A Brief Introduction To The Evolution Of Web Design
In the early 1990s when the web was in its infancy, the first sites were unavoidably basic. This wasn’t just down to the lack of tools available to web designers; it was a result of the fact that internet connections were painfully slow.
With quicker network speeds came fast, feature-rich sites that combined form and functionality without having to make compromises.
Recently the emergence of smartphones has had the effect of elevating mobile-first design to the top of the agenda. This is just part of the constant evolution that the industry has experienced over the years.
Now you know where the web has been, let’s consider where it’s going. What will web design in 2023 look like and how will the future of web development change as fresh technologies enter the fray
Artificial Intelligence & Chatbots
There is a lot of debate around the idea of artificial intelligence (AI). The concern is not just about whether we can program a machine that can think for itself, but whether we should.
Terminator-style fears aside, it’s not just the future of web design that will be determined by AI; early examples of autonomous online services are already in action today. The most obvious example of this comes in the form of chatbots, which thousands of businesses now use to engage site visitors.
Chatbots can answer basic questions, deal with complaints and free up customer service resources. And because they’re scalable, they can be used by small businesses and multinational organisations alike. From retailers to restaurants and hotel chains, chatbots are taking over the web and could soon proliferate in the real world, thanks to the development of robotic assistants for industries as diverse as hospitality and healthcare.
A study from Grand View Research predicts that the chatbot market will be worth $1.23 billion (£881 million) annually by 2025. Meanwhile a survey commissioned by Oracle found that 80 per cent of people have either made use of an online chatbot already, or expect to have done so by the end of the decade.
Chatbots which piggyback on popular instant messaging platforms, like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, are also becoming influential. This is part of the broader trend for blending services offered on a website with separate third party apps, blurring the lines between platforms and devices even further.
AI will extend its tendrils into all other parts of web design in 2023. Machine learning algorithms are making sure that chatbots are getting smarter and more efficient with every query they handle. This is particularly important when it comes to voice search, which has its own role to play in reframing web user expectations.
It’s easy to predict a range of other changes to web design which sound like science fiction at the moment but could easily come true by 2023.
If AI and chatbots become sophisticated enough in the next five years, then it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that people will be able to use autonomous personal shoppers when visiting e-commerce sites.
High end fashion sites are even investing in dedicated shopping assistant services which are stewarded by real humans. This ties in with the influencer marketing ecosystem, which itself has only become viable thanks to new technologies and online platforms. There should still be a place for people-powered services in the new online landscape, even if AI and automation enter the mainstream.
Services like Siri and Google Assistant have made people more familiar with the idea of vocalising questions and getting a spoken response from their devices. Amazon’s Alexa and the Echo range of speakers have taken this even further, circumventing websites altogether and firing off answers without the need for the information to be represented on a screen.
Over the next five years, voice interfaces are set to be adopted as users embrace a more natural, conversational approach to engaging with sites. This means that voice will need to be considered during the design process, as well as when creating content. Unfortunately, the principles of voice interfaces are completely unique, which poses an obvious challenge to developers.
AI and automation could come to the rescue, and are already being used to enhance the way that voice assistants deal with queries. The short, focused, keyword-driven tactics of the SEO age will give way to a time in which long tail search terms are far more powerful. Content strategies will shift to reflect this, with FAQs pulling in visitors more effectively than keyword-packed articles of the past.
In spite of the obstacles to adoption, voice could liberate sites and make them less reliant on formal, rigidly formatted content. Voice is even seen as a threat to traditional search engines like Google; a company which is itself entrenched in this arms race. Understandably this will take a few years to perfect and implement, but in 2023 you can expect to see voice reshaping the web in the same way that smartphones have over the past 10 years.
KIJO’s Creative Director Jordan Thompson has this to say about voice interfaces –
Adaptability has become critical now that smartphones are more widely used for web browsing than laptops or desktop PCs. In 2023 you can expect web design to have travelled even further down this path, with smarter sites that steer clear of ‘standard’ layouts and tired formats.
