The future of web design: leading creatives discuss what's coming next

Leading creatives from Attik, The Neighbourhood, Studio Output, Ustwo and more debate where interactive design is headed.

Interactive design works with concepts, mediums and technologies that develop at a frighteningly fast pace. We asked 13 leading thinkers and practitioners in design, development and branding to chart where it’s going and what key skills creatives are going to need to produce incredible work in this area.

We also asked them to look a decade into the future, revealing their hopes and fears for the best and worst ways that today’s mediums could develop – and what we can do to help.

DA: What's the biggest change that's happening in interactive/web design currently?

“In this ever-evolving discipline, it’s always been a challenge to just keep up to date. Endless opportunities are opened with every new format. We’ve just recently been introduced to newer mediums like Google Goggles, Vine and exclusive Netflix content.” Jacob Ford, creative director, Attik

“The continuing explosion of the mobile market is still causing waves, and the line between websites and apps is muddying as HTML5-related technologies mature. Designing for the major browsers and then the hundreds of various mobile devices, and throw in Retina on mobile and desktop now… it's a challenge to say the least.” Alex Hillel, creative technologist, The Neighbourhood

“The huge variety of screen sizes and inputs being introduced.” Laura Kalbag, UX and web designer

“Responsive design has been the hottest thing in the web for at least 10 months now.It’s brought the defragmentation of web applications and a new holistic approach to the design and development process.” Dominik Koscielak, lead front-end developer for Digital Arts’ recent site redesign

“The 'Internet of things', the connected product, with more and more integration between objects [is happening. The distinction between] product design, graphic design and interaction design will start to become less solid as we work collaboratively to deliver great products and service.” Simon Manchipp, founder, SomeOne

“The obvious answer to this is the accommodation of multi-device audiences and the movement towards ‘mobile-first’. Extrapolating this further though, the real change is that more and more surfaces are becoming interactive, the mouse and keyboard is on the way out and touch will rule. Designing for a web browser simply isn't enough.” Dave McDougall, head of digital, Studio Output

“The biggest challenge is two-fold: the evolution of technology and the the old basics. It's about communication: selling your idea(s) to the best of your ability and in collaboration with the client, so they understand enough about the idea and how it can be made without being bombarded with jargon. It's about being human, approachable and without ego. It's about surrounding yourself with the right people, the smartest most capable people.” Steve Price, creative director, Plan-B Studio

“You have to find the lowest common denominator, design the optimal experience from the content out, and progressively enhance functionality for larger and more capable devices, rather than reshuffling your large and bulky desktop site to suit the iDevices that are currently popular – until maybe the next big thing comes out.” Pascal Raabe, interaction designer, ustwo

“People's standards and expectations regarding the quality of the experience have also increased significantly over the past few years; especially after the extraordinary pick-up of smartphones and tablets. Everyone, from technically savvy users to the mainstream audience, expect exceptional quality, speed and connectivity (in all its forms).” Fani Sazaklidou, creative director, YouView

“The idea of the personal computer as we know it currently will be redundant in a few years time, with more and more people just using phones, tablets, TVs and games consoles to access apps that streamline the way they interact with the Internet.” Pete Thomas, futures director, Uniform

“I think we're moving into a post-banner-microsite world. We're starting to see more meaningful, authentic and transparent design applied to an ever-increasing range of digital mediums.” Shaun Tollerton, visual designer at ustwo

“I think the biggest change happening now is the remarkable visual improvement of user experience design (UX). There’s been a rapid influx of talented UX designers to this growing field and it shows in new apps and products that have been released.

“Another big change I’ve noticed, and one I’m very happy about, [there] is a trend towards simplification. Information is being presented in a way that we are used to, prioritised by subject in an almost step-by-step feeding of information. This has allowed sites and apps to look slicker and function more effectively.” Jason White, executive creative director, Leviathan

DA: What's the most important design challenge ahead of us in the next 12 months?

“Reactive or adaptive design – great to talk about, great to showcase, but a challenge to build. With the growing range of devices, accommodating all of them equally is a tough but necessary challenge. I see this very similar to the browser wars that eventually lead to better coding standardisation.” JF

“We are no longer designing in a one-device world, and the meteoric growth of the mobile market, as well as the emergence of tablets, smart TVs and the upcoming next-generation games consoles mean that users expect a connected experience across their myriad of devices.” AH

“Finding the best approaches for designing for [a multiplicity of] screens and inputs in a way that's as future-proof as possible, so we don't keep having to redesign everything every six months just to keep up.” LK

“Implementing responsive design responsibly. It's a great challenge for designers and UX people to understand how interactions between user and application (or wider – human and computer) depend on display size and control medium (such as mouse, keyboard, touch and voice). ” DK

“Designing for true context. Better understanding of the sea change that is happening with the migration of users from the desktop into a multi-device world. The team at SomeOne called SomeOne/Else are really pushing this agenda forward.” SM

“How to create fantastic-looking interfaces and content layouts for fluid aspect ratios and and different screen orientations – and doing it well.” DM

“As always, the most important design challenge is thinking beyond what we're currently comfortable with: whether that's screen sizes, specific device paradigms or input methods. The year ahead may prepare us for a future beyond handheld screens, with interesting new devices like the Leap Motion and MYO gestural controllers, and wearable technology like smart watches or Google Glass. These new interaction patterns will probably not enter the mainstream anytime soon, but they're clearly on their way.” PR

“To create designs and products with longevity. The speed at which products change and the competition is fierce right now. It's a very exciting time for design, but also a tough one. It's a roller-coaster ride, and as a designer you need to be able to cope and enjoy the ride. If the product you design now is relevant in 12 months, great. But if it's truly loved and lasts for a few years, it's a true success.

