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The Future of Design According to 7 Web Visionaries

Article by Yaroslaw Nichiporets in Design & Illustration - September 13

Over the last decade the very nature of the Internet has changed dramatically. It is hard to imagine a sphere of life that does not depend on it and like the universe we live in, it is still growing and evolving with ever accelerating speed. During the next 10 years we will witness the launch of devices and technology that most of us couldn’t even imagine today.

We sat down with the world’s most influential web visionaries and asked them to share their thoughts and insights on the future of design and the Internet, and the current technology that they are betting will make it big.

Nicolas Roope

Founder & Executive Creative Director @ Poke London

What is your vision on the future of web design? What could be the next breakthrough?

NR: Particle design. Too much digital design still needs control of significant parts of the screen real estate to make sense. But with modularity becoming the resting state for digital interfaces, this mindset becomes outmoded. Some evolved coded systems and games are object oriented, meaning that each unit has it’s own intelligence, rules and behaviour built in so that its behaviour changes wherever it is and whatever it’s doing.

I think design is following this path, meaning identities and graphic expression need to be on one hand much simpler (appears as a particle or module in an otherwise unknown environment) and on the other hand more sophisticated (intelligence ensuring relevance).

Do you see any interesting emerging technologies in the market?

NR: The promise of programmatic is interesting but as yet well underexploited. So far it’s really been a media optimisation story but looking forward it’s clear the role it will have for storytelling and also in shaping particle design. There are many technologies involved in shaping this future.

How do you think designers can improve user experiences in the nearest future? What is great design?

NR: I think designers are weaning off their desire to control whole visual canvases and get excited about the more modular, system based visual world. But it’s taking a long time. Great design to me is very adaptive and smart and doesn’t need to control the show to feel good about its role. But many designers and consultancies don’t share that view and I think this is holding back the discipline.

Anton Zykin

Founder & CEO @ SFCD

The web is constantly shifting, but where is it shifting to?

AZ: Since mobile devices and apps are now fully integrated into our daily lives, most websites have been seeing an increase in mobile users. This new content consumption model has spurred the proliferation of either responsive websites or standalone mobile versions.

The next step for the web in general will be adopting the interaction and UX patterns from apps. The transitions and animations when navigating between the pages will resemble the ones found in apps mostly. Aesthetically, there will be a lot of convergence too, where decorative elements will be replaced by functional UI controls. It is already happening now.

In addition, websites will become more suitable to interact with hardware like cameras, fingerprint scanners, VR headsets etc. The web experience will be consistent, but situation specific and context-driven – the features, content, and overall interaction will depend on a device where the site is launched and what the user is trying to accomplish.

Mike John Otto

Creative Director @ Black Belt Monkey
Managing Director @ Philipp und Keuntje GmbH

What do you think is the next big thing in web design? Where is it shifting?

MJO: That is THE question. I often discuss this with my team and we call it the “magic and logic debate“ as we are noticing a gap between what is useful and more and more mobile driven versus our passion for experimental and immersive experiences, such as interactive storytelling or WebGL cases. I like to do both.

I like to think about new digital services such as micro interactions but my work is in huge innovative digital experiences. Obviously both will still exist, so discussions I am a little tired of hearing people have, are that one side is useful and the other is just old digital thinking which only produces things for a niche market.

Virtual Reality technology is becoming more and more popular and I believe this will end any debate about whether we need big screen experiences. Mobile is and will become even more so a device for services, information and sales, while VR will push back the nostalgia for unseen and unexperienced digital formats dealing with immersive stores and virtually created worlds.

guess everything has it’s time and it all comes back. It’s more about thinking in addition rather than subtracting. It is a matter of mindsets. People who are rather logical will push for the development of the Internet for practical use (which we all need) and the ones who love creating, shaping, dreaming and telling stories will push for the unseen experience. It’s a way of framing digital for work time or for leisure.

If you were asked about promising new technologies, what would you focus on?

MJO: Beyond the ongoing rise of VR technology, there is so much going on that sometimes I feel like a little kid sitting under the christmas tree.

Artificial Intelligence is improving at such a fast rate that it sometimes scares me imagining all the possibilities and worst case scenarios: total control by machines. What happens when you try to teach a machine to understand human thinking?

There was a recent story that I loved where a guy called Terence Broad created an AI network to reconstruct classic movies. He trained it to recreate individual frames from movies and then got it to recreate every frame. What was really funny was that he did it with Blade Runner, a movie about AI, and uploaded it to Vimeo. Warner Bros ordered a DMCA takedown notice to Vimeo because they couldn’t tell the difference between the simulation and the real movie.

With regards to the near future and current technologies, I find myself experimenting a lot with WebGL and how to use it for both purposes - creative and logic. I guess this back and forth of what is magical and what is logical has had a great influence on me lately.

