Over at Business 2 Community, Jeremy Durant put together a thorough and thoughtful checklist to help decide whether it’s time to revitalize your corporate website. As he points out, website design may be all that a prospect uses to establish the credibility of your business. “At a minimum, your website design needs to create a great first impression and earn the trust of your potential clients,” he writes.
Nonetheless, there might be a tendency to scan the list, check the boxes and think things are good enough, under the belief that the site has reached a comfortable steady state. That perspective, though, overlooks the growing expectations our customers have as they interact with websites in new ways.
There are new web-design trends afoot, and I’m not just talking about trends that might result in superficial changes. Let’s consider some of the more prominent and sustainable trends we can expect to see in the coming year and beyond.
Jeremy Durant captures “mobile” as one of the items in his checklist, but I want to put a finer point on this thought. We know that most people read their email, at least initially, on their mobile devices. And web usage has gone in the same direction. As of 2014 more people used mobile devices than computers to access the web and that, on average, mobile users spend more time consuming digital media. It won’t be long before desktop-only experiences become irrelevant. Already, Google is ranking pages on how they perform on mobile devices. Marketing leaders need to embrace mobile now and should think “mobile first” as they create future-friendly experiences.
2) Balancing mobile versus desktop
In the near term, designers will be pulled in two directions. On the one hand, there will be the need to adapt to mobile devices and the confines of their smaller screens, lower computing power and bandwidth constraints. And on the other, there’s the desire to create rich, immersive content. With mobile devices, the emphasis needs to be on performance and speed, which suggests the elimination of large header images and the use of minimalistic design with flatter, more vector-based elements. That conflicts with the desktop experience, where today’s monitors, processing power and fast connection speeds are well suited to full-width storytelling and interaction with bandwidth-sucking photography, video backgrounds, crafted typography and longer page scrolls.
We need to think about creating rich experiences that work well across devices. This means adding new considerations in to our design thinking: optimizing for smaller screens, strategies for balancing richness with performance, starting with a mobile-first design approach, progressive reveal/loading and conditional loading. Finding the balance will take time, and may be offset by the increasing power of mobile devices. Regardless, mobility shouldn’t trump or exclude richness as a design consideration. They need to co-exist.
A number of technologies are set to collide this year, with the end result being more personalized web experiences for users. Location-based services and IP lookup can already establish a user’s location. Factor in elements like browsing history, interaction history, purchase history, time of day or season, etc., and you can create a relatively granular sense of a user’s information needs. Add in marketing automation as a mechanism to more effectively communicate with users and you create a more seamless, more personal experience for them. Further combine this with the depth of consumer knowledge that CRM and/or loyalty data offer and even buyer personas, and you can understand how one-to-one marketing can become a reality.
Of course, savvy marketers will be mindful of the fine line between being helpful and being just plain creepy. It’s a line that we’ll need to approach with care, thoughtfulness and no small amount of customer consent. Hitting the right mark—where the consumer feels empowered and connected by the personalized experience—will be an ongoing challenge for most marketers.
4) Narrowing the gap between digital and physical experiences
We already have mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. Now add in wearables (smartwatches and smartglasses) and the extent to which the digital realm can and will encroach on physical experiences is obvious. Even in a retail store dedicated to one brand’s products—the one place where brands could expect to dictate the total customer experience just a few years ago—the customer can easily reach beyond the store walls to gather information from other sources. And this consumer behavior will only increase as the Internet of Things gains momentum. Success will depend on how we’re able to use digital opportunities to supplement and enhance the physical experience.
5) Collaborate or fail
Sense a trend here? Mobile devices are at the cusp of becoming the main source of information for most of us, including our customers. With these devices, we, as marketers, have the opportunity to help customers explore and experience the physical world in more personalized ways.
Our goal is to create engaging and consistent customer experiences. So we’ll need to ensure that the transition between digital and physical experiences, between mobile and desktop, and between online and in-store sales are seamless—because our customers no longer draw a hard distinction. And that will dictate collaboration and integration across the whole marketing team. And I mean “marketing team” in the broadest sense, including retail, sales, loyalty, design and support. If departmental “silos” were detrimental in the past, they’ll be toxic in the future.
Choose your future
Most of the technologies discussed here are already a reality and they’ll evolve in directions that we can’t foresee. All of this can be both overwhelming and a huge blue-sky opportunity. Some of these trends are already changing the way we design for the web. At the very least, we’ll want to monitor them all and adopt the most promising ones. But the fundamentals will remain the same. With each project, we’ll need to set our design priorities based on the business goals and the experience we want to create. And that includes selecting—and rejecting—the trends and technologies we’ll use to create that experience.