UX Magazine

Defining and Informing the Complex Field of User Experience (UX)
Article No. 1171 January 14, 2014

Goodbye to 8 Design Elements Whose Time has Come

Last year I welcomed the rattling death knell of several of my least favorite design elements and facets of technology. Some of them have died already, some are dying, and a couple have been recently diagnosed as “terminal.” Looking forward, I think their diminishing presence will make 2014 a better year for experience design.

1. The Drop-Down Menu

Drop-down menus have been a cornerstone of user interfaces since the dawn of the Internet. Countless sites continue to use hover state drop-down lists as a critical piece of navigation, but as trends shift toward fully responsive, device-agnostic design, there won’t continue to be simple drop-down menus.

In its current form, the drop-down menu cannot function on platforms where the concept of a “hover state” doesn’t exist (on tablets and phones). As the “mobile first” movement continues gaining traction, click-based navigation, such as the use of a “hamburger button” to nest an entire site’s navigation in a clickable list, will become more prevalent.

2. Carousel

The carousel is another ancient relic (by Internet standards, at least) of web UI that enables pages to feature multiple content elements within a certain spot above the fold. Typically set to cycle based on time, carousels have been phased out, particularly on major news sites, in favor of adaptive content blocks that fill space based on browser width. Again, the death of this trend benefits mobile and tablet users, who avoid frustrating experiences attempting to “swipe” through a carousel or navigate between elements. The carousel as we know it will likely evolve into a more gallery-like interface based on swipes and navigation rather than a time-based approach.

3. Internet Explorer 9

Praise the Internet gods! Major Internet corporations now phase out older versions of Internet Explorer far more quickly than before. Remember, just a few years ago we had to dumb down user experiences just to ensure compatibility with IE6. Even worse, the years that went by before we no longer had to support it. Fast forward to present day, where major players like Google and Facebook are embracing standards-based innovation, forcing Microsoft to either do the same or get left behind.

Praise the Internet gods! [We] now phase out older versions of Internet Explorer far more quickly

The old “Embrace, Extend, Extinguish” philosophy hasn’t really helped in the browser war. IE continues to lose browser market share to Chrome and will continue to lose ground if Microsoft cannot keep up with the beautiful innovations present in Chrome, Firefox, and even Safari. In November 2013, Google announced that it will stop supporting IE9, which usually signals that the rest of the UX community will soon follow suit. This is great for the future, because your UX can only be as strong as your weakest link. Catering to ancient IE versions always ensures Microsoft’s browser costs you the ability to innovate.

4. Skeuomorphism

A hot topic with design nerds, the skeuomorphism vs. flat design debate raged all of last year and will likely continue into 2014. Arguably, Apple has been the biggest proponent of skeumorphism through their iOS design choices and their historical majority of users over other mobile systems (prior to 2013), whereas Google has championed flat design for years. As Android market share increased dramatically—and with Microsoft jumping aboard the flat train with their new Surface and mobile OS—Apple had to make a choice: Either continue leading a design trend that feels less fresh (and debatably creates a less-friendly UI), or embrace this new trend. With iOS7, Apple went flat, extinguishing the final major skeuomorphism flame.

5. Flash

Although the previous point tabs Apple as a latecomer to the flat design game, they won the Flash battle. When Apple launched the iPhone and iPad with the conscious decision not to support Flash and those platforms took major percentages of web traffic, advertisers, site administrators, and developers embraced this new “HTML5” fad. Now, in 2013 we’ve seen a serious decline in Flash advertising, let alone sites built on that tool. Many of the Flash programmers I know have since embraced Adobe Edge, which is supposedly a grasp at regaining some relevance within the web developer scene, but it seems like too little too late when there are tons of (arguably better) open source tools available for everything. Originally released in 2011, with major updates in late 2012, Adobe is really pushing Edge, and although Flash is still available and supported, it doesn’t get nearly the developer love it used to. You’d be hard pressed to find any major sites using Flash components anymore.

