Website Trends In 2018By Burkey Belser
June 20, 2018
It’s that time again—judging the WebAwards for another year. If you've followed these trend reports through the years, you may remember that judges get together to share their insights in advance of being turned loose as judges. We found the conversation extremely interesting in large measure because this year’s trends seem very different from years' past.
Technology is settling in and speeding up at the same time
As users get increasingly comfortable with content management systems and the systems themselves become fully featured, “CMS” is no longer a scary technology. They have become as familiar as cars. Today, the question is how
Nevertheless, RFPs continue to get it wrong, combining requests for web design with web technology. This is a mistake. First to be settled are the requirements of your technology stack. We frequently consult with clients about their needs, a programmatic discussion that should be separate from their “dreams.” All too often, in our estimation, organizations buy the wrong technology because they prefer a particular design team or the wrong design team because they prefer a particular technology. There is no clear trend here in 2018 except to say the poor purchasing practice continues. The design and tech requirements can indeed be fulfilled by one provider but should be bought in two steps.
Innovation in technology
The land grab for
Ballooning web-related staff is still a pipe dream for most
Further to this point: firms are still not evaluating their commitment to their overall communications strategy first as a prelude to a decision about a CMS. Most large B2B and B2C businesses have a substantial commitment to their online presence with job titles that may include a mobile marketer, content librarian, community executive, social media engineer, analytics advisor and manager of engagement. For most professional service firms and associations, these titles outstrip their commitment by a mile. Marketers have other fish to fry—like simply getting cooperation and buy-in from management to market at all. The website is seen as something to be checked off the list, not an integral marketing tool for the organization. As a result, management undervalues the website as just one responsibility in their marketing team’s portfolio. This view is so stunningly out of date with today’s marketplace, it makes me weep. But there doesn’t appear to be much that can be done about it. Marketing is regressing as the unreasonable tug-of-war between marketing and sales continues.
Innovation in site design is good and not so good
We wrote last year that industry “looks” were solidifying like product design. Soap has its particular visual vocabulary; same for accounting, consulting, law firms and associations. But some design trends we reported last year (the long page, horizontal scrolls, etc.) have allowed industry sites to break the mold. Not many. What strikes us is how bleak professional service website design trends are generally. Based on today’s inventory, there seems to be no consensus about what a website should do or why. Most seem to opt for some version of a news site—big wins, new hires, accolades—leaving the brand undefined or muddy. This approach assumes buyers know who you are and what you stand for which, of course, they do not.
Murmuration and the problem of design
A new “standard” has taken over, bleeding across industries, amazingly leading to a new mold for seemingly everyone! You know the formula: full
The Old Standard
The New Standard
O, yeah, “murmuration.” Faithful readers will remember an earlier trends report that talked about the movement of millions of swallows in perfect synch, quickly turning in dramatic fashion within inches of outstretched wings. This is what’s occurring across industries and across the entire Internet of Design. Demand differentiation. Damn, I’m repeating myself.
Houston, we have a problem. No one wants to read what is presented today as biographies or service descriptions for professional services. A wall of words is not a sales brochure. Your website is today’s sales brochure. Judges were told to look for innovation generally (see below), imagining the category to be confined to technological innovation. But some smart judges want to see content presented differently. It appears high-value intangible services are the only corner of the Internet where words are the primary means of communication. Hotels? Picture, picture, picture. Retail. Nuff said. The only persistent failure of effective, compelling communication as a class occurs in our little (multi-billion dollar) corner of the world.
The solution to this content problem is to completely rethink the strategy that informs these descriptions. We are not in high-school anymore. No one is demanding a 500-word paper on antitrust or assurance or member benefits. Unfortunately, this means that all 75 service descriptions must be re-imagined, not just rewritten. That moves site redesign into another category entirely. No longer “redesign,” this activity becomes “realign.” Much more work but work with greater ROI in terms of engagement. Here’s a familiar standard below followed by a
The Familiar Standard
A Better Solution
Lewis & Clark and the customer journey
An important phrase you’ll hear more often is the “customer journey.” I get a little warm flash in my
Innovation in user experience
The biggest, fastest,
The idea of innovation generally
Judges asked themselves, “What makes a site innovative to you? How do you score innovation when a site is very strong, but not particularly different, or if the mission does not clearly call for the site to be innovative? Is innovation important?” You may not wish to take your time to ponder these questions, but your site designer should be able to tell you how they approach every detail of site design in the context of the organization’s goals.
As great as all this innovation is generally, we cannot forget that websites ought to rely on a simple and direct customer experience and sometimes agree to sacrifice all the hoopla if it detracts from the effectiveness of the user journey. Some effective websites (I’m thinking appliance repair shops here) are being designed as a single page, scrolling, with panels that slide in from the left or right to augment the story. A/B testing is another arrow in your quiver to refine usability and KPI.
Innovation is tricky, particularly innovation in navigation and technologies the average user fails to understand. Innovation has to align with the target audience and industry and match to solid content. Innovation for innovation’s sake often just over-engineers the user experience. Judges found this the most difficult question to adjudicate. But we settled, more or less, on these criteria:
- Speed of loading