Web trends for 2020 and beyond
As we move into a new decade we look at some of the trends that we expect to see hit the web in 2020 and beyond. These may be driven by increased user expectations or the latest changes in technology but all seem to promise a better web overall.
One developing technology we think we’ll see a lot more of this year is variable fonts. These allow a typeface and its variations to be delivered through a single file which is brilliant news for reducing page weight and requests. It also opens up a whole new area of opportunity for web animation as it will allow us to transition between these variations, so we expect to see a lot more typographical animations on the web this year! While this technology is available now, there have been a limited number of variable fonts made available from type foundrys so far but this should rapidly increase throughout the year. We attended the inaugural Finch Conf in Edinburgh last September and Jason Pamental, known for his work in web typography, delivered a great talk about some of the benefits variable fonts could bring in areas such as design systems and accessibility.
One new accessibility feature we saw become more prevalent in 2019 was dark mode and, in particular, on our phones as its introduction into the settings on iOS and Android saw more and more apps developers begin to integrate it into their interfaces. This is now quickly becoming a setting users expect and both Windows and Apple have since introduced it on their desktop operating systems too. However, while it is quickly becoming a standard feature in our apps, we haven’t seen much use of dark mode on the web yet. We expect this to change in 2020 with the use of the `prefers-color-scheme` CSS media query which now has good browser support outside of Microsoft’s browsers which is soon to change (more on this to follow).
Edge adopts Chromium
So we hinted at it already but 2020 is going to see a big change in the browser market. Microsoft announced back in December 2018 that they would adopt the open source Chromium project in their Edge browser and this is now due for release in a matter of weeks. This is hugely significant as, like Microsoft said in their original announcement, it will create better web compatibility and less fragmentation of the web. It also means that Microsoft’s large team of web developers will contribute to the Chromium project in order to help improve Edge as well as a number of other browsers. This is a big change for Microsoft, moving away from their philosophy of using their own proprietary engines such as EdgeHTML. It means a variety of relatively new web features are set to become available to Edge users for the first time and the move to Chromium will go a long way to reducing the browser testing overheads of web developers.
Towards the end of last year Chrome announced their intention to introduce performance badges to websites in the future, citing the example of “identifying sites that typically load fast or slow for users”. This would be a significant change and a difficult thing to quantify and Chrome’s development team have themselves said they’re “being very mindful about our approach to setting the bar for what is considered a good user experience and hope to land on something that is practically achievable by all developers”. We’ve seen similar changes in the past - such as the PageSpeed Insights tool and the performance factor in Google’s SERP rankings - drive momentum into importance of web performance, and we suspect this will have a similar effect.
Another speaker at Finch Conf, Jeremy Keith, gave a really interesting talk titled ‘Going Offline’ which centred around service workers and how these can be a powerful technology in designing and developing websites that can continue to work in some form without the user having an internet connection. He outlined a number of different strategies that could be used and how they might work for different types of web content as well as citing a number of scenarios where users might find themselves without a network connection while wanting to use a particular website. As Jeremy stated, service workers could be a game changer in this area and it definitely feels like one of those factors that should be considered as part of any web specification going forward.
Focus on accessibility
Accessibility has and always will be an important aspect of the web, however we believe there will be much more of an organisational focus on this over the next decade - and rightly so! While there have been some high profile lawsuits filed in the US over inaccessible websites and apps, with the Domino’s lawsuit perhaps being the highest profile case to date, there have also been changes in legislation here in the UK. Our work in the Higher Education sector means we have been working closely with a number of universities to help them with the introduction of the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations that were introduced in 2018 and required conformation by September 2019 for new websites or 2020 for older websites. While these regulations do only apply in the public sector, we expect many organisations will follow suit in the interest of social responsibility amid the growing awareness of web accessibility.
The theme that these trends all have in common is user experience and it is really positive to see that such a crucial aspect of the web appears to be the main driving force going into a new decade, rather than too much focus being placed on one or two new technologies and frameworks that may not still be around to see the end of the decade.