What 2018 Website Design Trends Mean for Web Inclusivity

Coco Chanel, a pioneer of women’s fashion in the 1920s, taught us many great lessons. But one of the greatest lessons she taught us is that it’s always a beautiful thing when functionality drives design trends. A lovely pair of shoes that just sits in your closet because you can’t stand up in them isn’t worth the money.

This principle applies to website design as elegantly as it applies to fashion. A website that uses all the latest trendy design tricks and newest ways to present information may be aesthetically pleasing. But if the navigation isn’t logical or the design tricks decrease functionality, then the design isn’t worth the money.

We work with clients who appreciate this principle as much as we do. And when it comes to predicting 2018 website design trends, we expect to see the principle of functionality driving website design continue to assert itself.

But — and this is key — we also predict that the idea of functionality will expand to include usability for ALL. So, let’s discuss what the 2018 website design trends will mean for accessibility.

2018 Trends in Website Design

In a recent post, Make Your Website More Accessible with These 5 Easy Tips, we touched on the four principles of website accessibility. In order for all users to have access, your website should be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.

At Unity, we take the refinement and growing acknowledgment of these four principles as a strong indication of positive change in our industry. Accessibility is becoming more than just a buzzword! This is great news not only for socially conscious companies (including our incredible clients!) but also for the communities and users we all serve. And what’s more, we’re also seeing the principles reflected in the website design trends. Now, let’s get to the trends!

1. Minimalism

In minimalist designs, we try to create an eye-catching look with only the most necessary elements for functionality. All the extra distracting bells and whistles are eliminated. Designers also pare down style, color palettes, and typography.

Making sure that functionality and design align perfectly on minimalist websites is a special challenge. Color contrast plays a huge role here and we expect to see color contrast become an even bigger part of design in 2018.

Screenshot of the Dropbox.com home page
Dropbox.com beautifully demonstrates this trend of minimalism in web design.

What does this mean for accessibility?

Minimalist website designs with high color contrast are easier to perceive, especially for individuals with certain types of visual impairments. With 4.5% of the global population experiencing color blindness, 4% experiencing low vision, and another 0.6% being blind, perceivability is a significant concern.

In addition, simple website designs have faster download times and are easier to translate into a responsive format (a design that looks great across screen sizes). They are also easier to navigate and maintain. The minimalist trend definitely supports increased accessibility for ALL!

2. Progressive Web Apps

Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) are Web applications that appear to users like a native mobile app, but are actually coded as Web pages or websites. The main advantage of using PWAs over native mobile apps is that they load immediately and may even be usable offline. We expect PWAs to become more common this year as the distinction between websites and native apps continues to blur.

Mockup of Flipboard.com on an iPhone 8 Plus
Flipboard has taken the PWAs to the extreme and uses precaching and 3rd party SDKs for better operability.

What does this mean for accessibility?

The benefit here is on the operability side. Google proactively encourages the creation of Progressive Web Apps and as part of that effort, it introduced an open-source website auditing tool called Google Lighthouse. Lighthouse “grades” your website based on user accessibility, among other metrics.

If you use Lighthouse and you get a low grade, don’t be frustrated. Take it as an opportunity to improve operability and optimize your website development skills. Google will provide pointers to help you meet accessibility standards. And once you’ve developed best practices, you can continue to use them in the future.

3. Focus on Performance

As technology has so quickly evolved, so have expectations for website performance (e.g., faster load times, smoother transitions, more stable images, etc.). Website design and coding practices are integral to this transformation. Best practices are continually being redefined by websites on the leading edge who find ways to optimize speed and performance. In 2018, we’ll continue to see a focus on performance driving design.

Animated screenshot of Vimeo.com home page
Even with all the videos, Vimeo has consistently made it to the top of the pack when it comes to page speed.

What does this mean for accessibility?

For screen reader users, the focus on performance is especially welcome. A screen reader is a form of assistive technology (AT) used by people who have visual impairments, low literacy, or certain types of learning disabilities. Specialized software applications, screen readers interpret code on a page to convey visual information through sound.

When a Web page is heavy with media content and special effects, the experience can be clunky and unpleasant for all users. But for users of screen readers, slow load times are even worse. It’s bad enough to watch a spinning wheel while a counter slowly counts up to 100% as your video loads. Now imagine that visual counter turned into an auditory progress counter with a voice constantly providing updates, “… 22% … 23% … 58% … 99%.” Visual content continues to stream while an auditory progress counter constantly provides updates while it slowly struggles to get to 100%.

This is really an issue about the robustness of the content on a website. When you can see well, it’s easy to click away from a page that’s slow to load (or step out to grab lunch) and check back on the progress later. However, if you rely on a screen reader, you are really stuck. So, better website performance also means increased access for people with disabilities.

Concluding Thoughts

While the collective community of Internet users across the globe is not considering accessibility as it drives 2018 website design trends, these trends impact accessibility for all users nonetheless. We’re happy to see that these trends can also mutually support the goals of socially conscious businesses.

Looking for help building an accessible website for your company? Curious about how to enhance accessibility on your current website? We would love to chat! Get in touch and let us know we can help.