Website functionality trends you should know about
You need your website to look great, and that’s why web design is so important. But you also need it to be easy to understand and use, and this is what makes website functionality important. It’s no good buying a Porsche if it runs like a pickup truck.
It’s essential for websites to perform at their best, and this means that before all else, page speed is paramount. According to a report by Unbounce, 70% of customers say page load times affect sales. In another study, Portent found that conversion rates fall by 4.42% with every extra second of load time.
Customers and potential customers also lose interest when websites fail to reach expectations in terms of functionality, so staying up to date with recent developments is crucial.
Design and functionality are closely linked in the world of User Experience (UX) and both are developed with the website visitor in mind. But website design is mainly concerned with the visual aspects of a website, while website functionality is about how the user interacts with the website.
We spoke to Rodrigo Melo, Namecheap’s Head of Design Innovation, who gave us a clearer picture of the leading functionality trends in web development.
Web designers have the challenge of directing users’ attention or giving them the freedom to discover the site at their leisure. When websites are too overloaded with different features, elements, and designs, they can be difficult to understand and follow. This is why there has been a more recent tendency towards simplifying the user interface (UI) and giving more focus to meaningful content.
When websites are stripping down to the bare essentials it allows businesses to convey their most important message, and this can also be more visually appealing.
This might mean the use of more unused space between visual elements to accentuate the essential content or search fields, in a similar way to the Google homepage. It could also mean simple designs or superimposed background imagery that do not detract from the central content. It’s common to use greater emphasis on narrative in a website, with content that is more engaging and discoverable by interaction.
Rather than just passively viewing the content of a website, new developments have enabled users to become more involved in the user interface. Micro-interactions are a way of directing user attention, providing user feedback, improving navigation, and increasing user engagement.
This is what Rodrigo Melo had to say about interactivity in website functionality:
“We can engage a user to dive deeper into content through interactivity. They can explore a page by scrolling down as it unravels before their eyes. So we can have text that behaves in certain ways when you interact with it or even all the elements on a page that respond differently as the reader moves on, providing them with meaningful content accessible through a delightful and rich interactive experience”.
Interactive design is a feature of web design as well as web functionality. Examples include animations or design elements that show current status, the progress of a task, or the strength of an entered password. This is also a quick way of explaining things to users without needing to use text.
They can also be mouse-over effects, whereby the page responds to the mouse position. The website for Leicester Design Season has links that change color when the mouse hovers above them, and reveals background overlay images that illustrate the topic of the link.
Every web page tells a story. This is a journey that can be interesting and entertaining, or it can be plain and informational. Of course, we are all aiming for the first kind, and one way of achieving this is through ‘scrollytelling.’
This new term describes the way web pages respond as users scroll downwards. This could mean a body of text that is brought to life with typography, illustration, snippets of text, animations, and other elements responding to the scroll command.
This results in a form of narrative that is highly engaging. It gives the reader a more immersive experience, and elements of scrollytelling are more commonly used for various forms of content. It can also be presented on both desktop and mobile devices.
One example of scrollytelling used to add appeal to a rather dry subject is a page created by Zach Holman on Universal Time Codes (UTC). This uses changing colors, moving maps, background videos, and animations as you scroll down, to break up and enliven a long body of text.
Smart content load
As all users have different needs, tastes, interests, and character profiles, it makes sense that websites respond to them directly with personalized content. This means making use of behavioral, demographic, and firmographic data to tailor content to a particular user’s personal and operational details. Smart content loading also uses contextual data, which means responding to the device, geographical location, and time of day for each user.
Smart content is a win-win situation, as it provides the user with content that is more relevant for them, while organizations have the chance to increase their conversion rates through higher engagement. It also increases load times by placing a limit on unnecessary content. For example, if a user has already visited a landing page, the content will be adjusted the next time they visit to make it newer and more interesting.
We can probably all appreciate that online ads are user-specific, especially in e-commerce. But personalized content offers the chance to build a closer relationship with your users. There is the challenge of making sure users don’t perceive any negative tracking or eavesdropping, and that you are simply providing high-value content.
Rich & fluid content
The frequently-quoted Bill Gates statement “Content is King”, is a lot truer today than it was when he wrote it in a 1996 essay. The difference is that today, content is much more than long blocks of text and the odd photo.
New forms of content like HD video, animations, infographics, and live streaming have become ubiquitous and much easier to embed in website elements, backgrounds, footers, and communications. Motion graphics backgrounds have become popular for companies to showcase their product or services on landing pages that also perform multiple other functions. This can be seen on the homepage of Bluhomes, at which visitors are immediately introduced to the services when they arrive at the website.
Modern websites have greater hosting capacity so storing large files isn’t an issue. In addition to the flexible use of video, manufacturers of products that could be anything from cars to clothes are using configurators on their websites. These can show potential customers how items would look in different colors or with extra features, and they have been used by companies from Audi to Zara.
All this new, flexible use of rich content is possible thanks to developments in digital capture, animation, file transfer, and front-end capabilities. But more importantly due to the improved storage options in hosting and cloud hosting providers that can support more online content.
There is the possibility for websites to become even more location-specific by incorporating GeoSpot technology so local goods and services can be provided with greater ease. The use of voice user interface (VUI) is predicted to rapidly increase in the next decade, so web developers can get one step ahead by adapting to voice-enabled visitors.
The AL-chatbots that have been so popular among marketers in recent years still have the potential to develop the efficiency of website interaction and customer support. Another new capability that is on the verge of widespread adoption is extended reality (XR), which is set to have a huge impact on the everyday use of traditional websites.
These upcoming technologies all look to be part of the metaverse, which is believed to be the new iteration of the Internet, or Web 3.0. This will potentially add a whole new dimension to websites and the Internet, and the implications for website functionality will be much greater. But provided you can be clear about what you need from your web developer, every new development in website functionality can be smoothly worked into your site.
For now, websites are still functioning in a 2D space but with more diversity and capabilities for navigation, interactivity, and dynamic content. This means we can build great websites, with both design and functionality that’s new and impressive.