6. Web Pages

Web pages are still around, but they’re undergoing some serious innovation lately. Not to harp on a previous point, but the quicker we move away from old IEs that harsh our collective mellow, the sooner we can abandon individual web pages altogether. This trend is a combination of design and technical innovations that appeared a couple of years ago and are now gaining traction. We’ve seen a major shift towards “appification” of web sites, which has most likely been employed by platforms that neither need nor want to make native apps to cater to the tablet and mobile users. Sites like Quartz, Facebook and Google Apps exemplify this trend, and constantly receive accolades for their approach to UX on the web.

Gawker media was an early adopter of this approach, with a major shift to a much maligned and short-lived hashbang-driven experience in 2011. Their site leveraged the pageless design with a new-at-the-time HTML5 standard called PushState which updated content asynchronously without refreshing the navigational elements of the page. Pitchfork.com was another early adopter of this technique and helped popularize a few tools such as PJAX and TurboLinks, the latter of which has become a core feature in Rails 4. We’ve seen more and more sites move this way, and as the barrier for implementation lowers, we will see a greater number of sites take this approach because it makes them leaner, faster, and cheaper to run.

7. Shared Hosting

While I would say “colos” (short for colocation centers) are on their way out, they’ll never completely die since major companies require physical servers (even if we’ll only have Google and Amazon datacenters in the future). Regardless, the concept of “shared hosting” is something that makes little to no sense given the massive migration to cloud computing and Platform as a Service (PaaS) offerings. Why spend $20 per month with GoDaddy to host something you have no control over, when you could spend a fraction of that to serve exactly the amount of bandwidth you need? Why would you also share your server with someone else you can’t see, creating bottlenecks that you can’t fix? Now, almost every hosting company (GoDaddy, MediaTemple, etc.) has cloud or virtual server options to compete with the big dogs like Heroku, Amazon Web Services, and Google App Engine.

8. “m.” Sites

Until the adoption of responsive design, there was only one good way to deliver content to users who visit sites on a tablet or mobile device: read the initial request, check the user device, and redirect to a mobile version of the same site. The mobile site had to exist as a separate code base with an entirely different set of features. Whenever publishers updated one version of the site, they had to do the same on the other version, complicating maintenance and driving development costs. That said, there are reasons why “m.” sites lasted beyond the advent of responsive design. For example, advertiser platforms took a while to adjust to a single page being able to deliver two entirely different inventories. To handle this issue, advertisers had to serve all ads to every page, and then render only mobile or desktop ads depending on the device. This specific problem has long since been solved by most ad platforms, and now that “responsive design” is basically a household term, the cost benefits of supporting a single platform rather than two presentation layers are clear.

 

Image of man framing the future courtesy of Shutterstock.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)

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John McKinney is co-founder and CEO of Ashe Avenue, a web development agency based in Brooklyn.

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Comments

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As someone of tenure in an agency that works primarily on growing small businesses (1-50 employees, 150,000-5mil in annual revenue), I can say safely and with a good amount of authority that many of your predictions, although wishful, will not be happening in the small biz arena for 8 years or more...this is especially true for item #7.  I can't get my larger entities to want to switch to VPS, Dedi, or other, because the performance of their shared server isn't bad enough to warrant it, and to owners and decision makers in these businesses, "if it ain't broken or won't cause a sharp increase in performance, don't spend money on it, for God's sakes!"

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someone may have already mentioned this, but hamburger menus are apparently also a serious UX issue, sorry: http://techcrunch.com/2014/05/24/before-the-hamburger-button-kills-you/

 

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Wow. Disappointing article. Google and Facebook receive accolades for their UX? These two companies personify bad UX. Even Microsoft has become better than these two.

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Predicting the future is tough, and it takes bold confidence when you do it. Too often, you might be wrong in the end, but read between the lines and you can dig up alarming ideas. The Web is changing, but to say Web Pages may face extinction is a wild guess.

But it's a scary thought! The idea of HTML was to create an equal playing field to all web browsers and computers. If that goes, so does net neutrality. Is your content at the mercy of a phone OS? Will phones and tablets only adhere to their own infrastructure? Will HTML be the "Linux" of the Internet?

As Google Play and the App Store duke it out, it seems to me that if web pages die, content providers and businesses will be more frustrated to code for mobile devices rather than testing browsers.

