Tons of people have predicted where the design industry is headed. That’s fine and wonderful, but what about reflecting on the big industry changes we’ve already made? Not only is it entertaining to poke fun at how old and obsolete things used to be, it is also educational to note where we’ve been.
In addition to sharing mistakes they’ve made when launching their career and how they handled career transitions, several experts were willing to describe the biggest industry changes they’ve witnessed.
I asked them about the ways the web design landscape, trends, and industry have evolved over the years, what are notable changes they’ve encountered since the beginning and how these changes have affected them.
Here’s what they had to say.
There has definitely been a significant maturing of the web design industry since I started in 1994. Back then, there were no rules, no best practice, and no standard operating procedures. Most of all, there was no precedent. We were starting from a blank canvas with only other mediums such as print or television to refer to.
For years, web design has been hobbled by design practices from print. We tried hard to make the web behave like print. We would design fixed widths and the fold just as we did with print, even though this did not apply to the web. The arrival of mobile has helped to change this mindset and encouraged us to break away from our print background.
But mobile is not the only thing that has changed the landscape of the web. Social media has made a significant difference too. Before the arrival of social media, websites dominated. Companies cared about only one thing, having a great website and ensuring that it was number one on Google.
Now companies recognize their website is only one small part of a multichannel digital strategy. Instead of expecting users to come to them and their website, they now reach out to users on various social media platforms.
This means the user experience encompasses much more than our websites. For those of us who wish to call ourselves user experience designers, we now need to consider these other channels too.
Over the past 10 years, there were two big trends. Most businesses now feel that they need a website just for the sake of having a website. This has led to a growth in our market, but also an influx of low-paying clients (if you don’t plan to use your website as a marketing tool, why spend too much money on it?).
The definition of a “really beautiful site” has gotten simpler and simpler. In 2005, if you wanted to design the best site on the web, it was all about providing the user more. More 3D graphics, more motion effects, more Macromedia Flash. Now, the “best” sites on the web tend to have flat design, with a large background image and overlaid text header.
This has made it much easier to become a “great” designer – but frankly, I’m a little worn down from all of these flat sites. Give me some more 3D!
The first big change I saw in the web was the move from table-based layouts to div-based layouts. I remember when I started working at my first job and had a big ego about web-design. I designed something and my mentor asked me if I could recreate it without tables. It blew my mind.
The next big change I saw in the web was the introduction of mobile devices and responsive web design. Photoshop stopped being used to design websites and a lot of creativity was destroyed and introduced at the same time.
The last big trend I saw was flat design, which I think was less of a backlash against skeuomorphism and more of a byproduct of responsive web design. It’s easier to design a button that shrinks if your button has a flat red background than if your button is supposed to look like a tree branch.
The biggest thing that’s changed since I started was the rise of CSS and easy-to-use CMS’s like WordPress. When I first started learning html, the standard was static table based designs. Now most everything in the under-5K range, which is where most businesses want to be, is built on WordPress or one of the other open source platforms.
What makes a good design is still the same as it ever was, but the starting point and the diversity of affordable options has exploded in the last 10 years.
Crazy dynamic interfaces was a huge change. Beyond the explosion of triggers in design (gestures are far more expansive than mouse controls’ on-click, on-hover, on-scroll triggers), many UI design patterns now make for a more layered experience than ever before. You can have hidden menus and buttons, nested views and lists, and so on – it’s really amazing.
Animations not only make for really playful and engaging interfaces, but they also help provide visual feedback to users so they can keep track of what’s changing on the interface as they move through it.
Both the art and science of design are gaining importance. A decade ago, most marketing budgets were still largely un-attributable – that is to say, it was hard to tie marketing efforts to actual results. Today, they’re very well-tracked.
Now that numerous companies are capable of building relatively similar products in core functionality, what sets many of them apart is their design in all aspects, not just a glossy UI.