2019 is half-over, and the contours of tomorrow’s digital landscape are gradually emerging. In addition to new tools and technologies, companies and individuals alike are wrestling with questions of privacy, ethics, and inclusion. As a brand that takes responsibility for the online experiences it curates for its users, what does it mean to be forward-thinking?
To answer that question, businesses of all sizes would be well-served to investigate these four trends and plan for the impact they are likely to have on web design and development in the year — and years — to come.
Desktop has been dethroned. Mobile reigns. 70 percent of all internet activity currently transpires on smartphones and tablets, and, by the end of 2019, mobile’s share of web traffic is projected to exceed 80 percent.
The ubiquity of smartphones and the speed of modern 4G (soon to be 5G) broadband cellular networks means consumers expect constant connectivity wherever they go. Google has responded by prioritizing mobile-friendly sites in their search results pages, with the goal of guaranteeing as frictionless — and hardware-agnostic — a user experience as possible. Consider, for example, the rise in popularity of Progressive Web Apps (PWAs), which blur the distinctions between website and standalone software.
Consequently, web designers must build with small screens top-of-mind rather than as an afterthought. Such designs should be free of visual clutter, feature intuitive navigation, respond to the gestural inputs associated with mobile OS, and, most critical of all, be fast. The harsh truth business must face is that a majority of users will abandon sites that don’t load instantly (within three seconds) or provide answers to their questions within one to two clicks, taps, or swipes.
New Kinds of Storytelling
Narrative is among the oldest of all technologies. Humans developed story to help them make sense of the passage of time, to draw maps from causes to effects, and to foster social cohesion. People want to be part of something meaningful — to understand where they fit in. Story provides that.
Likewise, brand narratives have long been an essential component of customer engagement. As storytelling has evolved in response to new media, from print to radio to television to the web, so have human preferences and habits. In the 21st Century, contracting attention spans and terabytes of competing content present brands with unprecedented storytelling challenges.
Websites that inform without inspiring, immersing, or privileging the inherently interactive elements of narrative are unlikely to convert visitors into customers. Yet digital storytelling also requires brevity, simplicity, and dynamic graphics. That’s why designers are turning to standalone animation libraries such as Motion UI and Ceros to leverage the combined power of these elements.
Such tools don’t just make for more attractive websites. They respond in real time to user behavior, promoting engagement by utilizing the natural pull of multimedia content. Moving forward, brands can benefit from approaching their websites as publishing platforms, and outfitting them out with the production tools that can make their storytelling efforts more effective.
Accessibility and Public Accommodations
As web designer and front-end developer Melanie Richards writes, “there as many ways to browse the web as there are people online.” Welcoming this diversity of users with fully accessible features, backed up by transparent policies, isn’t simply the right thing to do. It’s the smart thing to do. After all, every visitor to your site is a potential customer. Individuals with visual, hearing, mobility, or cognitive impairments still search and shop online.
According to a report published by Digital Commerce 360, ensuring that those with disabilities can make purchases and interact with rich media on today’s technically sophisticated websites is a high priority for both the United States Access Board and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Meanwhile, courts in both California and New York are adjudicating more and more discrimination suits, and a March 2019 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit may augur an opening of the litigation floodgates.
Inclusive design that puts accessibility features first is the future of web development. In the near term, inclusive design is setting the standards to which all websites will be held in 2020. The cost of failing to meet those standards can be high. Retrofitting a non-accessible website can require an investment of between $100,000 and $2 million. Lawsuits, fines, and penalties for non-compliance, on the other hand, can be much more difficult to budget for — both in the context of a company’s bottom line and its reputation.
What do predictive policing, airport security screening, ad display, and credit reporting all have in common? They are just a few of the many tasks now mostly entrusted to algorithm-driven automation. In many ways, computers — theoretically free from subjective human emotions and prejudices — seem like ideal mediators.
Unfortunately, impartiality is not a “set and forget” function. As design elements, mathematical formulas and the massive data sets they are capable of compiling must be regularly audited for signs of bias. Otherwise, algorithms can actually amplify the assumptions, blind spots, and predilections of their creators, tainting system outputs.
As the real-world consequences of machine-made decisions proliferate, the need for algorithmic accountability grows. The difficulty is that algorithms are usually considered proprietary information, and the deep-learning protocols shaping much artificial intelligence are closely guarded trade secrets.
Nevertheless, public awareness of this issue is rising, and in the absence of a coherent regulatory framework or legislative guidance. (The fate of the 116th Congress’ Algorithmic Accountability Act is, as of this writing, still undecided.) For businesses designing digital experiences that rely upon AI to meet their customers’ needs, however, best practices are emerging. These include algorithmic transparency and soliciting feedback from diverse populations of users and other stakeholders before coding even begins.
Here at Insite, we’ve been creating custom web and software solutions for our clients since 1998. You can see our passion for design and our desire to innovate at work by browsing our portfolio.