Top Web Design Trends To Watch In 2017

AI-powered chatbots, VR, and immersive storytelling trends will leave a permanent mark on the industry. Photo credit: Mary Whitney/StockSnap.

Every year, the web design industry goes through some sort of evolution cycle to stay relevant and inspiring.

Last year, I wrote about the top web design trends to watch in 2016, many of which have taken root and changed the way we understand design forever.

This year, like a number of UX experts, I’m betting on AI-powered chatbots, VR, and immersive storytelling trends to leave a permanent mark on the industry. Undoubtedly, we will also see a lot of last year’s trends continue to shape and influence the web design space.

Without further ado, let’s explore what design innovations can give your website a serious facelift in 2017.

VR and 360º video

Although the gadget world was abuzz last year with the exciting virtual reality (VR) announcements, the trend hasn’t made a huge impact on web design trends so far. One great example of how VR and 360º video can be incorporated into web design to create a breathtaking, interactive experience is Peugeot 208’s promo campaign that utilizes both technologies to showcase a new product.

Peugeot 208 promo video takes advantage of the immersive VR and 360º video experience. Image credit: Peugeot.

Google’s Daydream VR headset is at the forefront of this movement, expanding our imagination of how the technology could be adapted for everyday use, but many other brands are jumping on the wagon too, including Playstation, HTC, and Microsoft. With so many possible practical uses of the gadget, we’re bound to see VR and 360º video finally bleeding into the web design space too.

Card design and grid layouts

First popularized by Pinterest, card design layouts continue to shape and influence web design trends and we will be seeing more of this dynamic grid style in 2017. What makes cards so appealing is the simplicity, organization, flexibility and responsiveness that they create. Grid layouts are particularly suitable for pages with an abundance of data, as they make the information more accessible and enticing. A web development agency htmlBoutique utilizes the grid layout to create unique compositions of case studies and give their portfolio an extra oomph that sets it apart from typical showcase pages.

htmlBoutique use the card layout to minimize clutter and neatly organize their case studies into grids. Image credit: htmlBoutique.

Vice, Tumblr, and Dribbble are some of the most notable examples of card layouts used to create an enjoyable browsing experience and showcase content in a neat and digestible way. With the card layout trend here to stay in 2017, we can expect new takes and spin-offs of this concept.

AI-powered bots and conversational interfaces

In terms of visuals, bots are unlikely to have a big impact on web design, but they will significantly influence how designers think about creating websites. AI-powered bots are going to get even more realistic and complex this year, empowering businesses to automate communication and sales. Using tools like Letsclap, online businesses will be able to connect with their customers via messaging apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or WeChat, providing customized customer support and commerce. Conversational interfaces will be a huge shift, helping big brands express different sides of their personality and making them more human and approachable.

By integrating with Chatfuel, brands can build a Facebook bot in less than 10 minutes. Image credit: Chatfuel.

More than 900 million people around the world use Facebook Messenger every month, so the introduction of Bots for Messenger last year was a welcome addition to the toolkit of communication channels for businesses of all sizes. Any brand can build a Facebook bot now without any coding knowledge. Integrations with tools like Botsify or Chatfuel make the setup process so simple that it’s becoming unusual not to use a customized bot. This year, we’ll see the conversational interfaces reach a higher level of personalization and inventiveness.

High-quality authentic photography

Stock photography reduces trust and is often completely ignored. It’s bad for design and even worse for business. With so many authentic photography sites popping up online, finding beautiful high-quality images is easier than ever, hence, we will continue to see the decline of cheesy stock photography in web design.

Depositphotos’s guide to visual trends in 2017 predicts the comeback of 90s-style photography. Image credit: Depositphotos.

Studies have shown that images featuring real people have a better chance at converting visitors too. In fact, Depositphotos’ research into visual trends that will define our visual culture in 2017 indicates a growing demand for original, candid images that are easily relatable and capture moments of real life rather than a polished, posed look. To attract and engage customers, brands will be embracing well composed but real-life looking images that contribute to the visual story of their site.

Pre-built websites

Be WordPress Theme by MuffinGroup is leading the pre-built websites trend. Image credit: MuffinGroup.

In a fast-moving design world, pre-built websites and themes are making a name for themselves and earning creatives’ respect. We will certainly see more of this trend in 2017, as it packs a whole bunch of benefits that enable designers to work faster and more efficiently. Not only do they save a ton of time by providing a robust base for building working prototypes fast, they also serve as an excellent conceptual design tool and eliminate the coding hassle. With 240+ ready-to-use pre-built layouts, Be WordPress theme is at the forefront of this exciting web design trend and continues to wow the creative community.

Intuitive forms and natural language interfaces

Forms are used everywhere — for registration, bookings, checkout, customer feedback, subscriptions, and so on. They are an integral part of any website that aims to interact with visitors and should be given special attention in the design phase. User-friendly, intuitive forms enable businesses to streamline their processes, gather customer data more effectively and ultimately, make more money. Clunky forms, on the other hand, can ruin the entire user experience.

CaptainForm is a WordPress plugin that lets businesses build intuitive web forms in minutes. Image credit: CaptainForm.

This year, we will see a continuous adoption of pre-built plugins like CaptainForm that allow businesses to build all types of conditional, intuitive web forms using customizable templates. Companies in all sectors will be embracing this trend to save time, better connect with their users and provide a more fluid user experience.

In 2017, we will also see more natural language UIs and, specifically, natural language forms that utilize everyday language and aim to obtain information from a user in a more engaging and fun way. The beauty of these forms is that they reflect the mental model of a user much better than a traditional form and can be used in various contexts. Typeform is probably one of the best-known examples of this trend.

