Every year, we review the top trends we think will influence mobile and web design, experience, and commerce over the next 12 months. Our goal? To identify the most important ones you need to be ready for, and give you a few pointers for what to do to stay ahead.
So without further ado, here are our top 6 picks for web and mobile trends to watch in 2019!
1. Gated Content will Get Less Important
We think that the classic Hubspot model of content marketing is on its way out, and companies who abandon it quickly are best-poised to win in 2019.
First, what is the Hubspot model?
Content marketing, popularized and enabled first by Hubspot, is where organizations build a ton of content, attract users with low-value (e.g. blog posts) content, then “gate” high-value assets, effectively selling high-value content (e.g. a white paper) in exchange for personal information. This is called a gate, or gated content.
Over time, that user gets “scored” and eventually converts to a marketing qualified lead (MQL) and passed to Sales, who try and close a sale. And for years, this model has worked. However, in 2019 marketers need to get a bit more creative.
People are extremely skeptical of giving up their info. They are wise to the system and have no desire to engage with a sales rep just for downloading some Google Docs template. It’s not a great experience, and as organizations try to make their customer experience frictionless, they’ll start to rework how they capture MQLs for their sales processes.
That’s why we think the idea of “gated content” is going to fade. Instead, organizations are going to focus on building customized content paths, providing specific content to specific people at just the right time, and use opt-in forms, AI-powered live chat, and other optional lead capture tools to feed their sales team.
How to stay ahead
- Ungate all your content and build alternative, opt-in forms to drive lead capture.
- Test ungated content and track opt-in vs gated MQLs through to conversion. We suspect that they’ll convert at a higher rate, so you’ll need less of them.
- Rethink your content experience. What’s the best way to provide a frictionless experience for your users, rather than the best way to capture leads?
2. AI-Powered Interactions will Become the Norm
AI tools are becoming more and more popular, and we think we’ll start to see this in web design and mobile/web experiences.
In particular, especially in the context of ungated content and conversational marketing, we think that AI-powered chat functions will become far more common.
image via Hubspot
AI will also evolve over 2019 to help analyze data and provide better, more personalized experiences, identify high- and low-value users, and help businesses provide better products and services. Besides, AI’s natural language processing capabilities will drive further digitalization, enabling better front-end experiences for the users while the machines “sort it out” in the back end.
One thing that we think will also expand, but not come to fruition, in 2019 is the rise of AI and machine learning-led development. While that field will continue to advance, we don’t envision AI launching any new apps on their own over the next year.
How to stay ahead
- Recognize that this is a world of buy, not build. AI is extremely difficult to build, and consumers are notoriously short-tempered when it comes to bad AI (just look at gamers complaining about playing against the computer!) So first, come to terms with the fact that any AI tech will probably be purchased.
- … That said, don’t buy AI just for the sake of it. Apply the same rigorous tech review process you apply to all your tech purchases, specifically around integration. Remember: AI is only as good as the data you have to power it.
- Identify where in your customer journey there is friction, and where getting a person to streamline that friction is operationally inefficient. Those are the points where AI is most effective.
3. Accessibility will No Longer be Optional
Accessibility has, for most organizations, been largely optional up to this point. However, that optionality is out for 2019.
We think this for a few reasons. First, AODA compliance will demand a higher standard in 2019 for Canadian businesses. Second, other accessibility compliance frameworks will continue to put pressure on organizations to meet higher standards as the default, rather than the exception.
Third, in mid-2018, WCAG 2.1 standards were released, including accessibility standards for mobile apps. Now, there’s a clear guideline and benchmarks that organizations can aim to achieve.
And finally, Google. We predict that 2019 will be the year that Google takes a very active step by making accessibility a more critical SEO ranking factor, giving businesses of all sizes an incentive to meet higher accessibility standard.
How to stay ahead
- Get an accessibility consultant to help you review your website and app. Establish a benchmark, so you know where you are and what you have to improve.
- Review your website and app(s) in the context of WCAG 2.1. Are there quick fixes you can make that will help you?
