It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how or why it happens, but trends emerge and take hold and suddenly we have a new way of doing things. This applies, quite obviously, to things like fashion, food, fitness and baby names, but on a larger scale to economics, politics and culture. Trends on the web are no exception.

For some it may seem like yesterday that a Flash-animated introduction led to a page where links were underlined in blue and content written in Arial and Georgia sat uncomfortably in tables with gray borders. As the web has evolved over the last decade, Flash has been virtually replaced by HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript, tables have all but disappeared and there are hundreds of web-friendly fonts to choose from. In this case, we can point to technological advances that have allowed the design and functionality of sites to improve and create more engaging and intuitive user experiences. Other trends, such as changes in design styles, surface as industry giants like Apple, Microsoft or Google adapt new branding. Whatever the cause of the trend that takes hold, there are those that are well worth paying attention to and others likely to be a passing fad. Is it worth investing in any of these trends? Let’s take a look at a few that are.

Responsive web design

Responsive design: One could argue that it is inaccurate to use the term “trend” to describe Responsive Design as many developers would say this is simply “the” way to create sites right now. Regardless of the terminology, responsive design is a concept that first appeared in 2010 and slowly but steadily made its way across the web. As the name implies, sites designed in this format can respond to the various screen resolutions on which they are displayed. Rather than designing both a desktop and mobile version of your site (or overlooking mobile altogether), a responsive site will adjust and scale according to the device on which it is viewed. Not only does this save time and money on development costs, it assures that you are delivering a more suitable and successful web experience for your users regardless of their screen size. As the audience of mobile users continues to grow, nearly exponentially, companies cannot afford to overlook their needs.

Minimalist and flat design: In fine arts, minimalism is described by “any design or style wherein the simplest and fewest elements are used to create maximum effect.” In web design, this same concept applies as we look at a trend towards “flat” design and websites where content is the driving visual force. Flat design on the web refers to a style which gained momentum after Microsoft’s release of Windows 8. With this came a movement away from drop shadows, gradients and more realistic looking graphics and icons to design with more two-dimensional, simplistic elements and bold colors. Although not all minimalist design is flat design, this style has been widely adapted by industry innovators like Google, Twitter’s Bootstrap development platform and the new iOS 7 interface. At this point, it is likely that we’ll see the flat trend evolve and probably transition to something new in the coming year or two, but the trend towards minimalism is what is worth considering. Content on your site should always be the primary focus on any design project. Determining ways to minimize or eliminate noise and maximize content and messaging is certainly a trend worth investing in.

Web fonts: A couple of years ago, web typography was limited to a handful of basic “web-safe” fonts (Arial, Verdana and Georgia, for example) and the option of creating more interesting fonts with graphics. Although it may have been visually engaging to design headlines with more interesting fonts rendered as an image, it was hardly a successful solution when it required a web designer to change text for you or it meant search engines would overlook your content. In recent years, the technology we use to render web pages (CSS) combined with cross-browser support has allowed designers and developers to reference or download hundreds of additional web fonts for use on sites. With this, designers can now create more sophisticated, dynamic designs that incorporate clean, search-engine friendly typography. Should you invest just to have fancier new fonts? No. But should you invest if it would mean improved search engine optimization, a more engaging user experience and faster, more affordable maintenance of your site? Definitely.

Infographics and Data-driven Documents: Newspapers, mapmakers and textbook publishers have long been using information design to graphically represent statistics, transportation systems and complex data trends. With the growth of social media and free tools that allow everyone to make their own infographics, the spread of these types of graphics has exploded. When an infographic is done well, it offers a captivating platform for delivering data that may be easily overlooked or challenging to understand. Although many may feel inundated with superfluous infographics, the truth is that they work. As a society on information overload, using good design as a way to communicate data always pays off. Well-designed graphics used to present data are more engaging, easier to recall and are more persuasive than text alone. As we roll into 2014, look for infographics to move to an entirely new level with increased interactive designs and data-driven documents that allow users to actually interact with the data.

These are just a few of the trends we’ve seen this year, but there are many others that offer unique opportunities for companies to improve the user experience they offer their clients.  Learn more on our next webinar: Web Trends 2013-2014: Where to Invest Your Pixels.