Recently, I had the wonderful opportunity of heading down to the ever-growing city of Austin, TX to participate in one of my favorite conferences of all time: An Event Apart! What a simply enthusiastic, enlightening and energetic atmosphere to learn more about the constantly evolving industry of web design. The conference’s 14-person speaking panel consisted of experts and pioneers in web design and development (see them all here), each bringing their own levels of knowledge and expertise to the table.

We preach a lot of best practices here at TM, and I was able to have much of what we believe in reinforced once again, as well as have some additional best practices brought to light. In no particular order, as each point is as equally important as the next, I’d like to share the top 5 things to remember as the web evolves. Each focal point, outlined at An Event Apart!, helps yield the best overall web experience; from performance to design to development.

Prioritize Performance

Those of us utilizing consistently high-speed internet tend to take this topic for granted. Typically, if we’re sitting at home on our desktop computer with high-speed internet, most websites load as fast as our expectations; typically between >1-3 seconds. When page load speed is slower, it’s instantly apparent and exceedingly frustrating. Imagine for a moment that you don’t have high-speed internet, or that you’re on your mobile device in an area not currently serving the latest created in cellular data technology. Your frustration, and therefore the unlikelihood of completing your intended website search, is exponentially higher.

It’s imperative to find new ways to speed up your site. This can begin by reducing image sizes and request-less assets such as JS/CSS (as well as reducing their size, too). As web developers, we can nip this in the bud right off the bat by setting a performance plan and sticking to each page’s defined budget. Performance is proven to be a major factor in website conversions, whether that be filling out contact forms, or purchasing products.

Break the typical layout trend

Even if you’re not a web developer, we’re all familiar with the age-old, typical website template: a box in the middle of your screen with a navigation bar across the top, and a sidebar next to the page’s content. The general public is familiar with it and it functions successfully, which is why we’ve used it for as long as we have. But, it’s time to break out of that mold and begin defining the new norm! This new norm is one that pulls aspects from design techniques of old, brings in flexibility the print industry has enjoyed and exploited for so long, and removes all constraints technology behind the web used to encounter (enter: the simplistic template I just spoke of). This way, web development can grow and expand as a continuing successful medium. The possibilities are now endless!Basic Web Template Style

Create an interface that is truly responsive

Ever go to a website that looks lovely on one device (i.e. iPhone), but doesn’t look so great on another device? (i.e. iPad, or more commonly, a different brand device such as an Android). This isn’t a responsive web design: this is device-specific targeting and you’ve painted yourself in to a corner if this is your focus. Previously, it was more widely accepted to target the most popular devices of the visitors coming to your site. With the variety and continuously-evolving mobile market, however, this is no longer the case. Creating a truly responsive interface for your visitors – that is, one that adapts and looks beautiful no matter what the screen size it’s being rendered on – is more important than ever. Make it a priority!

Show empathy in your decision making

Take a moment to put yourself in the shoes of your potential visitors: What hardships might they potentially come across while browsing and interacting with your site? What would they be trying to accomplish in a rush, an emergency, or with physical impairments? These are all things that we should be asking ourselves, both as a client working with an agency, and as an agency working with client. It’s too easy to focus on what we think looks and functions well, and what would work in an ideal situation, while sometimes forgetting that most situations are not ideal.

Enhance progressively

Too many times have I seen websites that do not provide the content a visitor deserves, or simply breaks all together, when visiting it on an older version of a web browser (I hate to call them out, because I love them, but try without Javascript for instance). While we must always encourage people to upgrade to modern versions of softwares such as web browsers for improved experience and security alike, we can’t assume that everyone will be on the latest and greatest. When we encounter someone from the stone ages, it tends to be a pain in the rear for those of us that do develop for the web, but it shouldn’t be! We must build the framework of any webpage to be visible and readable by visitors on even the oldest of browsers. If they can access our website from their device, or any device, then the content of our web pages should be readable- at the very least.

Progressive Enhancement - Content With Styles Loading
Content With Styles Loading
Progressive Enhancement - Content Without Styles Loading
Content Without Styles Loading

From there, we can (and should) enhance the experience for our visitors that are able and choose to utilize more modern web browsers to surf the net. Effects, animations, transitions, you name it, like I mentioned earlier, the sky is the limit!

Note: Just don’t make any piece of your base content require the use of an external/modern technology. But, by all means: please tell everyone you know to update their web browsers!

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