In the fast moving world of the Internet, it doesn’t take long for a web design to start looking dated. An out-of-date design sends the message that you’re out of touch with current trends and aren’t willing to put time and money into your online business ventures. Therefore it’s vitally important for WordPress designers and developers to stay up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in the world of online design if they wish to remain competitive.
It’s impossible to predict with 100% certainty what will be the next big thing in web design over the coming year but by keeping an eye on current trends and watching the success (and failure) of big brand redesigns closely, we can start to build a picture of what’s likely to be popular over the coming months.
Make sure you stay ahead of the curve with my top predictions for WordPress design trends over the rest of the year:
1. Mobile-First Responsive Designs
We’ve already seen a huge shift towards responsive design as use of mobile devices for accessing the web continues to grow. While there are plenty of small-time bloggers using older non-responsive themes, bigger brands and net-savvy businesses will almost certainly require that their bespoke website designs are coded to be responsive to ensure maximum readability and usability on mobile devices in the future.
The number of responsive WordPress themes available increased greatly during 2013 and it’s becoming expected for new premium themes to have responsive options available as default. Currently 60% of the themes available in the official WordPress repository are responsive.
The use of mobile devices to access the internet has increased over the last 12 months – 21% of mobile phone users in the USA said they used their phones as the main way of getting online in 2013, compared to 17% in 2012. It’s highly probable that by the end of the year, we’ll see an even larger proportion of web users accessing websites primarily via their tablet or smartphone.
I think in 2014 we will start to see the emergence of WordPress sites that are designed for viewing on mobile phones and small-screen devices first, with laptop and desktop computer users being considered as a less important section of the overall audience.
2. Larger Fonts and Focus on Typography
Web fonts have now moved out of the pure realm of typography-obsessed designers and well into the mainstream. The days when we had to choose between Arial and Times New Roman for our main font are over. We’re likely to see more emphasis on creating a design statement through clever use of typeface, with less reliance on graphics to make up the overall design. When typography is considered carefully, it can make for some really stunning designs that are a pleasure to read as much as they are great to look at. Some of the best currently available themes focused on typography include Read WP (pictured), Typominima, and Hipster.
Small font sizes are definitely out, as readability and the user experience take center stage. it wasn’t so long ago that large font-size was considered to look amateur and unprofessional but luckily that trend has gone the way of the dinosaur and now anything less than 16 pixels is a no-no. The increased use of mobile devices also requires a larger font to avoid web visitors squinting at their iPhones in frustration or constantly pinching to zoom in and out.
A number of popular sites are already utilizing a larger font size, including SitePoint, Medium, and Zen Habits and and we can expect to see more WordPress sites with beautifully readable large text in 2014.
3. Full-screen Background Images and Videos
Large images look great on big high-res monitors and smaller retina displays alike, and successfully keep the balance between artistic and minimalist design. There are many beautiful websites now using full-screen background images to great effect. Check out InStyle by Elegant themes and Full Frame (pictured) by Graph Paper Press for some great examples of this design trend done well in WordPress
As internet speeds and technology continue to improve, expect to start seeing WordPress sites using animated images and movies as their background as well as static images. Spotify demonstrates how this can convert a very simplistic design into something amazing, without of coming off as gimmicky. ThemeForest offers a wide selection of full-screen video WordPress themes.
4. Flat Design
Apple have always been trendsetters when it comes to design and when they ditched dropshadows, gradients, 3D graphics and skeuomorphism for a simplistic flat look in iOS7, the world sat up and took notice. We saw plenty of great examples of flat design last year and this trend is almost certain to continue in 2014 as WordPress designers aim to create themes with a simpler, cleaner look and feel. There are plenty of themes currently available including Colangine, Proxy, and Coffee & Cream (pictured).
5. Ultra-Minimalist Design
We’ve been seeing a shift away from complex designs and an increased emphasis on a simplified user experience for a while but i expect this trend to fully take off in 2014. Fancy parallax effects and HTML5 magic tricks will have their place in the spotlight, but are more likely to become a passing phase, while ultra-minimalist WordPress theme designs will become the norm.
