The following is a thought experiment I had about the nuances of web design and how we might focus our attention on the visual nature of the web to understand what is a style trend and what is truly great design.
User experience is made up of many factors, and of those factors the visual design is perhaps one of the most important as it is your first impression to your users. The immediate emotional response your users have will set the tone for everything else they do on the site. But to take things a bit further I tend to think of the visual design in two forms, design and style.
The design of a site has greater longevity than its style. To me, the design is made up of high level aspects of the site such as its core components, that includes (navigation elements, rough layout, etc.). Apple.com is a great example of this as its navigation hasn’t changed very much between 2000 and today. The actual products listed and links available have changed as their product line changed but the overall structure has only changed in very minor ways to simplify the number of items present.
Great design sticks around longer while styles change quickly. I tend to think of the style of a site as the visual details, its color palette, its typography, its imagery. These are aspects that change far more often as what is considered “trendy” or “modern” changes. I find this to be the result of what many people define as “new” or “interesting”. Often what is interesting is what is new, while not always necessarily linked. It is easy to see why standing out from the crowd and making yourself interesting is done by doing something new. On the web this occasionally means altering the core of the design, but more often it’s the applied style that people really gravitate too.
The comparisons of design and style span into the functionality of the site as well. The rate at which new technologies emerge on the web make it possible for a rapid evolution of what really works well and what doesn’t. And this is truly possible because of the open nature of industry. Since we all get to share and learn about new methods from each other, we are able to create fantastic new experiences without necessarily understanding every corner of web development and design. Many times the design of a new functional piece is found to be ideal for many applications while the execution differs as each developer might apply their own unique take.
For example two of the more popular online code tools out there are Codepen and Jsfiddle. Both of these two offer similar functionality in the form of multiple windows for adding code while getting a live preview of the output asynchronously. However, each site takes a different approach to the details their tools offers and the visual style in which it delivers it.
In this way, great design has proven the benefit and popularity of these tools while the delivery and style (user experience) differs and changes more rapidly as these tools improve.
Perhaps I am applying too much of a microscope to the differences in a sites user experience. Perhaps I am confusing design for style and style for design. Regardless of labels it is important to pay attention to all aspects as they change on the web at a macro and micro level. Recognizing these changes helps to see where things will change next. And thus, make it easier to see new trends as a logical progression and less of a surprise or a mystery.