Get Your Web Design On: Best Practices for 2017 Part One

December is our time for peace, presents and annual lists reflecting on everything under the sun. As a full-service DC web design company, we would be remiss if we didn’t do a little reflecting on our own industry, specifically how web design has evolved in the last 12 months and where we believe the trends are headed. (Here’s a hint: Google’s Material Design Guidelines will play a big role).

It’s how we stay ahead of the industry curve and, more critically, how we help our clients outpace their competitors online. With offices in Maryland and Virginia, we have a slew of web designers in our immediate community. We polled DC web design, Baltimore web design and Charleston web design gurus to get a feel for the past year and what the future of web design holds. Here’s our list of best practices for 2017, broken into two parts.

Part 1: Trends for Look and Feel

1.   Go bold.

As mentioned above, Google’s Material Design Guidelines are leading the way in terms of future trends. Not a surprise. Google has been stomping out its search engine competitors with innovative platforms for the last few years. In 2014, the company began developing guidelines for web design best practices. If you want your company to rank high on Google searches, understanding and complying with their suggestions is a no brainer.

For 2017, Google is pushing bold, both in terms of color palette and font. Gone are the ubiquitous white backgrounds of the past. Bright, flat colors wisely implemented can help guide the user experience and set your brand’s tone. Think blues and yellows and purples. Don’t be shy. Color is in. You can also use variations in hues to create elevations and shadows similar to how you might design a print piece. Check out the use of color on this website by So So Tasty. The yellows and oranges pull browsers in, as does the large type and interesting font.

Speaking of type, bold type will get you everywhere. And with Google web fonts, (our DC web design folk are huge fans) web designers are no longer relegated to Arial and Helvetica. They can choose from 810 web-friendly font families. Using type to differentiate your brand has never been easier. The upshot: if you want your website to get noticed on the web, be bold.

2.   Duotones will be all the rage.

A subset of using bold, bright colors is the latest design trend: duotones. Duotones is the practice of using a halftone reproduction of an image that superimposes one contrasting color halftone (traditionally black) over another color halftone. This highlights the middle tones of an image. Typically, you choose a color like blue, red or yellow to superimpose over the black.

Our Charleston web design team likes the bold minimalism that duotones allow them to create. For example, see this website for UK headhunting agency, Holm, Marcher & Co. The use of duotone transforms this rather ho hum image into a much more interesting visual. It also allows the company’s key messages to stand out on the page—which is critical to any company on the web. Duotones is a great tool to “wow” users for a specific reason, and Google really likes when your design serves an intentional purpose.

3.   Less is always more.

If you want your website to have impact, minimize your use of images and keep your content concise. That doesn’t mean you can’t share a boatload of information. You can, as long as that information is designed in a manner that the visitor can take in without getting overwhelmed. Keep in mind that you no longer need to fit all your key messages above the fold—a practice borrowed from newspapers. Websites are not newspapers. They scroll. The rise of responsive sites that work across all mobile devices has made user-friendly scrolling sites all the more popular.

Our Baltimore web design uses a mobile first approach when it comes to web design. Since an increasing majority of people browse the web on their mobile devices, considering what works best on mobile before desktop is sure to gain you some favor from Google’s new mobile-encouraging policies. Basically, choose your images and your key messages wisely. Then design them in a manner that is both appealing to the eye and communicates information quickly and efficiently across all platforms.

4.   Say no to stock.

Royalty-free, generic stock images don’t appeal to anyone. Nor do they differentiate your brand from competitors—especially since those competitors are free to use the same images. Your best bet is to invest in a few really good images that you own to convey the essence of your brand. Otherwise you will look like everyone else on the web. Alternatively, you can use vector stock images that can be customized to your needs. Whatever you can do to avoid bad photography, do it. If the image doesn’t attract you, it’s not going to attract visitors either.

5.   Think outside the grid.

Responsive websites have led to the grid revolution. Because of the way they reconfigure across different browser widths, responsive sites are built in sections of rectangles and squares that can move under and above each other. Responsive technology was a great advancement in mobile friendly web design. However, it has its drawbacks. Namely, really creative layouts have disappeared as designers parcel content into similarly shaped, geometric boxes. But it doesn’t have to be this way. There are new CSS frameworks on the horizon that allow for more flexibility, including the ability to create non-rectangular layouts. So web designers should feel free to stretch their layout imaginations. The technology is catching up.