Simple designs let the focus lie firmly on the content and work equally well for text-heavy sites as well as digital portfolios and image-heavy sites. This type of simplistic design is intended to provide a better experience for the user, not just to show off the design skills of the creator. Think minimal graphics, simple color schemes and lots of white space.
The New York Times is one of the higher profile websites that re-launched with a minimalist design recently and I expect other brands to follow suit. There are already many great minimalist WordPress designs out there such as Clear, Exposito (pictured), and Less.
6. Touch Navigation
Swipeable image galleries that can be viewed easily on tablets and mobile phones have already become the norm. As more people access the web via touchscreen devices, we’ll be seeing a slow move away from navigation that is designed for mouse clicks and more towards swiping, pinching and tapping.
Scrolling down a long page or through images is much easier on a touchscreen device than it is on a traditional computer, which is why we’ve seen such an increase in super-long webpages (see more about this in the next point below). Expect to see more WordPress designs utilizing touchscreen gestures for navigation and functionality in the future.
7. One-Page Sites
One-page long-form sites have emerged as a side-effect of designing for the mobile web. These sites are very easy to scroll through quickly and are the ultimate in simplicity. Multi-page mega sites are out and well-designed condensed one-page sites are in.
Long-form sites have been popular for sales pages for many years as the absence of navigation makes it harder for visitors to leave the site. Clever design now means that navigation can allow users jump to different areas of the page with graphical elements clearly marking off individual sections of the site.
Endless scrolling sites such as Pinterest and blogs that load additional contect once the bottom of the page is reached are also very use- friendly and have become popular as they require no clicking and extra loading time to navigate between multiple pages.
One-page sites have already started to become the design of choice for many new websites and we can expect to see more appearing in the form of WordPress themes in 2014. If you’re looking for a long one-page WordPress theme, try Disillusion (pictured), Mustache, or Corsa.
8. Fixed Horizontal Navigation and The Death of the Sidebar
Another design feature that’s been influenced by the increasing use of mobile technology is fixed-position navigation. As long-form scrolling pages become more popular and web designers strive to improve the end experience of users, WordPress designs with a fixed top bar navigation menu will become more popular. these designs allow simple navigation at all times without having to scroll back up the page.
Along with the fixed navigation, the reduced screen real estate on mobile devices means that we’ll be seeing less and less designs that feature sidebars. Sidebars are often removed or moved to the bottom of the page on smaller resolution versions of responsive WordPress themes, so they’re rarely a good place to put important site elements anyway.
Expect to see a surge in one-column WordPress designs where site elements are contained within the header and the footer of the design, rather than placed in a sidebar.
9. Pinterest-style Grid Layouts
Scannable, visual bite-size content like that popularized on sites like Pinterest and Tumblr is user-friendly, attractive and makes flipping through a lot of content easy, much like using a traditional paper magazine, especially when using a tablet or other touchscreen device.
This style of design has already become the focus of many big sites and software applications. Feedly, Google Now, Windows 8, Spotify, Sitepoint and Facebook all now use a grid-style layout, sometimes described as “cards”, to display a large amount of content in a user-friendly browsable format.
These small boxes of content or cards are easy to manipulate, can be expanded or contracted and easily organized and rearranged to suit different screen sizes. They’re also a handy way of displaying many different types of content such as text, images and videos on one page.
2014 – The Future is Mobile?
You’ve probably noticed that the overarching theme of these trends that they’re mainly designed to make web browsing easier and more attractive for mobile web users. I think the fact that the mobile web is growing so quickly will be the biggest influence on web design this year as well as prompting many more brands into developing app versions of their websites.
Do you plan to use or develop WordPress themes that incorporate any of these design trends in 2014? What are your predictions for the future of WordPress design this year? Have a gaze into your crystal ball and share what you see in the comments!