If there’s one word you need to know to keep up with web-design jargon, it’s “responsive.” A responsive website is one that adjusts itself (that is, responds) automatically and elegantly to the user’s screen type or screen size. And you probably find yourself on responsive sites every day. For that reason, rather than describe responsive web design (RWD) as a new design trend, it might be better to say that it’s quickly becoming the new design standard.
You may have heard the responsive-design mantra, “content is like water.” Either way, the notion of fluidity is at the very core of the RWD philosophy. Forget pixels and points, responsive images and chunks of content slide, flow, shrink and expand while retaining their percentage within the fluid grid that fills your screen, whatever its size. Like water, responsive content adopts the shape of its container, whether it’s a four-inch mobile device or a forty-inch monitor.
Of course, there are at least two practical reasons (over and above usability) that drive site owners toward responsive design in droves: one financial, one SEO-based.
First, the financial reason: mobile apps can be very expensive to build and maintain, and this is on top of the cost of designing a website that will be viewed on mobile devices anyway. So many site owners look to responsive design as a relatively inexpensive alternative to building mobile apps. Cash-strapped site owners reason that as long as their site responds to mobile devices (by looking and working great on them), an expensive app may not be needed. It’s debatable.
Now to the second reason that site owners are getting into RWD—SEO. Google has taken sides (and sided with responsive sites), rewarding them with higher rankings. At the same time, Google is effectively demoting and penalizing unresponsive sites so that mobile users won’t have to suffer through them. Ouch.
No matter how you spin the stats, mobile devices are quickly surpassing laptops as the primary way we access the Web. And designers are catching on. Rather than building sites for laptops, then tweaking them for mobile devices, they’re thinking the other way around. “Mobile-first” means your site is built first and foremost with mobile users in mind. Once you make your mobile users happy, then you think about your laptop users. But all else being equal, how your site looks on a smartphone or a tablet is the deciding factor.
Overall, the emerging mobile-first mentality is having an impact on nearly every aspect of design—driving down content and clutter, obliterating any lingering notion of “above the fold,” and putting simplicity at the center of every decision.
The card UI, like responsive design, has been around for quite a while. But in 2017 it’s begun to take on a life of its own. The essential idea is this: you turn a bunch of content (usually Web pages) into an array of cards (think playing cards) lying face up. Each card, each page, is clickable as a whole, and contains just enough imagery and content to give you a good idea of where your click will take you. Pinterest is probably the best-known example of a site that has fully embraced the cards UI. But the phenomenon is everywhere, and it’s gaining even greater traction this year.
Of course, there are a host of other important design trends to get your head around. Here are just a few:
Still, the big three above should give you a good sense of where the design space is headed in 2017 and beyond.