of white space to draw the eye to key messaging isn't new - but in 2020, white space will be bigger and more prominent. This doesn't mean revisiting minimalist design, as the designs adjacent to white space will be bolder than ever. (Not all white space will be white, of course, with more designers making use of other background colors). The combination of more white space and larger, bolder design and imagery will create the purity in messaging to which consumers intuitively respond.
4. Interactive motion
Moving users' focus to important site elements with animation and other forms of movement has been around for years, but 2020 web design will push the envelope with new and innovative uses of motion - particularly interactive ones. Look for everything from micro-animation messaging that's activated by users hovering over images to full screen video headers and animations.
5. More engaging contact forms
Contact forms, to be blunt, tend to be boring - but getting users to fill them out is critical to your content marketing strategy, and to effective lead generation. Understanding that users will be more likely to complete these forms when they're more engaging, designers will make them bigger and include interactive elements (like fields that change once they've been filled out).
6. Embracing the dark side
Another powerful tool to clarify messaging is "dark mode" design, especially designs that empower users to enable dark mode when and if they choose (notice that interactivity is a common theme in several of these trends). Doing so will be the flip side of more prominent use of white space - both amplify messaging and make user experience clearer and more compelling.
7. Getting it perfect with imperfection
If you do it wrong, a design mistake can be a deal breaker - if you do it right, it can add humanity and emotion to your designs. An increasing number of creative designers will be using design imperfections for precisely that purpose. Look for things like hand-drawn icons and illustrations and other "imperfect" elements that make self-deprecating, even humorous design a powerful tool to convey the humanity of your business.
8. Coupling (strong) photography and graphics
This trend follows nicely on the previous one - another way of adding personality, humanity and power to your designs. Mixing photographic and graphic images is especially effective to customise your messaging, as well as to polish your brand and distinguish your business from your competitors. The resulting images tend to be more memorable and highly flexible. To make this trend work for your designs, make sure your photos and graphic elements work seamlessly together, and that together they're consistent the key elements of your brand.
The one constant when it comes to web design is change - but the changes that matter to your designs - the ones that gain traction and persist - are the ones that demonstrably push the needle on user experience, creating interactions that are clear, compelling and intuitive. Knowing what those trends are means doing the requisite research on what works for the lion's share of designers, and continually testing what's helping your company achieve its key marketing objectives on your own website.