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Design Truths: Trends That Actually Work, and Some That Don’t

Both designers and companies want to be at the forefront of design trends to stay relevant in this rapidly changing world. However some trends that we have adopted really aren’t as amazing as we think. While there are some design fads that are and benefit the company’s brand. But very few companies have instituted them. In the same token, companies don’t want to invest time into testing these patterns on their websites. They want something fast and something safe which tends to lend itself to design trends that aren’t super great that are used over and over again.

So which trends should designers and companies move towards and which ones should you move away from?

Trends That Don’t Work

1. Just say no to sliders.

It’s time to rethink sliders, especially in the homepage hero spot. Sliders seem like a solution to cycling your most important content above the fold in the hopes users will read it, rather than have to search for it.  But they’re not, and here’s why.

There are a few things at play here. Most users typically spend 10 seconds on a web page. Yeah, only 10 seconds! That’s a very short amount of time to grab a user’s attention — in other words, they’re not just chilling at their desks watching your banner content rotate through.

‘Banner blindness’ is another factor that affects slider performance, primarily because too many sliders are designed like ads. The result is that users tend to see slider content as ads and they skip right over it. So all those sliders you’re spending so much time crafting and designing are barely getting noticed.

Jakob Nielsen and Notre Dame University have tested slider interactivity. The results were pretty shocking. In Nielsen’s usability test, he concluded ‘banner blindness’ prevented users from finding content that lived on the slider — users didn’t even see it. That’s a lot of real estate users are skipping over.

But wait, there’s more! The test done by Notre Dame University reported a 1% click rate for the first slide in the slider. That’s abysmal for content that takes up the most real estate on the page. 🤔

2. Say No to Hamburgers and Hidden Navigation

Increasingly, mobile-first design is driving the use of hamburger menus on desktop experiences too. And while we like the hamburger for mobile where space is so limited, the data shows desktop designs are suffering from a lack of attention to the main navigation where the hamburger remains, making the website’s navigation invisible to users. This also means pages are less discoverable to users and tasks take a lot longer to complete since users are spending their time searching for what they need.

The question is, why would you want to hide content from your users? To put it further in perspective, when users are searching fruitlessly, you can bet they will leave your site feeling frustrated.

The takeaway from this in-depth hamburger menu study from our favorite UI guru Jakob Nielsen is that desktop requires visible navigation, or at least a combination of visual navigation and menu navigation. To put it simply (and sticking with the cooking theme) why give your users the ingredients to a recipe, but leave out the instructions?

 

Trends that DO Work

Okay now that we have a better understanding of what trends we should move away from. Let’s dive into what trends haven’t caught on as much but trends that designers and companies alike should be looking to move towards. 🙌

1. Branded Illustrations.YES please!

If you don’t live under a rock, you’ve probably seen big brands emerging with unique illustrations and visuals. Uber, of course, has beautiful illustrations that you should totally check with a deep dive into their case study. Seriously it’s amazing! Other big companies like Slack, Microsoft and Google are doing this too. And the list doesn’t stop there. So why are these big brands moving towards illustration and customized imagery?

Well, this requires a little bit of a back story. Back in 2010, flat design was introduced and it took off for many good reasons, such as clear navigation and overall simplicity when using a website, app or product. To this day it is still being used and evolved upon. However, widespread adoption of flat design means websites are all starting to look the same, which makes it challenging for brands to differentiate themselves.

So how do we infuse brands with personality and make them unique to their own set of values? This is where branded visuals come in. Customized imagery and illustrations can also help your audience digest complex ideas or solutions your company has. And more to the point — they create a longer lasting impression than the stock photography that’s so prevalent elsewhere.

2. Animation, GIFs, Motion. Oh, my!

Last but certainly not least: animation. Especially when it’s done right. If the animation isn’t enhancing the experience or telling a story, don’t do it.

Animations should be used to delight the user and keep them engaged. Whether the animation is moving the user through a mobile app, guiding them through a website, or explaining an idea, it should be enhancing the users experience with your brand.

Let’s define animation too.  We aren’t talking about cartoons or pulling gifs from the internet. No, we are talking about customized, branded illustrations and gifs that are moving.

Why should we use them? Animations help evoke emotion while adding a human element to your brand. These aren’t silly doodles or childhood cartoons we may be thinking about. They are stories, explanations and validation of an interaction. Motion can be either used in videos, used for interactions, or a mixture of both.  

Now in terms of using motion on an interaction, the animation shouldn’t be overpowering.  It should feel as if the interaction was supposed to behave that way. Animations can also be used to communicate complex ideas in a way that flat content just can’t.

If you haven’t heard of Headspace, they refer to themselves as a “gym membership for the mind,” a humorous take for a meditation app. Headspace uses animation to elevate their brand, give it personality and explain their ideas, ultimately making their videos successful by providing relatable content to their users, while the animation allows for their humor to come through.

Companies and designers alike should challenge themselves to create unique visuals to make their company or design stand out, while conveying their mission statement and showcasing their personality. It’s time for designers and companies to approach user engagement differently.  Say goodbye to sliders, making the navigation visible and easy to use.

 

While we love watching and iterating on trends, we seriously love data more! While we want our clients to be successful, we more importantly want your users to love the experience. Which means, we will always do what works over what’s trendy.

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