2016: Our thoughts on the evolution of mobile design

With 2015 slowly drawing to a close, and with a new year fast approaching, it is time to speculate on some of the key design and development trends to watch out for in the next calendar year, 2016. As always, the new year is set to bring a number of assumptions, predictions and new trends, not just in web design and development, but across the marketing spectrum.

In 2014, we saw the shift from ancient ‘Web 2.0’ and its super glossy, full depth web designs to a newly pioneered flat and simplistic design. Simple became the new complex as we saw much more two dimensional style graphics playing a major part in the way conventional design was heading. Apple’s new OS X Yosemite was no exception as it came under heavy criticism. On it’s release it saw a lot of people complaining about it’s design quality, ‘ugly-looking’ dock and flat icons. A big migration from it’s previously glossy three-dimensional style iconography. In 2015, we saw the rise in the importance of a faultless mobile experiences. So what can we expect in 2016?

The rise of smart devicesWhat does this mean to web designers and developers?

Unlike most notable design trends in recent years, this simplistic change in approach seems to have occurred naturally. Not because it looks prettier, per se, but because it is more practical. Especially with the ever increasing consumer uptake in mobile technology, more specifically search marketing trends and its enviable rise to ‘king of the search’ devices in 2015. This saw mobile browsing surpass desktops long reigning share at the top of the web browsing market. Be it a phone or a tablet, it seems almost everyone is in possession of some variation of smart device, and it is showing no signs of slowing down just yet. Of course to Apple, the rise in mobile usage means a touch more money for a rainy day, but to web designers and developers it means a number of things:

  • Firstly, we have already started to see the shift in simpler designs and graphics, and a greater use of vectors to showcase retina capabilities.
  • More visual elements being reproduced in code to decrease load times, utilising the increase in more powerful technology.
  • Standard design practices have historically seen that we design for desktop and adjust to be responsive. Shouldn’t we now be designing the other way around? Mobile websites that look and feel great on mobile devices and can be found using search engines, but also work on desktops.
  • With mobile browsing making up more than 50% of website usage, we can no longer afford to have reduced functionality on the mobile experience.
  • People don’t just browse, they convert. Simple, effective, trustworthy mobile sites that make purchasing on the go easy.

With the ever increasing advances in technology and widespread adaptations, displaying your content correctly across the mobile platform, with no functional restrictions or draw backs, is becoming ever more complex. As creative thinkers and solution finders, we need to be designing web experiences that work across the entire plethora of digital devices, and what better way than to start from the ground up. This is inevitably going to lead to greater innovation, a use of newer technologies and ultimately a better end user experience which is our ultimate goal. So, what should we pay attention to when designing and developing online experiences where the mobile user takes precedence?

Mobile SearchingThe role reversal of devices

Following the famous #Mobilegeddon mobile search update from Google, designers and developers were forced into action to safeguard websites and businesses from potential visibility losses and make existing websites mobile friendly. Essentially, Google forced this move upon site owners but true to its fashion it was a move that, with hindsight, would be looked back on as a contributing factor to the impeding importance of users affiliation to their mobile devices.

Due to budget restrictions, design flaws and other barriers to change. It was not just a simple a flick of a switch turning a site to be mobile friendly. These websites required investment and changes to functionality. As many of this was simply not possible for many site owners, we now have an abundance of websites that were designed to work well on desktop computers, that offer a sub par experience on a mobile device. As business and/or website owners, mobile phone usage is now at the heart, or at least it should be, of almost all digital conversations you are having.

Interpreting Big DataInterpreting smart device data

What point is there in collecting all of this data, if we can’t make use of it? All of the data points to users preferring a mobile device. There is a reason that mobile leads the way, and its for that reason, businesses operating across all industries of all sizes should be aware of the facts supporting it. From:

  • Mobile device search queries overtaking desktop.
  • Social media usage on mobile devices dwarfing desktops.
  • The increasing (and record) amount of smart device sales.
  • Emerging technologies such as IPTV, VOIP and the IoT on smart devices.
  • The acceptance and evolution of transactional functionality on mobile devices. Take Apple Pay for example.
  • 82% of people search for local businesses on mobile.