In the end what we are talking about are formats made for devices, and devices always had a big impact on ideas, technology and formats. Think about what will happen when the first rollable devices come on the market… e-paper displaying information, news and with one swipe showing films, interacting with them or using it as a VR screen.

Is there any future for web design as we know it today?

MJO: We no longer talk about web design, we are now digital designers. The web is nothing more than a big fridge being filled every second with lots of yummy things and if you don’t eat it it just starts to stink. I guess we should all start to see ourselves as digital product designers. We are developing for users not for the web.

Greg Valvano

Founder & Creative Director @ Crafted NY

Mobile traffic prevails over desktop traffic, appearance of WebGL, birth of VR headsets, what’s next? What should we expect?

GV: The beauty about what we do is that nobody really knows what’s next. We’re seeing hints of artificial intelligence and more streamlined design out there, but the future tends to write itself.

There’s plenty of platforms and emerging technologies out there that will continue to elevate the process for web and app design. Prototyping platforms such as InVision and POP are great examples of applications that allow us to put Beta experiences in the hands of our audiences before hitting the market.

The rise of wearables has also opened the door to countless opportunities that we can tie into our web experiences. It doesn’t have to just stop at the desktop or mobile phone anymore.

Virtual and augmented reality are both in very early stages on the web, yet, the possibilities could be endless. It’s going to be exciting to be a part of their evolution in our everyday encounters.

Currently, we’re designing in a world that relies heavily on navigational UI elements. As we move forward and the internet becomes increasingly instilled in our brains, I think we’ll get closer and closer to purely intuitive user experiences which leverage human instincts without a reliance on visual or tactile cues.

Michael Anthony

Technical Director @ ActiveTheory

What do you think is the next big thing in web design?

MA: I think that web design is such a broad category. We have traditional "web pages", but now the web is so powerful that it enables full applications, from social networks to 3D experiences.

Right now, we're seeing a lot of incredible work with three.js/WebGL experiences. I think the next big jump from here will be WebVR. Imagine when you can shop for a car on a website, toggle VR mode on, put on your headset, and view the car as if you were actually there.

What is the biggest challenge facing web design that can be solved in the next 5 years?

MA: The biggest problem I see with the web is that it is not being used to its full potential. So many mobile sites, particularly news articles, are poorly put together with lots of ads and intrusive modals. This makes the average user think the web doesn't work for mobile, but in reality the web is a blank canvas that provides the ability to create anything.

I think in the next 5 years developers will begin to understand this and shift away from old coding paradigms to create experiences that are indistinguishable from native code.

Jon Biggs

Creative Director @ MediaMonks

Do you think it is possible to forecast the future of the Internet? What will happen next and what recent trends will last?

JB: I don’t tend to worry about what’s going to happen in the future. If I’m worrying about that it means I’m not really concentrating on what we’re doing right now. We’ll keep trying to use the right technology to solve problems for our clients, whether that technology is ‘bleeding edge’ or old doesn’t concern me as long as what we’re making is right.

Any interesting inventions in the field?

JB: I don’t think that the new technologies and inventions are what really matters. What I love about design is that it evolves with technology and innovation. New “things” allow designers the opportunity to be innovative with what (and how) they create.

What challenges will face future web designers?

JB: The biggest challenge will be for designers to use the 100s of new (and existing) platforms and technologies without affecting the core function of design - which is to make products useful for the people who need them. The only problem we’re concerned about every day is how we make “things” that make people smarter/happier/faster.

Charles Crawford

Associate Director of User Experience @ RED Interactive Agency

What do you think is the next big thing in web design?

CC: Today's bloated web experiences afforded by high-speed internet connections have led to image, video and javascript heavy sites that translate to slow mobile experiences. Mobile load times are at an all time high with audiences being lost as they lose their patience in waiting for pages to load. The next big thing in web design will see us redefining what constitutes traditional web page design in order to create faster loading mobile web experiences.

What are the most promising technologies inventions in this field?

CC: Google is tackling this issue with their open sourced project called Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP). They’re essentially creating their own limited version of HTML which speeds up load times by limiting the use of Javascript and loads images and videos only when in view. Google were also the ones who added “mobile-friendliness” as one of their search ranking factors last year.

What is the biggest challenge facing web design that can be solved in the next 5 years?

The fact that responsive web design is still being seen by designers as the only solution to making sites mobile-friendly. Designers have oversimplified what makes a good mobile experience by over-adopting responsive design to create a consistent experience across devices, but at the expense of what mobile browsing experiences really need - speed. As mobile traffic begins to surpass desktop traffic over the next 5 years, we’ll see a shift in focus to performance over consistency.

JB Grasset

Co-founder and Creative Director @ Ultranoir

You have been in the web design industry for a long time, could you share with us any insights on where are we shifting towards these days? What is the future of the web?

JBG: We are moving to VR now and it’s totally different from web design, which, in my opinion, is dying.

Yes, It has became relatively easy to create 3D experiences. They are somewhere between web design and virtual reality. Still, they are rarely used even in the most progressive online industries, such as eCommerce, gambling, and adult. Do you think there will be much more demand for VR technologies in the mass market?