Search engines, particularly Google, have worked tirelessly to improve their search capabilities so that people can look for information phrasing the questions in the same way that they would if they were speaking to a friend. You can say we’ve been trained to expect to get what we’re looking for from the first try as well as using everyday language. This newly developed expectation is spilling over into user experience and how we interact with web design. We anticipate the “human factor” even when we’re interacting with code and machines and brands will need to deliver on this expectation.

Robust web app functionality

One trend that will continue to grow in 2017 is progressive web applications. Progressive web apps combine the best features of the web and mobile apps and take advantage of the vast web ecosystem, plugins, and community. They are also significantly easier to develop, deploy and maintain than native apps. For instance, if you want to start selling event tickets on your WordPress website, you don’t need to develop a fully functional web application to be able to do that.

Tickera plugin can turn any website into a web application by adding ticketing functionality. Image credit: Tickera.

Your website can execute such app-like functions simply by making use of a plugin like Tickera that can turn any static site into a full-fledged ticketing solution. Developing from scratch requires a lot of time, skill and budget and is not always a better solution than starting from an existing code base. WooCommerce is another wildly popular plugin that can turn any WordPress site into an eCommerce app.

The growing number of high-quality plugins and sophisticated APIs suggests that this year we will see more websites adopting web application features and interactive UI elements.

Unique brand-themed illustrations

Bespoke illustrations that match and elevate the tone of a brand and communicate its personality is an exceptionally powerful communication technique. When done right, illustrations can boost a brand’s recognition and add an element of fun to its site. Companies like Slack and Dropbox are already successfully capitalizing on the effectiveness of tailored illustrations.

The unique style of Slack’s illustrations has helped the brand to create a very distinct identity. Image credit: Slack.

Within an increasingly crowded marketplace, a strong visual brand will be one of the main drivers of business success. Aimed at helping businesses to stand out and be more memorable, brand-themed illustrations will play a central role in website design this year.

Microinteractions

As it was famously said by Charles Eames, “The details are not details. They make the product.” Well-designed microinteractions are extremely powerful and can define the entire product. They can get us pinning inspirational quotes, liking status updates and retweeting powerful messages as if it’s a completely natural thing to do. When done right, instead of mimicking the human behavior, microinteractions can actually create new habit loops — just think about Tinder’s highly addictive swiping actions. With the help of tools like Proto.io, which enables designers to quickly test and iterate their web and mobile application designs, anyone can create new and utilize existing microinteractions that already work well without actual coding.

Proto.io is a fully-interactive, non-code-based rapid prototyping tool that allows UI designers to quickly build and test new interfaces. Image credit: Proto.

Once established in the brain, microinteractions become incredibly powerful UI weapons because they help designers create intuitive experiences and streamline the web interactions.

This year, we will see this trend continue to evolve and grow in influence.

Extreme fluidity from mobile, desktop to TV

Fluid design is not hot news. The incredible variety of screen sizes available to people has pushed designers and businesses to move responsiveness issue to the top of their priorities list, and so we’re seeing more and more designs that provide a unified experience across multiple devices. This trend will only grow in popularity in 2017 and mobile-first and fluid designs will become the new standard.

Material Kit Pro is a fully-responsive Bootstrap UI Kit inspired by Material Design that enjoys a fluid grid system and features a huge number of components built to fit together seamlessly and create a striking visual impact. Image credit: Creative Tim.

At the same time, foreseeing problems that could crop up at every possible width makes the fluid design an incredibly challenging and time intensive process. As a result, we will also see a growing trend of the adoption of smart solutions like Material Kit Pro that will be utilized to alleviate the optimization and fluidity headaches, instead of allowing designers to focus on building functional and aesthetically sound websites.

GIFs and cinematography

The alluring nature of cinemagraphs and their unexpected but significant impact on garnering higher user engagement and conversion has contributed to the growth and wider adoption of this trend. An innovative Wi-Fi marketing platform, Turnstyle, has undertaken an A/B testing experiment comparing the effectiveness of a cinemagraph vs. a still image on their homepage. It has resulted in a 20% uplift in new visitor conversions, demonstrating the potential of this design element.

Turnstyle achieved a 20% increase in conversions by placing a cinemagraph on their homepage. Image credit: Turnstyle.

The human brain loves visual information and cinemagraphs have all the right attributes to capture visitors’ attention. Not quite a photograph but not a video either, a cinemagraph benefits from the novelty (and surprise) factor and doesn’t weigh down the website load speed. We can expect to see visually-driven brands experimenting with this trend over the next 12 months.

Immersive storytelling

What’s the story with immersive storytelling? Well, there’s no going back with this trend, it’s here for the long haul. Combined with bold, visually stimulating design and a whole array of interactive UI elements, immersive storytelling is helping brands to connect with their customers on a more personal, engaging level.

Airbnb uses immersive storytelling to make customers part of the story and create unique experiences. Image credit: Airbnb.

Web design that focuses on creating rich user experiences is going to be big this year. Immersive storytelling that calls on different design elements, such as high-quality images, videos, sounds, social media, maps and other components to create a unique context and draw users into a brand’s world will continue pushing the boundaries of our imagination.

Conclusion

It’s going to be an incredibly exciting year for the web design industry. We will continue on the path of personalization, customization, and unique user experiences, making the online world ever more intuitive and human-like.

Meeting user expectations and delivering tailored experiences will be of paramount importance in 2017. Let’s make it happen!

Have I missed something that will make shake up the web design industry this year? Share your ideas in the comments or tweet me at @tomaslau.


Originally published at forbes.com on January 25, 2017.