Responsive design is just one branch of this tree. Other trends such as voice-optimised interfaces, chatbots and context-specific page adaptations are set to be increasingly common.
Sites can already be tweaked based on factors like the location of the visitor, the type of device they are using and the other services they are logged into. As they get smarter and more autonomous, they will be even more flexible. For example, when a customer passes real world store, a push notification sent to their phone can provide them with an exclusive offer, or a link to the business’ website. This blends online marketing with a bricks and mortar presence.
Personalisation is important to millions of consumers, so the one-size-fits-all approach of the past will have to be left by the wayside. New technologies will let developers build bespoke experiences, while cookie cutter templates and inflexible interfaces will be consigned to the dustbin of history. Start-ups like LiftIgniter are developing software designed to offer sites automated adaptability, meaning no two users will get the same experience. This will alter everything from the interface to the content itself, which shows the scope of what experts are hoping to achieve in this area.
Here’s where things get really interesting. Virtual reality (VR) has become a mainstream phenomenon thanks to products like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. But arguably the biggest changes to web design will be brought about by Augmented Reality (AR).
Also referred to as ‘mixed reality’ by Microsoft and some other firms, AR has been handed down to consumers through a number of products in recent years, most prominently via smartphone apps like Pokemon GO. The future of web design will be reframed in light of AR’s ascent, with analysts predicting that this market will be worth $162 billion (£116 billion) by 2020.
Most of this revenue will come from hardware sales, but users will need software experiences to go along with the headsets they’ve snapped up and the smartphones they buy that are AR-ready. Wearable tech will let designers place interactive, location-based elements over the real-world viewpoint of the visitor. In combination with object recognition and facial scanning, the opportunities are endless.
With AR, users could walk down a typical high street, glance at a retailer and get instant offers from their website. They could stroll past a restaurant and see what’s on the menu, with the data pulled down from the internet via their wearable device.
This will force sites to become more flexible and minimalistic, or at least adaptable enough to be displayed over the top of the world around visitors, all without being obtrusive. This is not a new balancing act in itself; it’s just that the technologies involved have changed.
KIJO’s Jordan Thompson has his own thoughts about AR’s power to change web design –
What We Won’t See in 2023
Change is not just about adding new things to the mix, but about getting rid of elements that have become stale. This is especially true in the world of web design, where fads can rise quickly and burn out just as fast. So what trends that are widespread at the moment will have been kicked to the kerb by the time 2023 rolls around?
Firstly it’s time to wave goodbye to parallax scrolling, an effect which has become so ubiquitous that it ironically fades into the background and doesn’t engage visitors like it used to. The biggest sin of parallax scrolling isn’t its dominance, but the fact that it has a negative impact on page load speeds. As mobile browsing becomes even more commonplace, sites will want to trim the fat and make themselves as streamlined as possible. The end of this trend can’t come soon enough.
Next up is complex typography, which has become a bane of the industry in recent years. Jamming in as many different fonts as possible simply to get a reaction out of visitors is a bad idea today, and will still be a no-no in 2023. It makes pages look messy, inconsistent and hard to use on a mobile. Keep things simple, clean and uncluttered to break away from this movement.
Finally the death of needlessly cluttered site interfaces will surely come in the next five years. The influence of voice search will be just as instrumental in spurring on this change as the popularity of mobile devices. Being able to get users the information they need in the shortest amount of time will be the best way to drive down bounce rates. Meanwhile sites that stick with unnecessarily complicated layouts and pages overflowing with content will go the way of the dodo.
KIJO’s Lead Designer Mike O’Raw has these thoughts on the life and death of web design trends –
The rise of the new technologies covered above will force a radical re-think of how we approach the design and development of websites. The key message is that a new army of different methods for interaction with websites is on the march. From AI and voice to VR and AR, the future will be much more diverse and web design strategies will need to change to reflect this.
Most importantly, these technologies will compliment traditional interfaces, not replace them. Just as the arrival of touchscreens expanded the horizons of web design, these modern upstarts will shape the future without erasing the past.