2020 was an eventful year for every industry — to say the least. Web developers had to handle some major shake-ups, as changing consumer preferences accelerated the growth of e-commerce and sped up the pace of digital adoption.
Now, with the potential for economic recovery in the second half of next year, 2021 will likely be just as eventful — although significantly different. Just like in 2020, web development companies will need to be adaptable, flexible and aware of new design trends to stay ahead of the competition and meet client needs.
These will likely be some of the most significant concerns current web development companies will face in 2021 — and what web developers can do to adapt to them:
1. New Trends May Challenge Some Developers
Often, clients don’t just want a site that’s effective and visually appealing — they want their sites to feel modern and “of the moment.” For many, this means a website that takes advantage of current design trends in-line with their existing image and brand specs.
2021 will likely be defined by a handful of trends that started developing in 2020 but didn’t fully take off before the year’s end.
Mobile design remains central and probably will be essential for the foreseeable future. A little less than 50% of all web traffic in the U.S. comes from mobile users, and that percentage has primarily ticked up over the past few years.
Many websites are also offering dark mode versions or opting for designs with dark backgrounds. These layouts are often a little easier on the eyes than those with light backgrounds. Dark mode is especially useful if you’re designing a website or app you expect people to use for a long period — like a social media platform or work tool.
Voice search optimization — tweaking site copy and design to improve accessibility for voice searches — is also becoming important. However, the numbers may not be there just yet. One 2020 study from Perficient Digital found that voice search was the fourth most popular option for mobile searches, with a little more than 50% of mobile users taking advantage of voice search features.
However, the same study found most customers rarely or never use their smart speakers to search the web.
This number has reliably increased over the past few years, meaning that voice search optimization will likely be an important design consideration some time this decade. However, for design and development companies looking to optimize their spending, this may not be the right investment just yet.
More ambitious companies may want to take the plunge — but they may not see a major impact on their site’s usability or searchability in the short term.
Some trends remain timeless. Big, bold hero images and minimalist site designs with high-contrasting text and backgrounds will probably always be popular. However, it may be worth experimenting with these new 2021 design trends — or, at least, researching how other developers are pushing the design envelope and integrating new tech and design concepts.
2. Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) Give Devs the Power of an App In-Browser
Progressive web apps are similar in function to tech like Google’s Instant Apps for Android. These web apps offer visitors some app-like functionality without making them download any actual software to their device. As a result, you can streamline engagement with your brand without requiring users to download a client’s app.
You can use these web apps to send push notifications, even if a user doesn’t have an app from your brand or client installed. These platforms are popular among companies like Twitter, Uber and DoorDash, who use them to send updates to users who don’t want to commit to downloading a full application.
These apps can also allow you to take advantage of mobile device tech like global positioning systems (GPS), Bluetooth, mobile authentication and motion sensors. PWAs can also directly interface with a user’s camera, making it easier for people to upload photos and capture information.
Because these applications run in-browser, they may also be cheaper to run and maintain than a fully fledged app.
Clients who want an app or already have one may want to adopt PWAs to reduce maintenance costs while making it easier for users to engage with their offerings. Experience with these web apps could provide a valuable competitive edge in 2021.
3. E-Commerce User Experience (UX) and Design Will Remain Central
The steady growth of e-commerce has been consistent over much of the past decade, building up to a major boom in growth during 2020. Even major brick-and-mortar chains have invested heavily in new e-commerce tech and offerings this year, with online shopping and new pickup options becoming the norm.
While we may not see that same kind of growth in 2021, 2020 has likely accelerated the adoption of e-commerce tech. This means web developers, if they weren’t already, will need to be experts in designing digital storefronts.
Researching e-commerce-specific design trends — like dynamic product listings, artificial intelligence (AI) chat support and interactive shopping UX elements — can help devs create the most modern storefronts possible for clients that are investing more in the e-commerce side of their business.
Along with staying up with the trends in e-commerce storefront design, web development companies will do well to heed their brick-and-mortar locations. Actions like improving the acoustics and the optimizing office layout can facilitate increased productivity and streamline workflows.
4. AI-Driven Development May Reshape the Industry
Many developers have already adopted AI-powered tech in the form of advanced recommendation engines and AI-powered service chatbots. Now, some are going further and using AI directly in the design process itself.
Two examples of available AI tools include uizard, which uses AI to convert drawings or sketches of an interface design into workable Sketch files or code snippets, and Khroma, an AI-powered color tool that helps designers build color palettes. Khroma also saves and learns from a designer’s preferences, helping them speed up their workflows or identify design ruts they’ve fallen into.
Some additional AI tools also make image editing for online use much simpler. For example, Let’s Enhance uses AI to upscale tiny images. If you’ve lost the original files for a logo or design — or just want to use a particular photo that’s not available with large enough dimensions — this AI tool can do a convincing job of producing a natural-looking, larger version of the image.
There are also tools like Remove.bg, which uses AI to cut out backgrounds and unwanted elements from photos. It’s useful if you don’t want to crack open Photoshop or your image editor to touch up a photo.
If you haven’t adopted AI-powered design tools yet, surveying the market may help you find tech that can streamline workflows, suggest new design techniques and shake up your team’s approach to web development.
5. Advanced Dataviz Enhances Content Marketing
For clients with robust content strategies, data visualization may be a powerful asset this coming year.
Data visualization can include everything from graphs to charts to heat maps — or any clever designs that help transform raw data into a format readers can understand.
If your client has access to a lot of data — or has an audience that may benefit from clear, easy-to-understand visualizations — designing dataviz to run as part of a content strategy could be one way to punch up the value of a client’s content archive.
You’ll also get another chance to show off some design skills — or possibly even interactive data visualizations. With these design elements, users can tweak the information being shown or swap between different ways of visualizing the same set of information.
As a result, you can make these visualizations a powerful and accessible element for clients who have a content marketing strategy.
6. Web Development and Design Become Data-Driven
Data is one of the most valuable assets a web developer can have. With the right info, you can tell how visitors are actually navigating your website, which gives you a clearer picture than you would have with in-house testing or analysis alone.
Modern companies have access to massive amounts of customer data — and as consumers continue to browse more often, the amount of information these businesses have on hand will only grow.
For effective web development in 2021, you may need to take full advantage of this data if you aren’t already. Where possible, use analytics to ask and answer questions — like how are visitors really browsing your site or looking through a digital storefront? Where are they getting caught? What elements are grabbing their attention — and what features are providing the most value?
What Developers Will Need for Success in 2021
2021 will likely be a big year for most web developers. Many experts predict we may start to see serious economic recovery beginning as early as Q2, which could mean something like a return to normal.
For web developers, this recovery would be excellent news, but it wouldn’t guarantee the year will be smooth sailing. Rapid changes in the economy — like the continued rise of AI tools and the growing importance of e-commerce — will likely mean all web development companies will need to reevaluate their workflows and tech use to stay competitive.
Awareness of new design trends, shifting client preferences and new available technologies will help web development companies find success in the new year.
Lexie is a graphic designer and UX strategist. She enjoys taking her goldendoodle on walks and checking out flea markets. Visit her design blog, Design Roast.