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What Influences Web Design Trends?

Larry Design Principles Apr 25, 2016

Everyone knows that to build and maintain a successful web presence, you have to keep up with the latest trends. For example, mobile-friendly design started out as a way to capitalize on a niche audience segment, evolved to become a commonplace strategy for maximizing visibility on multiple devices, and was cemented as a standard by a Google update last year. Hamburger menus, infinite scroll, videos playing in the background - there are hundreds of articles covering these types of trends, and why you should supposedly be implementing them, but there isn't much content that describes how or why these trends emerge in the first place.

The Motivation to Learn Motivation

You might be wondering what the purpose behind learning the origins of a web design trend is. After all, if it's a popular trend that sees an increase in user experience value or aesthetic merit, shouldn't you just implement it anyway?

There are good reasons to know the sources for these popular paradigm shifts:

  • Knowing the major design influencers can give you foresight, helping you predict trends before they emerge so you can get ahead of the competition.
  • Pinpointing short-term influencers can help you separate long-term trends from temporary fads, and adopt new solutions accordingly.
  • Understanding the functional or subjective basis for a design trend can help you make the greatest possible use of that trend
.

What Influences Web Design Trends

So what is it, specifically, that influences web design trends?

  • Google's latest standards. Google sets a number of standards for the online marketing community. It's easily the best way to generate visibility for a website, either through organic ranks or advertising, so in the majority of cases, whatever Google says, goes. When it releases a new update to its ranking algorithm, webmasters need to respond quickly. For example, when it released the quality-conscious Panda update, blogs and onsite content became far more important, and sites began to exhibit that content more prominently as a result. Its 'mobilegeddon' update also standardized the necessary elements of 'mobile friendly' design.
  • Social user experience. Social media apps are incredibly popular, and because of that, they tend to be trendsetters. Once users grow accustomed to a certain layout or feature in an app like Facebook or LinkedIn, they start expecting that feature everywhere on the web. For example, the layout of a company or individual profile on social media has had a massive effect on how users prefer to consume information. As Park West Gallery's page shows, visuals and basic information always rise to the top, with newsfeeds and streams of content falling toward the bottom.
  • User adoption of technology. Another major influencer is the emergence and use of new forms of technology. When users begin to adapt to a new type of device, or a new way of interacting with the online world, design elements need to change to account for these new points of interactive potential. For example, responsive web design started to emerge as a trend when user adoption of mobile devices began to creep up on desktop use. Since users were still dabbling on both desktop and mobile devices, there needed to be a design to fit the best of both worlds - Plastic Studio is a great example of this.
  • Aha adaptation. 'Aha' adaptation has nothing to do with the brand and everything to do with those moments when one designer suddenly realizes that we've been doing everything all wrong, and that there's a simpler, ingenious way to do it better. When you hear about this, it makes immediate sense, so you can't help but adopt it for your own website. For example, hover effects weren't always around - somebody had to be the first to realize that it was possible to allow users to see more content without forcing them to actually click.
  • Outlier experimentation. Finally, there's the chance that one outlier's unmotivated design experiment will spark some imaginative flair within the community. Some strange design technique, applied to their site, catches a lot of interest, and dozens of competitors scramble to try and mimic it. Of all the trend inspirations on this list, this is one of the most common, yet one of the flimsiest. Most of the trends that emerge here are purely out of novelty, rather than practicality, and are therefore often short-lived.

You can go the normal route and simply scout for new design trends as they emerge, or you can get ahead of the competition by identifying possible new trends proactively, separating the truly valuable ones from the gimmicks, and maintaining the most appropriate overall web design for your users. Knowing the influencing factors behind emergent web design trends is only going to help you in the long run.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Larry Alton

Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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