3 Advances in Web Design, and Why We Embraced Them

This summer, Media Temple launched a dramatic change in our web presence. The design certainly looks different than 2018, and there’s a lot that’s working differently under the hood as well.

The core reason for this? We want to better reflect and serve the creative work that our products power. So, we needed to look at how creative experiences are being built, and take our cues from that.

In this piece, we’re going to explore the trends and changes that are shaping the next generation of the web. These are all approaches that we used – and that you may be looking at leveraging yourself.

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Exploring Dynamic Depth

The Next Cycle in Visual Design

The reign of flat, minimalist design has been long and powerful, the de facto standard for over a decade. But the past year or two has seen a growing shift to a richer variety of hues and more complex layouts. On top of that, we’re seeing gradients, broken grids, custom typefaces … things a lot of us remember our design profs and creative directors eviscerating.

These elements are appearing everywhere: in up-and-comers like Stripe, prominent players like Firefox, and even that icon of simplicity Apple (the invites for the iPhone 11 announcement stand out here). 

Sample of Firefox's rebranded creative, with colorful gradients and irregularly angled shaped in back of a photo of two people using a laptop.Sample creative from Firefox’s blog

What’s going on?

At a conceptual level, there may be a reaction to the story of flat design and minimalism, with their simple color blocks and rigid grid. It’s a good story, sure: It evokes focus, precision, and a simple elegance. But it can also feel mechanical, detached, and even aloof. It embodies the best of tech, but also the things that most irritate us about the industry’s colossal algorithmic entities.

In response, the textured elements trending upward feel more human, sympathetic, and dynamic. As Media Temple looked at our own brand, these were traits we wanted to communicate more strongly. It’s not hard to imagine other brands considering the same factors.

We talked to Shelby White, founder of Designspiration and a longtime Media Temple client, and he put it well: “It embodies those trends that we once looked at and were, like, ‘no thank you’. But now it’s all coming back. It’s like springtime with new flowers. It looks good and it smells even better.”

There’s also a technical aspect to all this.

These elements were popular in print design as the web – and mobile access to it – started maturing in the early 2000s. Digital designers had to back off, though. “The resources online couldn’t handle it,” said Shelby. “The monitors, the computers couldn’t handle the processing of it. And now that we can support that, we’re seeing all that good, beautiful print design come back.”

Jake Friedman, co-founder of Wildlife, echoed the sentiment: “Screen sizes are bigger, the pixel density is stronger … Things needed to be simpler on mobile devices before. We’ve got 5G speeds coming out now, and all these tools that allow us to push it a little more. So, it’s a natural trend to follow the lead of technology and use that to create an artistic experience that’s going to be really impactful as well.”

Breaking Down the Monolith

The Evolution of Content Management Systems

On the technical level, use of a content management system (CMS) skyrocketed in the past decade. Back in 2011, under a quarter of all sites used a CMS. Today, almost 60% do

Within the CMS sector broadly, we’re seeing increased use of modular and headless CMS approaches. Developers are experimenting with these concepts with both ubiquitous players – like WordPress – as well as upstart platforms – like Craft CMS.

The reason?

Now that we can do more with the web, designers and developers want to provide deeper, more nuanced experiences based on their vision, with less structure defined by their CMS. Modular and headless CMS approaches give more power to builders while still providing content authors the flexibility needed to constantly enrich the live experience.

As we look to better utilize customer feedback, data, and research in Media Temple experiences, these approaches have a ton of appeal for our site.

Let’s dig into the theory behind each to see why.

Modular

The growing modularity of content management systems correlates with the increased use of design systems. Brands want more freedom when they build experiences, but also want to ensure their brand is tightly evoked across those experiences. So, the foundational building of a design system or modular CMS assumes and empowers variance.

Traditionally though, the page structure of a CMS-driven site is heavily preset. In some ways, working with a monolithic CMS is like filling a room that has all the furniture locked in place. A modular CMS, however, lets us rearrange furniture or even bring in new pieces, without having to tear down and rebuild the entire room.

Leah Stevenson, Director of Marketing and Partnerships at Craft CMS, does a great job explaining how this modularity works within Craft CMS: “Instead of building a website page by page, the team will build a website based on modules: What blocks of content look like, what slideshows look like, all those sorts of things. Once the site is built, a content author who needs to create a new page uses these blocks that are already established. So, pull in a button, pull in a quote, image, and content blocks. And there you have a page that looks very cohesive with the entire site.”

Headless

While the full explanation of a headless CMS can get complex, the core concept is pretty straightforward. Instead of having the CMS generate your design, that task is handled independently.

Imagine it this way: A monolithic (or coupled) CMS is like an old-school all-in-one boombox – tape player, speakers, everything, all bundled together. Cool. But if you want to upgrade any of those components, you need to replace the entire thing. When it comes to a web site or app, that kind of transition gets incredibly complex, costly, and maybe flat-out prohibitive.

By decoupling delivery from management in a CMS, you open a number of potential advantages. A few:

  • Easier adaptability to multiple formats and channels.
  • More freedom to design both visuals and function outside of a CMS’ limitations.
  • Better security, scalability, and even speed.

Finding Your Way in the Cloud

The Shift to Public Clouds like AWS

If you read the Media Temple blog, the allure of cloud hosting is no secret. And the unprecedented scale of what we now call “the cloud” is reason enough to attract developers building sites and apps with large audiences.

As platforms like Amazon Web Services continue to offer more innovative features, they’re not getting any simpler though. At Media Temple, we’ve built a team whose express specialty is in utilizing the capabilities of AWS to power creative, practical sites and applications.

Of course it made sense for us to leverage the cloud.

And this is a technological advantage that we can extend directly to you. As our General Manager, Lou Kikos, said in our interview session, “We understand how agencies and creatives operate. And so we ride along with them as a trusted partner saying, let us take that technology burden on so you can do what you do best and really drive the best creative on behalf of your clients.”

Reach out to our experts to explore the powerful possibilities of hosting your work in the cloud.

One Final Point

All of this trending design and forward-thinking tech doesn’t mean anything if it’s not effective, though. Our goal is to continue evolving based on what our customers need for both their own businesses and their clients. The most important piece in deciding what to embrace was ensuring that each choice allowed for us to continue moving forward.

In our conversation with Shelby White, we talked about how trends and innovations continuously cycle and inevitably keep advancing. Stagnation is not an option. We always have to be ready for what’s next, looking for how it can improve experiences.

Because, in Shelby’s words, “It’s just going to happen.”

Comments

  • Redesigning a business website like MT’s is a tremendous undertaking, especially if you are doing it in-house. Congrats to the team on their hard work and willingness to take risks with the design. While I find the deconstructionism a welcome change (back) in web design in general, it’s application in this redesign is confusing. I suspect potential clients come to MT for looking for hosting information not design expertise. When they arrive at the redesigned site, they find that the information they to make decisions is clouded–not clarified–by the redesign.

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