Time magazine’s list of the 50 best websites is always indicative of the trends that are hot (and lucrative) on the web. The 2011 award winners were no different. An analysis of the honored websites of yesteryear reveal nine (and surely more) trends that have had serious staying power in 2012.
Time’s 2011 selections are quite diverse, ranging from personal radio services to e-zines but they have all one thing in common: design is at the forefront of their success. Some of the websites listed are innovative, revolutionary and cutting edge while others have just found a better way to do the things we’ve always loved.
Whether it’s the functionality, the aesthetic, the intuitive user friendliness or the meaningful user experience, great design is omnipresent. Here are some of the increasing trends in web design foreshadowed by the 2011 award winners.
The niche for static design is narrowing exponentially. For brochure sites and simple displays, static websites can still get the job done but, by and large, content today needs to change on the fly- catering individually to every user.
From dynamic pages generated in response to visitors’ search queries to a tailored experience for registered members, there are numerous ways in which you can make your website more personal and individualized.
Storify lets users create and publish their own news stories using photos, videos, tweets and updates from social media across the web.
Social should have an additional ‘so’ before it to reflect how important it is for our digital future.
Closely linked with personalization are tailored recommendations. It used to be enough to prominently display a favorable quote from an industry expert or trumpet the millions of existing users, but the modern Internet user responds best to recommendations from their friends. The ‘Like’, ‘Share’, ‘Recommend’, ‘Tweet’ button have become tiny little triggers of explosive promotional power.
Turntable.fm thrives on letting visitors play music with other users and act like DJs. Another music site, 8 Tracks is the anti-Pandora radio service that lets users recommend personalized playlists to their friends. Each playlist contains- take a guess- exactly 8 tracks.
Also, modern internet users love to share (and overshare), as evidenced by websites like Proust and Bleacher Report. Give them the opportunity to talk about themselves and their lives, opinions, interests and friends whenever possible- whether it’s through a comments section, digital scrapbooking, user blogs or a plethora of social bookmarklets. Chances are they will stick around on your website longer if you let them talk it out with each other.
3. Responsive Design
Think about all the gadgets the modern user carries: laptop, ipod, a smartphone and/or a tablet. The sheer number of platforms your design will have to perform on is staggering. Designers have always struggled with getting their websites to display equally well on windows and mac, Internet Explorer and Firefox, and desktop computers and laptops. But now your design will be stretched across huge screens and reduced to the few inches of a smartphone display. The solution is to design websites and content that change dynamically depending on the device the visitor is using.
HBO Go lets existing HBO cable and satellite subscribers stream HBO content directly to their mobile devices and browsers. So whether you wanted to catch up on Game of Thrones, re-watch your favorite Sopranos episode or check out the latest original documentary, HBO GO lets you do it right from your smartphone or iPad.
Web fonts (think TypeKit) are a great way to make sure that your content is resilient across a number of displays.
From Pinterest to Howcast, users now have a number of ways to navigate the information and content overload that is the Internet. While Time’s list features plenty of websites that utilize social curating, social bookmarking has always been an effective way of separating actual high quality content from filler and spam (remember Delicious and Reddit?). After all, Internet users themselves are much better at identifying good content than any number of algorithms Google can run.
If Twitter wasn’t enough indication of our reading-challenged and easily-distracted society, Time’s 50 Best Websites thrive on the power of brevity: The shorter, the better. Take My Damn Channel for instance- a video site where nothing runs longer than 5 minutes.
Bottom line: Keep your content and promotional videos short, witty and to the point.
Dear Photograph and Pinterest are just two of the websites on Time’s list that are built around images. On Dear Photograph, you create new works of art by merging old snapshots with their original setting and Pinterest lets you create your own collections and mood boards.
The visual medium has never been as powerful as it is now. So instead of reducing the image content of your website, consider taking it up a notch.
7. The Fun Factor
From actual games to quirky and interesting ways to present content, Time’s list is full of design that is young, fun and fresh.
Freerice makes charity a whole lot more fun by making it a part of an entertaining activity. For every question answered correctly in the multiple choice quiz, Freerice donates 10 grains of rice to the U.N. World Food Programme. That’s simultaneous edutainment and social responsibility.
8. Content Focus
Rather than a vanity display of the designer’s artistic prowess, the websites on Time’s list use design to facilitate content- not over power or upstage it. A clean, streamlined flow coupled with dynamic capabilities allows you to put the focus on your content and make it more engaging, which is ultimately the key to the success of your website. The neat organization of Big Think and the understated framework of Pinterest let the content take center stage. Pinterest has a native advantage though, when your content is a stream of gorgeous images, you don’t need to accessorize.
Great design makes things easier for the consumer. The inclusions on Time’s list feature plenty of websites that provide a simple and minimalistic way to get things done. Join Me is a hassle free way to execute share screens while Instapaper lets you save articles for later viewing.
DuckDuckGo is a simple, straight forward and no-nonsense search engine with a clear privacy statement.
A number of websites on Time’s list (Tech Meme and the entire sports category!) are not exactly aesthetically pleasing. But they succeed by presenting high quality content in a simple and clear manner.
BONUS: The 10 Best Designed Websites on the List.
In no particular order the following are, in my humble opinion, the most visually appealing websites on Time’s list.
What other trends have you seen that surfaced in the 2011 Time Magazine 50 Best Websites? What new trends have emerged that will be represented in the 2012 Time Magazine Website Awards?