The Internet has changed vastly over the past 10 years, but the last 5 have been really notable in terms of how much consumer trends are changing the web design industry. Larger screen sizes, mobiles and tablets have all made their mark on the way we create websites, so it's important to note exactly what has changed.
Mobiles and tablets online - what does it mean?
Web design was much simpler before mobiles with significant Internet capacities came along. Today we have to look at how a website will look on a mobile phone before we release it to engage a growing subset of the global audience. Not only does this complicate things because of the screen size disparity, it also means that developers have to minimalise their design and remove certain flash applications to make up for the lack of fine control that a user would normal get with a mouse cursor.
In order to maximise the time and money spent on web development, it makes the most sense to build a website that is capable of being displayed fluidly on all platforms and devices. This is known as responsive web design. When you can't accurately predict what the device an end user will being using, the only real way to deal with this is to plan for every actuality.
This change has been reflected by Google's introduction of a mobile robot in December 2011 which will favour websites build to adjust to devices dynamically and responsively, rewarding them with better search engine rankings.
How it's done
What sounds like a very difficult task is actually relatively simple for the experienced web designer and developer. Responsive web design involves the use of relative sizes and measurements rather than absolutes. An absolute design would have a page measured at 1024 pixels in width and elements with specific sizes, whereas relative measurements involve having the elements sized in percentages instead, meaning that they will always be at the same ratio.
Designs make use of a technique known as progressive enhancement - as opposed to graceful degradation - which entails having a minimal website to start with and progressively allowing access to greater features if the device can support it. Graceful degradation can cause problems with mobile devices not being able to support monolithic image heavy web---sites and struggling to display them properly, leaving designers with the headache of having to provide extensive after care and support to get the web---site working as intended.
What this means for web designers in the future
.net Magazine picked responsive web design as its number two on a list of the top web design trends of 2012 (progressive enhancement took the top spot), so this is going to be something that is difficult to ignore. There are very few trends as notable as the surge of mobile Internet usage right now, and it's very likely that school and universities will start picking up on this to adjust their courses and prepare their graduates for the working world.