Trend Alert: Taking Your Web Design Off-The-Grid

Posted by Ben Fjare on Feb 18, 2020 9:00:00 AM


As we watch the current trends in different design disciplines, we've been looking at the online trends of 2020 and what web designers, marketers, and business owners alike can expect as they set their sights on the new year. While trends often trickle from one year to another, we can safely say that 2021 will be a year of shaking things up. It will also be a year that introduces entirely new concepts into web design that will not only take users by surprise but likely split them into camps for and against.

One of the most prominent trends that we foresee on the horizon is the tendency to take things off the grid. In the past, websites have remained pretty sterile. Other than their early days of creation, where users navigated through cluttered pages of unorganized information and primitive web design, they have remained relatively blasé ever since. And it's understandable—users went crazy for perfectly boxed in images and small chunks of text that ping-ponged their way neatly down a pristine page.

But this has largely been the case for almost the last decade, and designers seem ready to shake things up. It's referred to as breaking the grid, which takes some energy in the back end approach to web design but could well be worth it. Like all new trends, on the front end it will likely leave some users pumped and engaged while others will be quickly clicking the back button. That's why today we're looking at the pros and cons of taking your website design off the grid.



The Pros of Web going Off-The-Grid

Non-traditional layouts have visual design appeal as well as a freshness that Bootstrap's responsive grid has dominated for almost a decade. 


Brands Communicate Candidly

One of the biggest pros about going off the grid has more to do with the company itself than the user who will be exploring it. By going off the grid, companies can create more nuanced personalities that resonate immediately when a user lands on a page. Style, mood, and values are all communicated in a matter of an instant—a flash of color, a broken plane, or unorthodox text layout can express in a moment what whole paragraphs try to do. 

Having more freedom to demonstrate feeling allows companies to convey so much more to their potential customers. Instead of having to read through droves of content, a user can understand what a brand is about immediately through the strong aesthetic that comes through on the web page. Within a moment, the user will be able to say, "I feel this, this represents me, it speaks to me," (or the opposite).



Courtesy of VR Arles Festival

Designers Get More Creative Freedom

Depending on your level of adventure, we suppose the next one could be assumed to be a con, but we can't see it as anything other than an absolute pro. With the introduction of the sandbox approach to design, web designers themselves have a whole new world waiting at their fingertips. Opportunities abound for those who would play jazz with their functional tools and visual components. No longer will they find themselves strictly confined to squeaky clean expectations of old. 

Hopefully, this allows designers to hone in their artistic abilities, which would intern expand their portfolios. As all art-fueled movements snowball into everyday practice, these designers will see greater opportunities to think outside the box. Going off-the-grid provides creative leeway and open space to engage audiences that may not color in the lines, or prefer modern, clean-lined responsive pages.  


Users Get to Tap into Excitement 

Last but certainly not least, we come to the user. If they're the ones who will be experiencing a myriad of different websites across the internet, we can't really think of anyone that this trend better benefits than them. Previously, users have been wading through websites that are nearly carbon copies of one another—hero image stretched across the top of the browser, alternating bits of photos and text, light and airy spaces, all very pristine and very, very dull. 

The trend of breaking the grid brings excitement back to the internet experience, and it reintroduces entertainment and delight again into the scroll. And just like a brand can quickly communicate who they are through this new trend, the user can quickly determine whether or not that brand is for them. With such clear and distinct moods being presented, users won't have to stay long to decide if the company they are searching out resonates with what they are looking for. No clicking over to an "About Us" page to understand where the company is coming from. With this new trend, it is communicated in the first seconds of landing on the homepage.



Courtesy of Do You Speak Human

The Cons of Web going Off-The-Grid

As with any new trend or great endeavor, there will always be a certain level of risk involved, and we would be remiss if we didn't talk about the potential snags and hang-ups that breaking the grid may pose to those who dare to give it a go.


Usability Could Suffer

One of the things that designers will have to be most careful with when dipping their toe into this new realm is that of usability. With so much creative freedom on the table, many websites could easily begin to tip the scale towards chaos. As users have grown accustomed to the bootstrap-style layouts of the past few years, they could end up finding the gridless experience to be messy, complicated, and disengaged from the patterns of interaction design that hit the center of the user's experience. 

There will also, undoubtedly, be an adjustment curve. Designers risk having users land on the page, becoming overwhelmed, and choosing to back out onto a simpler site that they're more accustomed to if they aren't into the change. The level of user research and heuristics may also suffer from differentiating engagement in testing and grading disciplines, making it more difficult to judge the effectiveness of the interface. 



Courtesy of Engaging Partners

Web Traffic May Fluctuate

In the same vein, brands being able to communicate more clearly who they are and the vibe they wish to portray may isolate a large chunk of their audience. Where a sterile site invites the masses, a highly curated site could easily lead to the opposite. Users who land on a hyper curated homepage may abandon ship, even if they could potentially benefit from the products or services that the company is offering. 

Companies could see a change in their web traffic, and potentially even their conversion rates by taking an off the great approach. However, this change could, in turn, lead to a pro. While no one likes to see their web traffic decrease, what could potentially end up happening is that companies will see an initial dip in traffic, followed by an increase in conversion. Because even though they're losing their more general audience, they will be curating a more targeted group of customers who are more likely to become loyal devotees and even advocates.



Courtesy of UENO

Navigation Will Get Sacrificed

As designers play around with new a trend and freer approaches to design, they'll need to be sure to keep things simple for the user. If the site is so hard to navigate that the user can't easily and readily get to where they want, the odds are they'll end up backing out altogether. We have already seen several desktop menu implementations fall victim to overflowing hamburger menus in mobile responsiveness. 

Designers should feel free to break the grid but steer clear of mixing up the navigation too much or hiding it in some obscure space. Even something as simple as running text vertically instead of horizontally could be enough to scare a more traditional user off in search of more natural options. Pushing the boundaries of common patterns and materials design just might be the future. Still, it's a good bet that while the creativity of the designers runs wild, the pragmatism of the engineers will be there to balance things out before they go too haywire.  

What are your thoughts about breaking the grid when it comes to web design? Are you all for it? Are you ready to see something new This dark scrolling web pages of yesterday in the past?


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