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Wednesday, 2nd January, 2013 | By Jason Ferster | Category: Website Design and Development

3 Tech Trends That Will Shape Website Design and Marketing in 2013

With the turn of each calendar year, December gives us pause to reflect on the events that shaped the last twelve months while January points our gaze forward to predict what lies ahead.

We typically view these periods of retrospection and forecasting as distinct and separate exercises. But in reality, where we’re headed is always directly linked to where we’ve come from. This is especially true with technology,which is iterative by its very nature. As technology evolves, so do the ways in which we behave, connect with others, make decisions and even market our products and services.

There is much in the course of the past year that has shaped the pathways we’ll travel in 2013. With that in mind, let’s look ahead to see how technology, website design and marketing will converge in 2013.

The divergence of devices

When it comes to technology platforms – Apple, Windows, Android, etc. – and the many gadgets connected to them, fanatics in each camp can (and will) argue until they’re blue in the face about which is poised to see the biggest boom in the years ahead.

It’s not news that in recent years, Apple has ridden a wave of mega-hot devices and ultra-cool user experiences to dominate the mobile and tablet spaces. So when it comes to building apps for business and marketing, many organizations have traditionally developed first for Apple’s mobile operating system (iOS) and then for Android as an afterthought, if at all.

But 2012 was the first year in Apple’s modern era without visionary founder Steve Jobs at the helm, and the elephant in the room has been whether the company will continue to dominate or will crumble under its own weight. And although Apple’s performance numbers have remained strong, there have been a few missteps in the mobile arena, with bug-riddled apps like Siri and Maps leading to apologies from – and firings of – top executives.

Meanwhile, Google has continued to refine Android and integrate the company’s many technology properties – Google +, Chrome, Google Docs, Gmail, etc.– into a more seamless user experience across the brand. This unification has not only been functional but stylistic as well, with major design enhancements throughout.

Microsoft has launched a new operating system, Windows 8, that is designed from the ground up around the mobile/touch experience. With its sleek, modern styling, the new tile-based interface is a bold departure from the traditional Windows we’ve all known and used for years. While there’s still a lot of discussion in the tech world about how strong an offering the new Windows actually is, the platform and its phone have garnered a great deal of praise and buzz for the brand.

Windows-8

Windows-phone

Photos courtesy of Microsoft. ©2012 Microsoft

And let’s not forget Blackberry. After losing its former status as the leading innovator in smartphone technology, Blackberry is once again building anticipation around the release of its latest operating system, set to launch later this month. Blackberry held onto its business and government markets the longest, and if a recent second chance from Homeland Security is a sign of things to come, the company could realize strong growth in this sector again.

What all this jostling among mobile tech companies means for those of us focused on growing a business is that the marketing and commerce channels these devices provide could diverge further in 2013.

Instead of the good old days of building apps for and tailoring the user experience to just one or two dominant platforms (Apple and Android), 2013 will likely force us to take on a multi-channel mentality when it comes to mobile.

If your company already has an app or two in the marketplace, now is the time to start some preliminary market and feasibility research on Windows Phone and Blackberry development.

If your website is responsive (and especially if it isn’t), be ready to test its appearance on the new devices that are coming out.

If you’re running mobile ads, make sure your coverage across these new devices fits your marketing objectives, as each platform has its own way of handling advertising.

Lastly, consider as well what impacts these additional mobile channels may have on your marketing processes. Testing on more devices will take more time and more resources, so plan accordingly.

The rise of HTML5

If device divergence were a pandemic, HTML5 would be a wonder drug for many of us. It’s not perfect in every situation, but it can cure much of what ails businesses that push marketing content across multiple platforms.

For the non-propellerheads in the room, HTML is a markup language that, along with sibling technologies CSS and Javascript, is the stuff websites are made of.

The latest version of this core web technology, HTML5, is designed to allow developers to more adeptly build dynamic, highly interactive sites that are tailored to the ways in which we actually use the Web today.

In this way the term “HTML5” has come to stand for something bigger than the markup language itself. It also represents a shift in the Web development paradigm from building “websites” to creating “Web apps.”

But enough with the tech stuff. How does this apply to you and how you’ll grow your business in 2013?

Developing an HTML5 Web app that runs in a browser means that you don’t need to build for each platform individually. You can develop once and maintain consistency in appearance and performance across all devices. The savings in costs and logistics are huge.

The one catch, however, is that if you need tight integration with certain elements of a mobile device’s hardware, such as the camera or GPS, building a native mobile app might be preferable if not necessary.

But if your app is designed primarily to push content to your audience or to handle account management tasks, a Web app can be a great solution that works for everyone, everywhere.

If you’ve previously shied away from building an app for your business, an HTML5-based Web app can be a great way to enter the mobile arena without taking on a lot of risk or burdensome expense.

There are a number of services on the Web that let you build apps on your own with no knowledge of programming languages required. Keep in mind, however, that just because you can build it, doesn’t mean you should. An experienced digital agency or software development firm brings a lot more to the table than simply their technical skills, including years of experience studying and building interfaces that are easy and pleasurable to use.

Perhaps you’re not considering building a Web app but are anticipating a website redesign in 2013. HTML5 technologies are also designed to better support the ways we use the Web to publish content. Take advantage of these capabilities and future-proof your site as well by hiring a digital agency that’s well-versed in these technologies.

The app-ification of user experience

If websites are adopting app-like functionality, it should come as no surprise that they would begin to look and feel like apps in both style and user experience.

Remember the early days of the Internet when most websites did not endlessly scroll? The rise of blogging in the early 2000s changed our collective expectations for how a website should behave, making the action of scrolling down a page to obtain more content a more acceptable and intuitive practice. Fast-forward to modern times, and social sites have taken this experience even further by auto-loading additional content for us each time we reach the bottom of the screen.

Today’s mobile apps are changing our expectations again, so it’s no surprise to see elements of the user experience we’ve grown accustomed to on our apps spilling over into web design.

A shining example of this phenomenon is USA Today’s recent redesign, which we profiled in our “Best of the Web 2012” article. The new site is a fantastic example of how elements of the mobile user experience – including multi-directional navigation, pop-up modal windows and media-focused design – can be brought into the browser.

USA-today

As another example of this convergence, popular social media management service Hootsuite has designed the functionality of its mobile app to match the style of its browser-based Web app, which lines up streams of content from various social media communities in a horizontal manner. To switch between streams in the app, you simply swipe the page to the left or right. Notice the parity of the content in the following screenshots.

Hootsuite-mobile

Hootsuite-browser

What this blending of app and browser user experiences means for marketing is that it’s time to shed all of our existing notions and constraints of how a website should look and act.

Instead, decide first and foremost how you want the user to engage with your content and your brand. Let those objectives serve as the primary drivers of design and then, using modern Web development technologies, build sites that bring those goals to life.

Jason Ferster
By day, Jason Ferster is the marketing manager of an IT consulting firm, where he contends daily with the marketing challenges common to small and mid-sized businesses. By nights and weekends, he writes about insights gained from those experiences. Visit FersterFiles.com for more or connect with Jason on Twitter.