20 Years on, what’s new in web design?

It’s no secret that I love web design!

I fell deeply, head-over-heels in love with the internet 20 years ago and changed the course of my career in marketing to specialise in this new technological dream.

It’s now 20 years since I produced my first website – a rather simple, single page for CPS Credit Union (now Beyond Bank) that would take less than 5 minutes now, but back then took many weeks!

That first foray into web design lead to a passion. I loved the complexity of the coding and the challenges of graphic design. That first web site had to render well on monotone screens as well as colur because, believe it or not, colour monitors were only a new product at the time.

To say that web design has changed a lot in 2 decades is stating the obvious. But one of the thrilling things about being a web designer is that you constantly need to stay abreast of new trends, changes and technologies.

So, what major trends are influencing web design today?

There are 3 major factors that are currently affecting web design:

1. Google standards
2. Variety of screen size displays
3. Touch screens rather than mouse
3. Better speed to load

Google now ranks websites that are optimised for display on multiple screens (phones, tablets, desktops etc) higher than sites that are not. In Australia, between 81-83 percent of all internet access is now via a phone or tablet (Source: Roy Morgan Single Source, June 2014).


The trend to viewing on a small screen means that in terms of graphic design websites have become clearer and cleaner with pared back graphics.

Logos (headers) are smaller and simpler and using complex background images now makes your site look old fashinoned.

Flexibility is king and anything that gets in the way is removed.

Having a video on your home page, once a sign of class, now means you will put people off, especially if it is set to play automatically and has a soundtrack. Firstly because this means your site takes longer to load on a device that is using a roaming signal (like an iphone) and secondly because, if you are in public, it can be really embarassing if someone’s ad starts blaring from your phone.

Fixed percentage width and centre aligned sites are making a come-back.

The was a short lived trend for full width sites, where no matter how narrow or wide your screen was, the site would fill from one edge to the other. Unfortunately, this lead to the edges being blurry on some devices, so the trend has returned to widths that leave a sophisticated small border again.

Stock images are dead! Yay!

Recent analysis shows that stock images, and especially those ones of “professional people at meetings”, rather than giving the impression that a business is dynamic and competent, actually makes a business look rather dodgy. People recognise stock images for what they are and using them makes it look like you are hiding something. Better a photo of your staff taken on a phone camera than using fake people.

People like the personal, not the corporate.

They want to do business with real people and these days the use of stock photography is likely to give the first impression that your website is some sort of scam. After all, that’s what scammer’s site look like.

Responsive Web Design (RWD)has been around for a while. Up until recently, most design emphasis was placed on making the site look great on desktop devices, and just ok on mobile and tablet devices. RWD has moved toward making every experience look great no matter the device.

With this move, we are starting to see design elements that begin from the point of taking what works on mobile devices and implementing it site wide.

Menus are where you expect to find then – in the upper right of the small screen and horizontally across the top on the big screen. It’s really quite odd when you think about it, how website menus move about and can sometimes even be difficult to find!

This would never happen with a book, would it? You always know that in a book the content will be in the front and the references will be at the back, so why hide these things in tricky places on a web site?

If you produced a web site because you wanted people to read about you or your business, don’t be tricky and hide your content. That’s just silly.

And while on the topic of hiding your content, gone too are those irritating, slow loading, “just wait while I draw it” graphics. Really, nobody has time for that sort of self indulgent twaddle and nothing else attacts a back button push quite like being expected to wait in order to see something.

Mouse-over images are also gone. With over 80% of all internet access being via a touch screen, mouse-over images are clunky and redundant. They slow your site and don’t work anyway if you aren’t using a mouse.

Bigger text, even huge text, is sensibly making a come-back.

Maybe this is due to the ageing of the generation X web designers who these days need glasses themselves, but it is a welcome change, especially on small phone screens. And incidentally, if your text is considered too small, Google will now penalise you by dropiing your ranking.

Your viewer wants to get a preview of all you have to offer right on the first page so the trend is towards home pages that are much longer in order to create a dynamic interaction between the website and the viewer. So the first sentences should be who we are, what we do and where we are.

Scrolling is not an issue on touch screens, but using menu links may be. Over 90% of visitors to a wen site never go past the first screen, so get your details there!

Skeuomorphic design is being replaced by flat design.

Skeuomorphic design refers to the trend to take objects from the physical world and render them on a screen, such as making objects like “buttons” look 3 dimensional, so that the user “presses” them when they click.

This design trend began in the mid 90s because websites mirrored the buttons people were familiar with on household objects.

Similarly, in the 90s there was a trend for websites to have notes that looked like bits of paper, paper clips attached to the borders, 3D effects like drop shadows and notice boards that looked like pin-up boards. However, twenty years on, internet users are completely familiar with the online environment and visual clues suggesting what to “press” are no longer necessary.