Thursday, December 9, 2010

5 Design Trends That Small Businesses Can Use in 2011


In the past 12 months, there has been a lot of changes in the world of web design...

Growing popularity in the mobile device space — including smartphones and tablets like the iPad — have refined the way many users access and interact with content.

Likewise, the formal adoption of web standards like HTML5, web fonts and CSS3 by browser makers means that more and more users are now able to take advantage of the latest and greatest features on the web.

It’s often tough for small businesses to stay up on the latest web design trends because of the cost involved with redesigns and the necessity of being accessible by a broad range of users. Still, there are some great web design trends from 2010 and leading into 2011 that small businesses should consider incorporating into their sites.

We’ve already written about some of the aesthetic web design trends that small businesses should keep an eye on, so this list is more about some of the technological trends taking place in the world of web design.

1. Lose the Flash

Regardless of where you stand in the war over Flash, the fact remains that more and more sites and web developers are moving away from Flash-only solutions for video, animation and navigation.

Flash still excels when it comes to building fully interactive designs and Rich Interactive Applications (RIAs), but for small business owners who aren’t showcasing or providing that sort of experience, trading Flash for HTML5, JavaScript and CSS3 might just make more sense.

The fact is, Flash is not accessible on most mobile devices. Even the mobile devices that do support Flash don’t support each element reliably. As a customer, there is nothing worse than visiting a website from my mobile phone and finding out I am unable to access the contact information, list of products and services or location information because the navigation or core content was built in Flash.

Flash is a great tool for certain types of work, such as sites that can capture audio or video, do complex animations or run web games. If you’re still using an old circa-2005 Flash template, 2011 might be a good time to upgrade to something more modern.

2. Web Fonts

Typography is an important — I would argue crucial — component of any web design. Historically, customizing the typography you use on a website has been a complicated and headache-inducing process. As a result, most designers were reduced to either using the small selection of web-safe fonts or using workarounds like text images or Flash as text replacements.

The good news is that in the past 12 months, the situation with fonts and the web has improved quite a bit. Thanks to services like TypeKit, Fonts.com Web Fonts and Google Web Fonts, it’s now possible to use web fonts on your own site with very little effort, for either free or very nominal costs.

You can also check out some of the latest trends in web fonts.

3. Mobile Compatible/Optimized Sites

More and more websites — big and small — are taking the time to make their sites small screen friendly. Having a mobile compatible or mobile optimized website means that not only will your site load faster over cellular data connections but that content will be better formatted for the screens of smaller devices, making it easier to access and understand.

As smartphone adoption continues to soar, more and more of our online time is spent on our phones. For small businesses, making sure that that experience is fast and pleasant can be a great way to improve your website’s effectiveness.

There are a slew of tools and services that make it easy to optimize your website for mobile devices.

4. Inspired By Tumblr

The popular microblogging platform Tumblr () is a great way to quickly & easily post updates, share content and garner direct visitor feedback. Tumblr has become a really popular platform and more and more small businesses are using it for their own company blogs or sites.

And while Tumblr has some great themes geared toward small business users, Tumblr itself is also having a pretty big impact on web design as a whole.

Even if you don’t use Tumblr for your company website or blog, you can incorporate elements of the Tumblr style — distinctive icons for post type, big, beautiful typography for titles and headings, and a minimalist layout.

5. Touches of the Future: HTML5 and CSS3

As stated in the introduction, it can be difficult for small businesses that aren’t in a design-related field to adopt many of the cutting-edge web design trends for fear of shutting out parts of their potential audience.

And while it is true that there are still some corporate networks and a smattering of home users using old, decrepit and nearly extinct browsers, the latest versions of the major web browsers — Internet Explorer (), Firefox (), Google Chrome (), Safari () and Opera () — all support CSS3 and HTML5 features and elements. Additionally, practically every modern smartphone supports advanced CSS3, JavaScript and HTML5 features, too.

At this stage, it’s OK to experiment with HTML5 or CSS3 elements on your small business website.

The great thing is, it’s possible to use techniques that will offer an enhanced view on modern browsers but degrade elegantly on systems that don’t support the latest and greatest. There are even some great projects that make it easier to get started.


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