- Improve accessibility in small, fast, and cheap ways and track your SEO performance (domain authority, SERP position — however you track it) and see if it improves. Even a small change here is often an easy way to secure buy-in for further accessibility time, resources, and work, and positions you effectively against future Google algorithm updates.
4. Design is Getting More Human — and it’s Led by Gradient
Gradients have come in and out at least four times over the years. And if 2018 was the year of bold colour blocking, 2019 will be the year of soft gradients.
Web design is becoming softer and more human. Rounded corners, softer colour palettes, and gentler contrasts are all becoming more popular. Even in historically stodgy and conservative industries (banking, insurance, etc... ), the human side to technology is increasingly the side that is emphasized.
For example, Stripe’s new website involves a hero gradient, soft colours, and rounded corners on the buttons. The result is a product that feels modern, approachable, and friendly.
How to stay ahead
- Review your website. Can you change your hero images for gradients?
- Review sub-elements within your site and across your brand. Buttons and button states, customized icons, background colours and images, even logos themselves are all good opportunities to bring in more gradients.
- Look for opportunities to lay images, icons, and sections, so they “spill” off the visible page to give a more immersive experience, rather than a blocked “what you see if what we have” one. Gradients that taper off-screen are an excellent way to do this.
5. Serif Fonts are Back
Finally, at long last, the winds of change are finally shifting the bulwark of flat design that is sans-serif.
Serif fonts have started cropping up more and more, from Wealthsimple’s logo to Medium’s whole website to design, to internet pros like MailChimp.
Even traditional industries are getting a shakeup (so soon after they moved to sans-serif logos too!), with Oscar Health Insurance embracing serif fonts on their gorgeous website.
We think this trend is first, an effort to differentiate in a visually saturated market, and second, a move towards accessibility and better user experience.
While sans-serif font is generally considered fine for block headings, paragraph text is generally considered easier to read in serif typography.
With an emphasis on user experience, it’s hardly surprising that organizations are moving back towards serif fonts.
How to stay ahead
- Expand your typography horizons. For years, anything serifed was firmly out. Now, there’s more flexibility, so it might be worth reviewing.
- Consider what you want your type to do. Are you writing flowing paragraphs or snappy headings? You don’t necessarily need the same font for both.
- When you’re considering what font to use for your brand/rebrand, think beyond the standard sans-serif options. There might be options in the serif family that tell your story better and help you stand out.
6. Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) will Continue to Grow
animation via Google Developers
We’ve talked about Progressive Web Apps before. Progressive web apps, or PWAs, are essentially a website, built using standard website technology but that behave like a mobile app.
The benefit of a PWA is that:
- You only need to build and maintain one, vs building and maintaining two apps for Apple and Android
- You can build them on the same infrastructure you already have, instead of building out a new tool
- You can (usually) use the team you have, rather than building/buying a dedicated “app” team
- Your users don’t have to go to a special store to download your app
And with “add to home screen” functionality, Google at least is making an active effort to promote PWAs as a best practice.
For these reasons, plus the functionality and popularity provided by lightweight, modular frameworks like ReactJS, mean that in 2019 PWAs are set to explode onto the scene. There will still be a place for mobile applications, but we think that space will become increasingly dominated by a few specific niches, namely games, with more and more use cases (e.g. an app for a B2B SaaS product) being filled by PWAs.
How to stay ahead
- Build PWAs instead of apps (obviously).
- Clear technical debt that might stand in the way of adopting more modern frameworks
- Think outside the narrow confines of the App Store — start from a place of “what do our users want, and what’s the best way to provide it?” rather than “we’re building an app. What should be included?”
- Consider the maintenance costs of having two disconnected content hubs — how are you going to keep everything up to date?
As always, we’re keen to get cracking in 2019. Change is afoot, both at a technical and a design level, and we’re excited for all the new ideas, solutions, and ways of doing business that will come out of it.
We also think that 2019 is going to be the year of customer experience. We believe that the common thread throughout all the trends we reviewed is a focus on helping customers get what they want, as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Needless to say, we’re pretty excited to be along for the ride.
Hope you join us!