JBG: We have tried for years to push 3D experiences on the web but the truth is that there’s no real market for it. That comes down to two reasons: it’s still very expensive to produce them (making 3D work on a mobile browser is a nightmare and that’s where most of the audience is now). The second reason comes down to user expectations. When you use the browser, most users want information, services, small content and don’t really want 3D experiences (I mean creative XP) because it’s heavy to load, and most of the time not so easy to use. They don’t really perceive the added value of that.

VR is totally different. If you have tried the GEAR VR then you’ll know just how easy it is to use and it is having a huge impact on users. My best users panels are the three women in my life - my daughter, my wife and my mother. When I showed them the WebGL experiences we did, they had no specific reactions except: yes, it’s cool but what is it for? With VR they had the same feeling: wonder!

So I think VR is the one true evolutionary experience on the Internet. We had the internet of information, social, commerce, services (apps) and now we’ll have the internet of experiences.

The challenge facing brands will be to find what kind of experience they can offer to their audience. It will not work for all brands but only the brands which have a strong universe, history, creativity and boldness.

And VR extends the time between a consumer and a brand. On social it’s less than 1 second. Google made some tests and people can spend more than 30 minutes on a VR experience. So user engagement is greater compared to most digital products.

I don’t know if I’m right but that’s what I believe and that’s the most important thing for me to keep working on this area. And one last thing, VR is quite cheap to produce instead of WebGL. And the VR headset will become as much of a daily accessory as your mobile.

Eugene Kudryavchenko

CEO @ Vintage

What do you think is the next big thing in web design?

EK: Big Data will become available for all websites, not just for major ones like Amazon and Booking.com. This will be achieved by the close integration of analytics, advertising and search preferences tracking into the site’s core.

This, in turn, will bring about the possibility to customize the website’s look and performance for a particular user. To some extent, this is already being done: online stores are doing everything to offer just the right products to every potential client. But through integration of more and more smart data analytics, website personalization will be taken to the next level.

Even to the extent of switching among several types of designs, depending on the user. Different users will get different experiences of the same website.

Where else do you see the web shifting toward?

EK: Web design will become more unified and standardized in terms of basic elements. Complex creations will be assembled from simple particles, just like Lego. Templates will allow more customization and nearly infinite numbers of options to fulfil the needs of each particular client. Services like Wix will evolve and grow in number, accumulating an international audience, implementing the common UX principles, and suggesting suitable business and private website solutions for everyone.

There will be an even stronger shift toward Artificial Intelligence with the advanced management of Internet bots, in order to guide and assist the user on websites and apps. For example, with food online orders, the robot will suggest preferred dishes, or follow certain diet instructions rather than just throwing the whole menu at the customer. The AI will gradually learn all your habits and preferences to the extent that it is able to manage the daily routine for you. This will eventually limit the human-AI interaction to a series of simple “yes-or-no” questions.

Do you see any changes in the makeup of who will be using the web in the future?

EK: In the last two years, China and India superseded the US in regard to Internet traffic. Historically, web design trends were born in North America, followed by Europe and then, the rest of the world. Now the scales are gradually balancing vice versa. The Asian trends are starting to gain more and more influence, and this will undoubtedly have an impact on the average user’s perception of websites worldwide.

What is currently driving the way we consume online?

EK: Storytelling. Platforms like YouTube that allow sharing music, videos and clips are booming. Virtually everyone in the world has the opportunity to become a celebrity, gain followers and monetize their talent. This trend is likely to grow even further. Websites will tend to tell interactive stories via the flow of videos, short films and soundtracks.

There is also a strong trend toward verbality. The recent success stories of Amazon Echo and voice navigation on mobile platforms suggest that soon enough the user will learn to browse websites verbally. This means that certain UX tools and methods will be abandoned, and UI elements modified to guide the user without the actual tactile contact.

What about the future of interfaces or platforms?

EK: Without a doubt, Virtual Reality. Deep diving interfaces will become more and more common, and will conquer various industries, not just the obvious ones like movies, gaming or pornography. VR-optimized websites will allow even more possibilities for interactive storytelling. Soon enough we will visit the furniture store online, and see how the chosen set fits in our home right away. In such services, UI will be semi-transparent, and resemble HUD from first-person games.

Users now switch among several devices during the day to browse the Internet (mobiles, desktops, TVs, gaming consoles). Mobile UX now differs from the big screen UX, but it won’t last long. Within the next few years, all operating systems and applications will become cross-platform to offer the same experience on all possible devices. Also, the flow of content will be easy to juggle among different devices.

The Internet is a living, breathing thing that is constantly evolving and adapting to its users. The visionaries that we interviewed believe that the future of web design and how we live online is about to make a radical shift. Let us know in the comments if you have any insights or questions about the future of web design and how it will impact how we work to build a better web.