“Users have a lot more control on where and how to interact with products, but the market is still very fragmented. Creating designs that work beautifully on all the various platforms, with different capabilities, resolutions, screen sizes and input methods, is still quite challenging.” FS

“If you take the diversity of platforms, both software and hardware, then the challenge is definitely in delivering some consistency across them. We're moving away from the keyboard as our chosen way to casually connect to the Internet, but there's no clarity as to what should replace it – just a certainty that the increasing number of users across devices that aren't optimised for this kind of interface will dictate a shift in behaviour. It's a great opportunity for brands to rethink how they express themselves, how they express their values, consistently in a digital context.” PT

“As technology is moving faster than ever, design needs to be applied in new ways. We’ll also need to consider how we’re going to be making meaningful and engaging brand experiences through products like Google Glass, for example.

“The most important design challenge will be conceptualising the next jaw-dropping, interactive experience; something that has never been done before. There’s a massive need, as well as audience craving, for a new interactive experience, especially in the experiential event market where the masses have proven to gather. The most innovative, creative design is necessary for these events.” JW

DA:  What will be the most important skills for interactive/web designers in a year's time?

“Sketching. Digital designers often forget to have an idea and just start comping. Sketching is becoming a lost form, but really helps refine a thought before jumping in.” JF

“With the demise of Flash, open-standard web animation technologies including HTML5 canvas, SVG and WebGL will continue to grow in importance, as both desktop and mobile browser compliance increases, hopefully leading to more impressive experience-led sites in the future. Being flexible and staying on top of technical advances will be key.” AH

“I believe the most important skills for interactive designers will be the ability to communicate their ideas and convey concepts to clients and coworkers. As the mediums we're designing for become more complex and production takes longer, it will be important to be agile in our processes, changing quickly to fit new technologies and feedback from others.” LK

“Designers need to code, otherwise they won’t fully understand the essence of the work they want to produce. They don’t need to be great programmers, but a basic understanding of HTML, CSS and browsers’ development tools are becoming standard requirements for people in the industry.

“The popularity of the 'flat trend' is proving that web is not a place to show-off tricks designers learnt in print. Different medium, different language.” DK

“The ability to better design for the context of the user: understanding when, where anyhow they are interacting with brands, products and services.” SM

“Three skills from me: 

“1. Embracing change – there's a lot going on in digital design, which means keeping on top of what's new and what's next will be vital. 

“2. Typography – digital type has now caught up with the rest of the creative world, crafting this beautifully will be a killer skill I'll look for in designers. 

“3. True interactivity – making your work feel responsive and interactive is as important as how it looks visually.” DM

“You never stop learning, and what we do is about craft and attention to detail. Whether that’s a new app/site design, or carefully worded email to a client or loved one. Read more. Read books. Write more. Form your opinion and view of the world. I might not agree with you, but I remember people who've expressed an opinion.

“At the same time, and paradoxically to be able to adapt, to be flexible. Not to pigeonhole, to limit – great ideas all begin as good ones, what makes them great is collaboration, craft and skill. 

“I always advise students to #FSU (Fuck Shit Up). To be braver. To be better than the next guy/girl. To keep abreast of not just design (UI/UX) but technology, business and commerce in general. To be able to talk in front of people with a fine balance of reassuring confidence, passion and energy.” SP 

“Interaction designers need to think more about how design can dissolve into behaviour. This means first and foremost gaining a deep understanding of your users and the context in which your design sits.” PR

“The best interactive designers are those who truly understand the users and the context in which products will be used. The best designs are bulletproof, flexible and can cope with change. Designers need to be able to create experiences that positively surprise and inspire – users should be left wondering why things were designed in different ways before.” FS

“A fundamental skill is the ability to question, explore and understand people, and our environment in order to seek out opportunities to make things better. Alongside this ability to uncover insights is the ability to assimilate different pieces of knowledge in a systematic way, to understand how to bring the different parts together.

“Concurrent to all of this is the ability to be able to communicate their thinking, and seek out the thoughts of others. In short, designers need to be able to engage people.” PT

“There needs to be stronger emphasis on user-centred design. This can be achieved through rapid prototyping and testing your ideas with actual people (‘There’s no user experience until actual users experience your system. Until then everything is a hypothesis,’ @troytuttle). This should be a constant process, even when you think you're finished.” ST

>> Next page: What do our interviewees hope and fear 'online' will be like in 10 years time?

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