Technology moves like a steamroller strapped to a rocket engine—fast, furious, and flattening everything in its wake. It’s all about the newest thing. So when you’re designing content, you’ve got to wonder: how long will what I create actually last?
Realistically, some content should be ephemeral—here today, gone tomorrow. Vlog rants about Tim Cook’s presentation at Apple Live. 16 things Iron Man can teach us about UX. Infographics depicting variations of the name “MailChimp” in podcasts. They’re too “of the moment” to endure for long.
But some content has to last—to engage your audience wherever they are today, tomorrow, and 10 years from now.
So how do you do that? Design your content with these 4 design principles in mind.
1. Design for your audience
No matter where the future takes us, design will always start with your audience. But that’s a simple statement with complex ramifications.
Context is queen
First, consider where people might access your content: Are they out and about or strapped down to a desk? What devices are they using? Good design lets people access the content they need when they need it, so start your designs with the smallest and largest screens in mind.
Match form to function
Working with visual aesthetics that resonate with your audience is your best bet. Keep an eye on trending styles, but don’t redesign just to keep up with the latest fads. After all, trends come and go, but great design is timeless. And don’t forget that your content and your visual style should work together to form a more powerful whole.
Don’t forget to delight
Always be on the lookout for opportunities to delight your audience. Interactivity gives us a powerful way to create delightful moments through things like video, animated SVGs, or scroll-based interactions. And the future of design will only get more media-rich. Make sure, though, that your delightful interactions support your content, rather than distract from it.
2. Think responsively
Meet your audience on the devices they’re using now and the ones they’ll use next. Do everything you can with HTML- and CSS-based content to deliver your message on every device possible.
Once you’ve nailed down your design for the smallest screen, it’s easier to expand to larger screens like tablets or desktops. On the flipside, scaling down gives people a less-than-ideal experience. Or it just might not work at all.
Think in patterns
To make scaling up and down easier, think of your designs as rearrangeable systems of patterns or modules.
Aggregate all the pieces you’ll need: links, images, interactive elements, and content. Then start thinking about how they work together. Identify which pieces depend on each other, and which can be easily rearranged. For example, you may have a column of images on mobile that can reflow into a gridded gallery on a tablet.
Discuss what works and what doesn’t with your developer so you can strike the right balance between aesthetics and functionality.
3. Keep your code clean
As designers build digital content for the future, an extensible and reliable code base will become increasingly important.
Extensible code means it should work for you (and your developers), not against you. Create modular and adaptable elements, and stick to clear and consistent naming conventions, and you’ll be able to quickly update your code as your design needs change.
Reliable code works with languages that devices and browsers support now and will continue supporting in the future. HTML5 and CSS3 are the modern languages of digital design, and browsers will continue to evolve with them in mind. Instead of creating PDFs, or even using XML, use the web’s lingua franca to be truly future-proof.
4. Iterate, improve, repeat
What’s the best way to ensure that your content stands the test of time? Keep improving.
After you publish, turn to your data. Did the average time on page drop after a redesign? Did an added interactive element spark a spike in pageviews? Knowing what works and what doesn’t should inform all your design decisions.
You’ll also need the right tools to measure your content—and that starts with format. Building your content in the language of the web lets you leverage Google Analytics or other built-in dashboards, while static formats like PDFs won’t offer any insight. Think carefully about what data you’ll need from your content now and in the future, and which formats will give that to you.
The bottom line
When you’re riding a steamroller strapped to a rocket, there’s no way to be 100% prepared for what devices or trends will hit the market next. But we do know that these 4 simple principles will help keep you in the saddle. Oh, and have some fun while you’re at it!
by Chloe Dalby
Chloe Dalby is an Interactive Designer on the Marketing Communications Design team. She loves finding clever solutions to design problems, whether in Adobe Illustrator or SASS.