Inside Envato

Trends and predictions for web design in 2015


In the tech industry, things move fast. Real fast. Web design and development is no different. Just ask anyone who tries to keep up with all the Javascript libraries and frameworks! All that change makes it interesting watching and predicting where the industry is going. As I did last year, I’ve written up some thoughts on what’s ahead for 2015 and beyond.

Machine Learning “AI” Driven Design

Marrying human input, design rules, and preplanned configurations, there’s a wave of design services arriving that auto-generate design output. Some of them are a little ‘smoke and mirrors’ at the moment, but don’t dismiss this trend just yet, because it’s going to step up in the years to come.

To date, we’ve mostly seen logo services like Tailor, Design Rails and Withoomph. But next year will see the launch of the very well funded web design tool: The Grid. This new entrant promises nothing less than an “AI” driven experience. Don’t worry though, this isn’t Skynet – our websites aren’t going to turn on us just yet. Rather, the grid appears to be a suite of machine learning and algorithmic systems that generate designs that flex around, and are based on, the content you input.

Will these tools mean the end of the design industry as we know it? No more so than crowdsourcing competition sites were the end of freelancing. Sure, these things cannibalise some existing business, but they also expand the market by making design more accessible and plentiful. Plus we’re a long way from tools that replace the human emotional intelligence and problem solving that a professional designer brings.

What it does say about the future is that we may be moving towards an era of smarter design tools. Think templates that auto-adjust to content, and tools that suggest effects and colour palettes as you’re working. And of course, more tools aimed at non-designers that offer simple and affordable solutions to basic and repeatable design problems.

Making it Easier to Design for the Web

On the subject of tools that make life simpler – we are finally going back to the future with a host of Dreamweaver-esque visual web design tools.

For the web, the winner so far seems to be Webflow. Though don’t discount Macaw, Froont or Adobe with their increasingly large Edge tool suite. Built to take the pain out of constructing responsive web designs – especially for non-coding designers, these tools produce varying levels of markup, all of which are probably ‘good enough’ for most day to day projects, and certainly good enough for rapid prototyping and wireframing.

The same mentality of visual design tools has been permeating CMSes too. From WordPress’ Customizer to the massive popularity of Visual Composer, theme developers are keen for their users to be able to manipulate and construct in the browser.

Making things simpler for the user – be they professional designer, or theme user – is a trend that can only continue to build momentum. I expect we’ll see more ground gained on both fronts next year, as everyone works to make web design simpler in the face of proliferating screen sizes, display types and other demands on the modern web designer.

We’ll also undoubtedly continue to see the explosion of general design and development tooling for prototyping, collaboration, testing, version control, and more.

Although it’d been around for a while prior, it felt like 2014 was the year that Sketch really started going mainstream amongst designers. It’s hard to see a day go by on Designer News without a Sketch related resource being posted. I think 2015 will continue to see Sketch take up where the ill fated Fireworks left off.

The Rise of UI Animation

Last year I suggested we would see more motion in web design. This year certainly saw more video backgrounds, animated GIFs and simple icon animations. But best of all we’re seeing more and more UI and interaction driven animation. From CSS transitions and transforms to JS Libraries, tools like GreenSock are helping the world of post-Flash animation evolve very quickly.

For a great overview of the where UI animation is currently at, check out Mark Geyer’s The Art of UI Animation, or Smashing Magazine’s The State of Animation in 2014

Next year should see both a rapid proliferation of UI animation, as well as a sharp increase in the tools for creating it.

Increasing Use of Card Design

Just as the web page was the Internet’s de facto unit of content, so the ‘card’ appears to be the mobile, device and social era’s. While heralding card design as the future of the web first started happening quite a while ago, it certainly feels like we’re hitting a tipping point for this simple but elegant medium – especially given the coming explosion of small interfaces be they a HUD in your car, or a watch interface on your wrist.

This year Nova Spivack wrote an interesting piece on the need for an open standard for card design. It’s an important area for development as card platforms ranging from Wildcard, the mobile card-driven search engine, to Twitter, Pinterest, Google Now, Apple Glances, and Facebook’s Open Graph all push card design forward.

In 2015 we’ll see more and more application of card design, in an increasing variety of places. Whether it’s a simple web portfolio, Mailchimp’s Social Cards feature or Google’s new visual Promotions tab which uses cards to vastly improve marketing email.

More Design Languages

2014 saw the introduction of Google’s Material Design and its wide ranging implementation in websites and apps.

In many ways Material Design is to design, what Bootstrap is to quick application and web development. A simple, no fuss, framework that is easy to apply, speeds you up and is hard to go too wrong with.

Just as Bootstrap was followed by alternatives like Zurb’s Foundation, I expect we’ll see other companies and open source efforts follow Google’s lead to produce alternative design languages to grace our browsers and devices.

Design as a Spectator Sport

One of the most interesting design essays of the year was Michael Beirut’s observations that Design has become a Spectator Sport. Concerned with the rising influence of the crowd, commentators and critics on choices made in the design process, Beirut’s essay is a call to action for designers everywhere to more thoughtful and deeper criticism and contribution.

While I certainly hope we don’t lose the grand tradition of educated design writing, I must confess that I love the design-tertainment slant of sites like Brand New, or the barrage of Unsolicited Redesigns (and the tear downs they sometimes get). But that’s probably just the design pleb in me! So in 2015 I hope to have my cake and eat it too – more thoughtfully critical design-tertainment!

So that’s my two cents about the state of the industry and what’s ahead. What do you see coming in 2015? I’d love to see any other interesting trend/thought pieces on the future of our industry. Here’s a few more we published around Envato recently:

Special thanks to the designers of Envato for helping me with links and ideas to kick this post along! And to @joshjanssen for the photo. 

About the Author Collis Ta'eed

Collis is the CEO and co-founder of Envato. He also designs, writes and drinks tea!