Nate Nead is the CEO of DEV.co and SEO.co. Nate and his teams specialize in custom software development, web design and digital marketing.
What’s the right way to design a website? If you were asking this question back in 2002, you’d probably hear a short list of best practices focused on user experience, but there would still be a lot of flexibility. Webmasters didn’t pay much attention to the aesthetics of their webpages — in fact, they were usually just happy to have something accessible online. And if they wanted to make a change they just did it without consideration, research or hesitation. Today, web design is much more complicated — at least, in some ways.
It’s true that web design and development is easier and more accessible than ever; for example, it’s possible for anyone, even someone with zero web design experience, to use a WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) editor to create a website in line with their aesthetic expectations. If you want to make a change, you can drag and drop an element or type something new and commit that change in a matter of seconds.
But what’s the “right” way to make those changes? What’s the “right” way to design a website in 2021? My company specializes in web design, and through this experience, I’ve found it’s becoming much harder to answer that question these days for several important reasons.
User And Access Diversity
First, we have to understand that there’s no “typical” web user anymore. Back in the 1990s, only a relatively small subset of the population had internet access. Today, it’s much more common to not have an internet connection. Billions of people of different ages, different backgrounds and different cultures are using the internet and expecting your website to appeal to them. Accordingly, there’s no one standard that can serve all populations equally well.
On top of that, these users are typically using a wide variety of different devices. They might be seeing your app on a desktop, on a tablet or on a smartphone. Responsive web design standards have introduced adaptability into web design, allowing your website to change based on whatever device is currently being used to access it, but this doesn’t allow for an individually tailored experience.
And on the back end, tools and technologies available to web designers and developers are constantly improving. It’s easier than ever to grasp the basics of web design thanks to powerful and intuitive new design tools. But it’s harder than ever to stay on top of the latest changes in technology.
Trends And The Pace Of Change
One well-known study from 2013 found that 90 percent of the world’s data was created in the previous two years (2011 to 2013). Today, we create more than 2.5 quintillion bytes (registration required) of data every day, and that number is only increasing.
With billions of people accessing the internet at all times, an unfathomable amount of new content being created, a 24-hour news cycle and shortening user attention spans, the pace of change in our society has become faster than ever. News stories emerge and fade from memory in the span of a few hours. Some fads come and go in a matter of weeks, never to be heard from again. And web design trends are evolving at a much faster rate than they have ever before.
If you want to be a web designer at the forefront of modern trends and new ways of thinking, it’s not enough to be caught up to last year; you need to be constantly watching what your competitors are doing, studying your audience closely and picking up new tips and tricks.
It also doesn’t help that billions of people, all over the world, are competing to be seen on the internet. There are billions of websites, many of which roll out major design changes on a regular basis, and if you want a chance at being successful you’ll need to compete directly with them. This hotbed of competition has led to an environment where web designers are constantly trying to one-up each other and discover the next big trend. As a consumer, this is valuable since it introduces us to new and improved user experience designs. But it certainly makes it hard for web designers to keep up.
Web design has gotten complicated and tricky, especially when compared to what it was 20 years ago. If you’re currently struggling to keep up, or if you’re second-guessing your current design standards, you may be wondering what’s the solution? Through my company’s web design services, I’ve seen some brands opt for hiring an agency that can do the work for them. But when doing this on your own, the key is to remain adaptable. Understand that the half-life of web design knowledge is short. Be willing and flexible enough to change when it’s necessary to improve the functionality and appearance of your website. It’s a tough transition to make, especially if you struggle with change, but it’s what’s necessary for the long-term health and success of your site.