Our Favorite Web Design Trends of 2011

Last year was yet another huge one on the Web as things continued to move forward at a breakneck pace. The explosive growth of traffic from mobile devices influenced everything and meant huge advances in both technology and new ideas. Here are some of our favorite trends of 2011:

Responsive Design Goes Big Time

boston-globe-responsiveboston-globe-responsiveA responsive website uses fluid layouts, flexible images, and media queries to deliver an experience adapted for whatever width browser or device is being used. With the increasing number of mobile and desktop resolutions that must be accounted for, true responsive design solutions use CSS and media queries to flex to handle any width and adjusted layouts for popular breakpoints.

Coined by Ethan Marcotte back in 2010, responsive web design went all the way from unproven concept to misused buzzword in 2011. When the responsively redesigned BostonGlobe.com launched in September it signified loud and clear that responsive design wasn’t just for designer portfolio sites anymore. Responsive concepts can and should be considered for any new site developed in 2012.

Learn more: Responsive Web Design: What It Is and How To Use It, Responsive Web Design: The Book

@font-face Brings Beautiful Type to the Web

typekittypekitWeb typography has been something designers have been forced to struggle with from the earliest days of the Web. As a developer, reminding the design team that they need to choose a web safe font and their options are still just “Arial or Verdana” always results in dropped heads. No more. The ability to embed nearly any font you want using @font-face puts all the power and creativity back into the designer’s hands. Add to it CSS3 properties such as text-shadow and tools such as Lettering.js and FitText, and suddenly the Web is a more beautiful place.

A technology that was around long before 2011, embedding web fonts using @font-face exploded last year and saw some major advances as more type foundries licensed their fonts for web embedding. With more quality fonts available (and many available for free), most projects that MarketNet works on now end up including embedded fonts for headings or navigation elements.

Also in 2011, Typekit, an innovator and leader in hosted web fonts, was acquired by Adobe. The acquisition signifies broad support for @font-face and should mean the inclusion of Typekit capabilities in future releases of Adobe’s Creative Suite tools.

Learn more: Modern Techniques for Web Typography, The Essential Guide to @font-face, @font-face face off

Constant (and Automatic) Browser Updates

firefox-updatefirefox-updateInternet Explorer 6 was released over 10 years ago and it’s lack of capabilities and bugs could still end up restricting a web project in 2011. Crazy, right? Fortunately a similar issue shouldn’t be able to occur again. Web browsers are finally updating as quickly as web technology and ideas are, and more importantly they’re doing it automatically without needing users to be savvy enough to know that they need to update their computers.

Google Chrome has been pushing out autoupdates for a while now (and still does it the best), but in 2011 the teams behind both Firefox and Internet Explorer announced they would be doing the same. Now on an aggressive six-week release cycle, Firefox went from version 4.0 to version 9.01 between April and the end of the year. In December, joyous noises were heard from developers across the globe as Microsoft joined the party with the news that Internet Explorer all the way back to Windows XP would now autoupgrade to the latest available version.

Learn more: Mozilla’s Right: Bring on the Browser Updates, IE to Start Automatic Upgrades across Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7

What Will Be the Trends of 2012?

What new tech will be out in 2012? Will Google TV or the rumored new Apple TV set make an impact? How will Android Ice Cream Sandwich influence mobile design? Mobile will continue to grow and will influence many companies to target mobile first when launching new projects.

Using Modern Techniques for Great Web Typography

Great typography use is one of the most important factors in creating beautiful design. Unfortunately, at the same time web typography has been the most limiting and frustrating technology in web design and development for some time. Not too long ago, nearly every creative brief or brand conversation with clients would include the topic of which fonts we could use on their website. The answer would always lead to the depressing answer of choosing between Arial, Verdana, or a half dozen other typically supported fonts. Modern browsers and modern techniques are finally changing that.

There have been many different font replacement techniques over the years but each has had critical limitations that made them only practical for certain uses with certain designs. Image replacement using CSS looks and works great and is great for SEO but it could only be used sparingly because it requires creation of a new image and CSS changes to implement. sIFR was an ingenious workaround using Flash to replace text on the fly with beautifully rendered text, but alas it had many performance and occasional display issues and was difficult to maintain as new browser updates were released.

So, are we just stuck with Georgia headings until the end of time? Thankfully, no…

CSS3 and @font-face to the Rescue.

There are finally new tools at our disposal (and more importantly browsers that actually support them) that are helping create a more beautiful web. Newly supported CSS3 properties and some clever web services give us the ability to easily and securely embed thousands of different fonts that we were never able to use before. And using the @font-face rule these fonts are treated no differently* by the browser from the websafe fonts we’ve been using for so long.

Check out this example using CSS (rendered in your browser):

.ffexample { font-family: 'Lobster', arial, serif; text-align: center; color: #111; background: #fff; font-size: 2.2em; padding: .7em; margin: 4px 0 16px 0; }
.ffexample dfn { font-style: normal; }
.ffexample .shadow { text-shadow: 2px 2px 0 rgba(0,0,0,.2); }
.ffexample a { color: #6eb7e4; text-decoration: underline;
-webkit-transition: color 0.3s ease-in-out;
-moz-transition: color 0.3s ease-in-out;
-o-transition: color 0.3s ease-in-out;
transition: color 0.3s ease-in-out; }
.ffexample a:hover { color: #DC7536; }

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

As you can see from the example, there is a lot of power in using regular HTML text and CSS for the typography. And almost all of it works in every modern browser. The cool Lobster font is embedded from Google and then just like any other text we’re able add a link with a hover effect, a CSS3 text-shadow, and a dotted underline with a tooltip to define the word. And of course it’s as easy to change as any other text on the website using a CMS.

Continue reading → Using Modern Techniques for Great Web Typography