With more and more SaaS solutions, and more data than we could have ever imagined, large scale deep data points to mobile being the most important marketing channel for a number of platforms. From search to social and content to contact. Designers and developers now have to consider increased functionality on mobile devices, not reduced or limited.

Design ProcessHow we design for mobile

Historically, before the large scale inception of smart devices, and rapid technological advancements, mobile compatible websites were a very small piece of the marketing puzzle. In recent years, designs and functional requirements now exist where mobile comes first and not simply as an after thought or result of a search engine update. A consistent experience and a joined up approach is required so users get the same experience no matter what device they use to engage.

Users that use a mobile device to access your site, often want to share the information on social media, and/or save things for a later date. If your site doesn’t work on a mobile device, you are losing out on valuable traffic, especially if you are reliant on location. Again, data suggests that users searching on a mobile device go on to buy a product or service as a result of a search within one day.

Interaction and experience are two key words that best describe user expectations. No longer are big, impressive, intricate and distractive features important. A design that clearly shows how to navigate to key commercial pages, and carry out key actions, such as make a call, find a location or even make a purchase. Modern day mobile websites are designed to be easy to navigate but complex with functionality.

Nothing groundbreaking here, however we should use marketing trends around us as an indication of user behaviour. The ability to target users based on geographical location or the device they are using has led to not just changes in website design and development, but the way we write PPC adverts and the landing pages users are directed to. This is a further opportunity to benefit from the sharp uprise in mobile usage, and by not having a mobile website, you’ll find it difficult to direct paid users of transactional worth to your site. Not to mention the limitations of Google Shopping.

Google AnalyticsWhat is googles stance?

Google has made some notable changes over the last year or so, in a bid to better cater for mobile users. The previously mentioned #mobilegeddon was the product of a Google update, which has prompted a large surge in website makeovers. However this shouldn’t be treated as a substitute to desktop sites, simply an extension of. Alongside changes in algorithms, we have been made aware of changes in search console, mobile indexation improvements, social media posts showing in search results and mobile app indexing. There is a large and continuing focus on site owners to deliver on mobile.

Marketers are driving visitors to mobile

Everywhere you turn, marketing efforts are focussing on driving mobile visitors. Not to dissimilar from a desktop, on a mobile you can download, purchase, browse and save information. The big platform difference is that a mobile phone follows you almost everywhere you go, and is your very own personal assistant to answer queries on the go. No longer do you need to wait to be connected. The web has never been more accessible. So much so, we are now at a stage where were almost lost when we are without it.

Marketers are always trying something new. From QR codes scanned on mobiles to NFC business cards, mobile is a part of almost all marketing strategies.

Local Business SEOLocal users want local services

Google research shows that some 82% of people search for local businesses on mobile. Users looking for a service within a close geo-proximity to them. They expect the ability to not only discover, but to research, contact and book from the device in their hand. That is why a simple and easy to navigate design will help users find the page they are looking for without distraction, and timely.

With the local search results pack now down to three on both desktop and mobile, there is no differences between results cross-device. Making it even more competitive for space.

Summary

The way that modern day users and new potential customers interact and engage with a brand is not only multi-channel, but multi-expectational. There are new verticals in play that add to the increasing competition for the digital audience. Users have a choice about how they access your content and how they interact with your intellectual property. This means there is a growing expectation when engaging with your brand and the multiple entry points/customer journeys.

It is only in recent years and months that businesses that have previously neglected its offering on mobile devices, or made a temporary fix, that they have realised the potential of a mobile website and a missed opportunity. A once luxury item is now seen as an investment, and the option of a mobile site is now quite simply a necessity. 2016 will see alternative ways to incorporate design into mobile marketing that enhance an experience, and not hinder or restrict it.