Styles, trends and the technology that interactive designers use constantly evolve in the name of making content more accessible, and this is especially true in a discipline like interactive design. As Joe Sparano of Oxide Design Company says, “Good design is obvious. Great design is transparent.”
The more intuitive technology becomes, the more designers need to be able to create interactive designs that are easy to use. A shoddy interface can lead to a bad user experience, which leads to a dead-end for your content. But proper use of new tools and tactics will help your audience find what they’re looking for effortlessly. I spoke with Michael Meder, Associate Creative Director at Pace, who focuses on user experience and interface design, for his take on the major interactive design trends from 2015 and get his predictions for what to expect in 2016.
What tools have you seen designers use to good effect in 2015?
A tool that I’ve been using this year and will likely continue to use is Invision. It was launched a couple of years ago for sharing interactive designs and presentations. It’s been made into a more robust prototyping suite and is great for being able to share your vision without having to build it. And that’s key because as web designers and developers it’s easy to forget that not everyone we pitch to understands our vision without a good, solid visual representation. It’s a way to get our ideas across accurately, which de-clutters the process, but we don’t have to create code in order to make it happen. Invision will soon offer functionality for intricate animations, which is really exciting.
Another emerging tool is Sketch. For years Photoshop has been the main resource for interactive design because no other program offered that level of pixel-based and vector-based flexibility within the same tool. Adobe Fireworks was designed with the intention of becoming the industry standard for interactive design, but it lacked the flexibility and power of Photoshop. The problem with using Photoshop for creating interactive mock-ups is that you have to export visuals into another program in order to make the designs dynamic. Sketch is taking over as the best tool for mocking up interactive designs because of its flexibility, intuitiveness and power. Not only is it more streamlined in terms of exporting, but Sketch also makes it much easier to edit within the program. And its mirroring allows you to look at your designs on multiple mobile devices at the same time you work on them. This is very handy when you want to see how your design appears on both standard-resolution and retina displays.
What interactive design trends have taken a front seat this year and why?
2015 was the year brands really started to realize that they had to put mobile-first. This is primarily because Google rewrote its search algorithms to where device type is taken into account. This means that sites with mobile versions show up before ones that don’t. Also, when it comes to casual (non-professional) internet use, people accessing the web have overwhelmingly shifted in favor of mobile over the past three or four years. Nowadays, one of the first questions designers have to ask themselves at the launch of a new project is, “Does it warrant a mobile experience?” If so, that has to be considered upfront.
Luke Wroblewsk, a Product Director at Google, espouses a principle called progressive enhancement that’s particularly relevant in this new mobile-first era: You begin designing specifically for a smaller screen size, then work progressively larger, adding experience enhancements as screen size increases. For instance, a site would initially be designed for smartphones, and feature only the elements that work perfectly on a phone. Then, an iteration for tablets would be created, which may include features that don’t work on a smaller phone screen. After that, the desktop version would be created, adding elements that work best on computers such as side menus or mouse effects such as rollovers.
What trends and methodologies do you see gaining ground or emerging in 2016?
In 2016 we will see a big aesthetic shift because animation and typography are so much more accessible than they have been. Take a look at the animation on the site Species in Pieces. It’s hard not to interact with the page to see what these moving animals will do. The art changes as the user scrolls or clicks. It’s that kind of user engagement that leads to a lot more time on the page. And now we’re not tied to 15 or so “web-safe” fonts like we used to be, which means interactive designers can finally catch up to their print counterparts in terms of type design.
As for animation, the ability for designers to transition into HTML 5, CSS3 and SVG–based animation was dependent on having tools like Illustrator Extensions and SASS for coding quicker animation. Even Adobe Flash is currently being rebranded as Adobe Animate and placing a heavier emphasis on HTML5 exporting. We also needed our audience to catch up in terms of using modern browsers. The gap has finally closed in the last few years. Now that those hurdles have been crossed, you can expect to see many more sites with arresting and engaging animation treatments in a vast array of styles and techniques in 2016. Check out this microsite created by Mondelez International to see another great example of the type of animation you will see moving forward.
Methodology in interactive design is changing a lot as well. I’m a big fan of Google’s Material Design. I think of it kind of as an interactive design bible. The current state of interactive design is much more structural than it is linear. Material is a very useful resource for guiding principles as they apply to this new evolving interactive design realm. The structure of a given project used to be dictated by code. Now, because of where we are in that evolution, we are much less tied to those confines. Since the rules have changed, we need a set of guidelines to help us build interactivity in a 3D space in that more structural world. Google Material Design sets you up to create good interactivity, and I see it playing a big part in helping designers acclimate to the new landscape in the future.
Since the dawn of the web, the technology used by creatives to bring interactive experiences to fruition has steadily gotten better and more powerful. But 2015 saw changes that advanced the industry at a much faster rate than normal by ushering in tools that will allow a user’s experience to be impactful across all devices. And that means content can go further, be seen by more consumers and spread faster than ever before.
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What interactive design trends do you think were most important this year? What do you predict will take a front seat in 2016? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section below!