The word “trend” carries with it some negative connotations. It implies fickleness, imitation, and ultimately a lack of purpose or meaning. However, Design is a method of problem solving. To provide lasting value to our clients, we can’t be reactionary. Instead, we need to be intentional in creating designs with a solid conceptual foundation.
The word “trend” carries with it some negative connotations. It implies fickleness, imitation, and ultimately a lack of purpose or meaning. In the design world, trends are often reactionary for the sake of superficial contrast. The current popularity of brutalist websites (http://brutalistwebsites.com) as a reaction to a perceived “lightness, optimism, and frivolity of today’s web design” offers a case in point for a trend that is little more than an aesthetic rebellion.
Design is, at heart, a method of problem solving. To provide lasting value to our clients, we can’t be reactionary. Instead, we need to be intentional in creating designs with a solid conceptual foundation. It is worth noting, however, that while some trends do eventually become canon, they all start out as inspirational ideas. The good ones will prove their mettle. At what point does a trend become useful? When does a trend stop being a trend and either fade away or solidify its place in common practice?
At larger screen widths, the hamburger icon is no longer a solution to a UI problem. Instead, it creates a new one.
An interesting example of a trend that is close to ubiquity is the "hamburger" menu icon. As smaller devices and screen sizes began to flood the market, designers were tasked with the challenge of fitting a site’s entire navigation in a very narrow viewport. The hamburger icon, originally designed in the ‘80s by Norm Cox for the Xerox Star, reemerged as a UI solution in iOS, and then took root in its most iconic form when Facebook used it for their mobile app slide menu sometime in 2009.
What started as a design solution for a specific scenario quickly became a larger trend. Eventually, hiding the menu on larger screens became an aesthetic preference, not a functional requirement. At these larger widths, the hamburger icon is no longer a solution to a UI problem. Instead, it creates a new UI problem, as it unnecessarily hides navigation and delays user interactions.
Some sites go to the extreme, hiding a scant navigation behind a hamburger icon (without any language for context) that reveals three or four menu items in a full-screen takeover (www.thecuppingroom.com.au). Such a decision is driven by style that favors a cleaner visual impression over a useful visitor experience.
It’s safe at this point to consider the use of hamburger icons at smaller breakpoints as having proven its usefulness as an identifiable pattern that most users immediately recognize. Its use as an aesthetic trend in unnecessary situations, however, is still worthy of debate.
Navigating through www.thecuppingroom.com.au points toward another trend that, while perhaps a little more nascent than the hamburger icon, is gaining some momentum—pointer interaction.
From a UX standpoint, cursor customization has long been accepted as standard practice. In the W3C's CSS3 spec, there are nearly 40 default browser values for the cursor property, the most common being the "url" value that displays a pointing hand on hovering over a link.
What is trending, however, is the replacement of default browser cursor values in favor of stylized, intentionally designed ones. When done well, this type of progressive enhancement adds brand reinforcement and contextual cues for meaningful interaction with specific types of content.
At www.takewhatyoucancarry.com, as the user scrolls through the site the cursor suggests an action at each section break (listen, write, read), giving interesting and helpful cues for interacting with the page’s content. The cursor essentially functions as a button for the appropriate action relative to its content type, removing the need for additional design elements and reducing the load on the user to find the mechanism for appropriately interacting with the site's content.
It is worth noting that while this is an intriguing trend worth keeping an eye on and exploring when appropriate, it should always be used to enhance usability and designed to degrade gracefully to default browser styles. Additionally, fallbacks to more traditional content interaction cues need to be accommodated for on mobile devices where there is no cursor.
In an industry that is still still young and moves quite rapidly, trends can dominate discourse and sway designers to make decisions for the sake of staying contemporary. Yet without having sound reasoning for incorporating these trends into our work, we run the risk making superficial designs. At Fastspot, we approach trends with caution and test the effectiveness of our decisions, while we retain our sense of excitement for pushing the limits of where we can—and, more importantly, should—be steering our industry tomorrow.