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Dumb article. I barely think w3school's browser stats represent consumer browser stats at all. Overall unhelpful article which sounds pompous and easily misleading.

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Sorry, I was rude.

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Poorly researched article. I'm disappointed UXmag. You usually publish a lot better than this.

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Sites like Quartz, Facebook and Google Apps exemplify this trend, and constantly receive accolades for their approach to UX on the web.

Accolades from who. Certainly not UX and usability people. Certainly not from a ton of users, especially Facebook.

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Wow, you're just wrong a lot. This is all opinion I understand but some of this is just terrible usability.

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agreed that rotators are a less effective ux for promoting stuff. ironic that this article was promoted in a rotator on a site about effective ux.

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Whether or not shared hosting is a design element, it has one thing in favour of it that most cloud hosting solutions do not: ease of use. Things like Heroku and AWS require being comfortable with the terminal, and being able to install not only databases but ways to interact with them (e.g adding PHPMyAdmin). Heck, it is possible to install Wordpress on Heroku, but you lose the ability to be able to use WP's one-click updates. Unless you've got some sysadmin talent to hand, shared hosting ain't going away any time soon.

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Sorry but skeuomorphism, as a notion and not just a visual style as it is often considered -- that is a big mistake --, just can't go away since even flat design is using elements of skeuomorphism to achieve its goals.

As a matter of fact, get rid of all skeuomorphism and see what happens: people unable to do anything. I'd like to read an article about real skeuomorphism, especially on such a website (UX) but it seems it is a lot easier to follow the trend making skeuomorphism a bunch of drop shadows and textures, which it is not at all.

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I cringe every time someone confuses skeuomorphism with realism. You might get a kick out of this article: http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/2013/12/in-defence-of-skeuomorphism/

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Flash is not dead

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What are some open source alternatives to creating flash-like content? I am looking for software that I can create animated logos on, and add clickable/ tap-able content to videos.

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There are some websites where having a completely different mobile landing page or site is important, e.g., airlines, hotels. Where you need to quickly book a flight/room, make a reservation, check on your existing reservation or modify it, or a phone number that is displayed very prominently.

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Hi John, I found your article interesting and informative. Sounds like you took some heat for it. FWIW, I have no problem with the carousel on your site since, as the saying goes, "The cobbler's children have no shoes," would apply to my life, as well. :)

The element of your article that actually did make me pause was the title. "Goodbye to 8 Design Elements Whose Time has Come" While I'm a sucker for the # promise (8 Design Elements... 3 Mistakes..., 5 Easy Steps, etc.), if something's "time has come," it means it is at its prime. So, your title is confusing. Why say goodbye to something that is at its high point? Maybe, "Whose Time has Come and Gone" or "Whose Time has Passed"?

Regardless, I did enjoy the read! Helped me to expand my thinking about design!

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HI THERE EVERYONE! Let me clarify a couple of things because everyone is yelling at me. (but first, thanks for reading this piece :) )

1. This article is not just about aesthetic user experience, it is about the "tip to tail" design of an entire web application stack. Otherwise, we'd be talking about "just the tip" .... amirite? This is meant to discuss the front, middle, and back end layers of any given web app as well as other cultural/environmental factors that have heavily influenced web development over the years.

2. Garage Band may be a good example of friendly skeuomorphic design, but is that really the best example to use for that argument? Ableton Live, for example, exhibits a very flat design and solid iconography set that is not confusing in the slightest -- in fact it is far more professionally viable than Garage Band. Plus, there are plenty of alternatives coming out and gaining ground in the graphic design tools market (check out Macaw, for example) that shed that notion that iconography must be skeuomorphic to make semantic sense. However, yes, I am elitist as f**k so you can take that for what it's worth. (Side note, if you've ever gone to some dude who you are going to exchange money for his audio recording services and he busts out Garage Band.... just leave.)

3. Isn't a VPS a virtualized server? The arguments about scalability and total control over the server are exactly why I'm asserting that shared hosting is worthless and annoying. We are on the same page brotherman.

4. (i can't believe i'm still going). It is not going to be better for your startup company (regardless of the market you are in) if you have to support an "m." codebase and a "www." codebase. More complexity == higher support cost == less profitability. In fact, I'd say (totally without any citation or ability to back up this claim) that the editorial sites are the ones MORE guilty of still doing this, likely because of the latency of display ad traffic tech to adapt to new standards.

