Where Is Web Design Heading In 2012 And Beyond?

A few weeks ago Designmodo contacted me for an interview they were doing with a number of web designers. They asked a few questions along the lines of what were the big changes that happened in 2011 and where did I think things were heading in 2012.

The post, 2012 Predictions: Interview with Designers, Developers and Bloggers, includes thoughts by a lot of people much smarter than me and is worth a read more for their answers than mine.

Here are the they questions we were asked:

  • What are the greatest news of 2011?
  • What are the trends for 2012 and what can we expect from this year?
  • What changes happened in 2011 and how did they affect you personally?
  • What do we have to pay attention to in 2012 in order to stay tuned with the trends?
  • What are your plans for 2012?
  • Something else you would like to add?

I wanted to add a few thoughts here about where I think web design has been and where it’s heading, though not specifically in 2011 and 2012.

Cave painting Lascaux, France

Where We’ve Been

One of the great things about the web is anyone from a junior high student to your great grandmother and grandfather can easily set up a website and begin publishing. It’s also one of the worst things as it leads to a lot of very poorly designed sites.

We’re left with a lot of noise and the challenge is to find the signal within.

This is natural and the same thing has played out in every industry that significantly reduces the barriers to entry. What this has meant and continues to mean for web design is you get a lot of people designing sites with little to no training, myself included.

The last couple or three years have seen many amateur designers realize that they’re missing something in their design education and we’ve seen more emphasis on learning and using solid design principles in websites.

Designers with a formal education like Khoi Vinh and Mark Boulton have helped make us aware of things like grids and typography.

On the technical side designers tried to figured out the best way to develop their designs. I can remember when I first started learning to build websites and was initially confronted with a choice in using absolute or relative measurements.

  • Set a fixed width and your design may not work across all computers
  • Set a relative width and your design may not look how you want across all computers

It’s been a central issue in designing for the web since the beginning and has only been compounded as we’ve all begun browsing on smart phones and tablets and any other device that can connect us to the internet.

It’s only in the last year or two where the technology has caught up allowing designers to create flexible layouts while still maintaining enough control over their designs.

Responsive design, mobile first, progressive enhancement, etc. are now leading to a change in philosophy about how we all build sites from concept to finished product.

Welcome sign from the Future Of Web Design conference

Where I Think We’re Heading

In the coming years I see all of the above continuing. We’ll see more people of all skill levels wanting a website. Some will enter the industry as designers and developers and some will just be looking for a low cost way to get a site running.

As much as I’d like everyone to realize the benefits of a custom design tailored to their brand and business I doubt this will happen.

More likely we’ll more CMS/theme solutions. I do think we’ll see improvement here as designers move from all in one generic themes to themes tailored to specific industries along with enough options for site owners to create something of a customized solution.

On the graphic design side of things I expect the focus to continue to be on improving our knowledge and ability to work with solid design principles, particularly where the typographic grid is concerned.

In combination with the ideas of being responsive and flexible I think a major challenge in the near term will be to rework how designers have treated structural layout in print to better fit the canvas that is the browser.

Consider the following:

The above ideas weren’t necessarily new in 2011, but I think 2011 was the year they began to coalesce into a new philosophy for creating websites.

About 10 years ago I was starting on the journey of learning to build websites. A change in philosophy was taking place at that time as we moved from slicing images and table based layouts to developing layouts with divs and css. The next change is happening right now.

That change is being driven on two fronts.

  • An industry filled with people with little or no formal training are realizing that a solid understanding of design fundamentals is a good thing.
  • The technology that allows us to build websites is catching up to the history of design and making it easier to develop sites that use those design fundamentals.

What I expect to see happening in the coming years is the rich tradition of design and the changing technology of the web reaching a point where they can truly work together.

I expect web designers to take the solutions of those that have come before and learn to adapt those solutions and apply them to the new challenges the internet brings.

The next few years are going to be exciting times for web designers and developers.

The future is here

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  1. Excellent writing. Thoughtful and insightful. I completely agree with you. We’ve tried to express close thoughts on our niche, but this article is more impressive and deeper. Yes, new challenges and changes are coming right now, and it’s great!

  2. Interesting post. I am by no means a web designer, although I did code my own website. So, I fall in the category of people with little or no formal training. I’ve never heard of the typographic grid, so I found this interesting. As they say, you learn something new everyday.

    • Thanks Christina. I’m still learning myself. Fortunately I enjoy learning and enjoy learning about design.

      The typographic grid has a rich tradition in print and several designers have helped bring it to the attention of web designers. It’s a way to impart structure on the design and it gives you a guide for where to place different elements.

      When different parts of the design align with each other it help to connect them and show relationships between them.

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