Big question: what has been your web design highlight of 2011?

The last year has brought a lot of changes to the web design industry. Our experts discuss the best bits of 2011...

Nik Lazell
www.cxpartners.co.uk

My highlight of 2011 has been the take up of mobile-first methodology. With smartphones becoming ever more prevalent and access to the mobile web increasing exponentially, more consideration is being given to mobile content. It’s no longer simply ensuring our site is accessible on these devices (mobile friendly). Instead more consideration is being given to the context of use; we need to understand our users and their priorities. In a mobile context users have a specific objective – checking departure boards or finding out local information about your business such as using a store locator.

Paring back the IA, interface and interaction design (gestures, One Eye/One Thumb [ref: @lukew]) and streamlining code all remain priorities in delivering content for mobile. In addition, a task-focused approach informed by contextual research helps us understand behaviour and deliver the most appropriate user experience.

Native apps offer us a controlled environment, but they also appeal to existing customers. These users are already engaged with your brand. The mobile web gives us an opportunity to engage with new customers perhaps as they browse and share product details while waiting for friends or use mobile store locators and so on. A task-focused mobile web plays an important role in that initial introduction.

As the growth in connected objects (Internet of Things) increases we will likely be managing these communications through our mobile device. Again, task-focused mobile design will play a key part in delivering a solid user experience for these interactions.

Nick is a user experience consultant at cxpartners

Rob Mills
bluegg.co.uk

My highlight has been the steps taken towards better storytelling on the web. This has been achieved through a few separate elements.

The emphasis put on content strategy this year combined with responsive web design has really made design more meaningful. Having resources to back up these processes has really made it helpful when educating clients on the benefits of a content first approach or responsive design process – something that has dominated the year at Bluegg.

Rob is studio manager for creative agency Bluegg

Trent Walton
paravelinc.com

Responsive web design has not only restored my sense of wonder for building for the web, but it’s given us a better way to serve users and clients. Witnessing (and participating in) the innovation and discussion that’s shaping the future of the web has inspired us to create jQuery plug-ins such as FitText and FitVids. I look forward to building bigger and more complex sites responsively, conquering all sorts of new challenges along the way.

Trent is founder of Paravel

Aaron Gustafson
easy-designs.net

I’m most excited by the resurgence of interest in progressive enhancement.

We’ve spent the last few years discussing good user experiences and looking at snazzy CSS3 demos, but it took the introduction of media queries and the philosophy of “mobile first” design for us to get back to designing for users, no matter how they come to us. It’s helped us focus on crafting great experiences without technological restrictions and that gets me fired up for 2012.

Aaron is principal at Easy! Designs

Gavin Elliott
gavinelliott.co.uk

There have been many new techniques and tools, especially from those guys at Paravel, but for me what stands out the most are the ongoing greater discussions that the industry is now having, whether they be online or offline.

Members of the industry seem to be getting less hung up on ‘trends’ than years before and focusing more on the bigger more important details. Even RWD, while trendy for a short time, hasn’t stuck steadfast and instead has been implemented in many different ways.

2012 should be an interesting year.

Gavin is organising The Industry Conference for 2012

Chris Coyier
chriscoyier.net

The web design industry took a leap forward in maturity this year. I find there is more talk about serving users. More talk about using our skills as web workers to make things that really work, people care about, makes a difference, inspires and that real people use to get done what they need to get done. We’re finally establishing a foundation and a little history as an industry and that’s good.

We can stare in awe at a painting from hundreds of years ago, but we cringe at websites from five years ago. I think that’s changing and the medium is starting to be mature enough so that the best websites today will be more timeless. Trends will change and capabilities will improve. The websites of tomorrow will look and behave differently than they do today. But we’ll still be able to look back and see beautiful things, not the handcuffed abominations of really early web design.

Chris is a web designer working at Wufoo

Mark Kirby
www.mark-kirby.co.uk

My highlight of 2011 has been seeing the trend of responsive web design cause designers to stop automatically creating a different website for mobile users.

Instead designers are now beginning to consider how a site’s core content can be structured in a way that works on multiple platforms and focus on presenting a unified experience to the user. As I like to see full content on mobile and really dislike crowded desktop sites, this excites me.

Mark develops mobile sites and apps for Ribot

Ross Bruniges
nature.com

For me it would be the browser vendors moving towards a more rapid release cycle.

The days of a browser being released and then being left to stagnate are now hopefully over, giving developers the opportunity to innovate with the new features that previously would have been considered cool but impractical due to limited browser support.

Ross Bruniges is a web developer at Nature

James Chudley
www.cxpartners.co.uk

My highlight of 2011 is the increased awareness among designers of how important photos are to peoples’ experiences of digital products.

I’ve noticed in every piece of user experience I’ve done over the years how significant the right or wrong choice of photo can have on the end user. We’ve observed people failing to find the product they need, not understanding the benefits of products or simply not being attracted to the product because the photography was so poor.

I’m starting to see sample photos being added to wireframes and prototypes, as well as outline sketches of photos being added to sketched interfaces for use in testing. Users are responding strongly to these photos, and from their responses we’re learning some fascinating insights into what motivates people to buy, to learn and to interact online.

I hope this continues into 2012 and beyond. I hope the days of a box with a X in it to denote ‘some photo’ in wireframes are long gone. As UX designers we should be influencing the photos that are chosen for the products we design because they will have a huge impact upon how they are ultimately used. My hope for 2012 is that as a community, we focus more on photography, and it can be used most effectively within the experiences that we design.

James is a user experience director at cxpartners

Jonathan Smiley
zurb.com

For me it’s been the realisation of how quickly Web design is changing.

New devices, new technology, improving browsers and connection speeds are all converging to completely reshape our industry. It’s very exciting to think about where we could be in a few years based on the progress we’re seeing now, and preparing for that has been the highlight of my year.

Jonathan is a design lead at ZURB

Christopher Schmitt
christopherschmitt.com

The biggest impact in the world of design is that we’re working on a world where the versioning of browsers has gone away.

Google Chrome gets updated on quicker release schedule (See http://blog.chromium.org/2010/07/release-early-release-often.html). And, what I mean by that is that the actual browser you’re using is updated as you use it. No big fanfare. Just that your browser was updated, by the way.

Your update might have new security features or might not. It might have new CSS support, it might not. It might have new HTML support, or it might not. If it doesn’t, then wait a few weeks for the next update. It’s no longer “Chrome 10” or “Chrome 11”. It’s now just ”Chrome”.

Note that Microsoft is putting together IE releases at a quicker pace. For example, a month after launching IE9 there was a beta demo of IE10. When you think of the years it took to get from IE6 to IE7, you can appreciate how much effort Microsoft is putting into that. However, older versions of IE will be still be supported as the newer versions get launched. That’s going to be a lot of IEs in the wild to support compared to the “one” Chrome version.

So, the idea of matching feature support to a monolithic browser release number is forever wiped out.

Christopher is chief creative officer for Heatvision