5. Yes I am a giant hypocrite because my website has a carousel. And I still hate it. Is that so wrong?

Anything else? Please feel free to yell at me more. Thanks again for reading. That is all.

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Shared hosting is not a design element!

I also use dedicated hosting, which, while more expensive than shared, VPS, or the like, is absolutely necessary for my needs. Plus, my provider can't shut me down for overuse of system resources (CPU, RAM, hard drive) and I get more bandwidth per month than most cloud plans. I get total control over every aspect of the server, which is a huge plus, but it definitely isn't for everyone. I'd recommend a VPS for most needs - far less hassle and more scalable.

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That list is kinda dumb.

First off, the author assumes that "drop-down menus" are "hover menus". He fails to recognize that drop-down menus historically and even today often rely on clicks rather than hovers. Indeed your Mac menu bar features "drop-down menus".

Secondly, the "carousel" will be more prominent with touch devices since swiping is such a popular gesture. Yahoo Tech just launched and features a carousel. As another commenter points out, one of the author's websites (asheavenue.com) features a prominent carousel as well.

Internet Explorer 9 is NOT a design element. It is a browser. Comparing it to the evils of IE6 and indirectly to the hell of "quirks mode" is a just IE bashing for the sake of those who will blindly join in. Sure, IE10 is much better, but FF24 is not perfect either compared to its WebKit brethren. Either way, these are not design elements.

Enough with bashing skeuomorphism. Most who do it fail to really understand what it is and when it is useful. For example, Garage Band for iOS makes great use of skeuomorphism with virtual instruments. Can you imagine a image/graphics editor like Photoshop eliminating pencil, eraser, paint brush and air brush metaphors or the simple hand-shaped cursor that clenches to "grab" that on screen element and drag it elsewhere? These are all great examples of skeuomorphism. Bashing skeuomorphism is what layman do to make themselves sound like UX elitists. Further, iOS 7 is far from "flat" since it actually uses tons of depth illusions. Simply using a texture because you think it looks nice is not skeuomorphism. Using a texture for the sake of making an on-screen element look more like a real world element it is trying to mimic is skeuomorphism. For example, the linen background of iOS 6 and Mountain Lion was not skeuomorphism, but the textured paper background and torn edges on the Notes app certainly was.

From there, this article just gets worse. Flash is a Web development technology, not a design element. Web pages are a medium, not a design element. Shared hosting is the furthest thing from a design element. And the "m." sites are simply a choice between making two distinct websites versus one that adapts. These still make sense. By its nature, responsive design is like those "one size fits all" baseball caps with the plastic snap in the back for adjusting the size. In some cases that works fine, but sometimes you don't want your design for mobile or desktop to be limited by the capabilities of the platform. Saying "responsive design" is the only way is as naive as saying that mobile apps should all be hybrids with an embedded web view (one size fits all). Facebook learned the hard way how limiting yourself to a specific set of parameters can really hinder the user experience. Responsive design is cool and works well for news websites. Complex web applications will likely benefit more from developing separate versions for mobile versus desktop and even tablet.

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1) Author probably should have focussed on the hover part of any menu instead of claiming drop-downs are to blame. I'd suggest that even the hamburger button is a 'form' of drop down. Essentially any navigation mechanism that exposes a taxonomy... yadda yadda.

2) Again, author probably should have focussed on the timing aspect of carousels instead of the mechanism itself, since a swipe-based carousel is still a carousel.

... I suspect there's more to push back on, but looks like much of it is already covered by other comments. :)

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Shared hosting is not a visual design element, and it's not going anywhere anytime soon either. I would also remind the author that even virtual servers and cloud servers need to live on some hardware somewhere.

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You read this and click on the author's company website and what do you get?

A fu***** carousel.

Poser.

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Nice! Really Nice! but not sure if m.sites are ready to go away!

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Instead of drop-down I would go with fat menus, because this is the real UI metaphor for navigation.
Drop down menus can take many forms, such as quizzes which are not dependent on the hover state.