Trends vs Fads, and How They Affect Law Firm Marketing

BY Kristen Friend



People often use the words “trend” and “fad” in the same way. But there is a difference. What web design trends should you be looking for in 2013?

A new year provides people with the opportunity to start fresh and look ahead to new developments, both personally and professionally. It is the time for self-proclaimed gurus to offer predictions about the next new thing and for designers to talk of upcoming trends.

Determining what predictions are accurate and which new ideas have staying power can affect your firm's marketing decisions. Filtering the good advice from the rest of the noise is a challenging, but rewarding exercise. The more insight you have about what works, the better.

Trends vs. Fads

The words “trend” and “fad” are often used interchangeably, although their meanings differ in significant ways. In fashion or gadgetry, for example, things that are thought of as being trendy might more accurately be labeled faddy – in one year and out the other. Fads are fleeting, a blip in the zeitgeist of any given moment. When a fad passes, it is not often missed and may even be mocked for its retrospective absurdity.

Like most fads, those in web design should be avoided. While they may be transiently appropriate, they will quickly date your website, assigning it to a specific place on the timeline of Internet evolution. Succumbing to fads can also become costly, as your website must be modified frequently in order to keep up.

Trends, however, are noteworthy because they are not likely to fade away when society's attention is inevitably drawn to something else. Trends are a sign of an underlying shift in attitude, social opinion, technology or other category. A new trend is reflective of a long-term change or movement, like the proliferation of internet-ready mobile devices in American households. People may have been skeptical of early adopters, but no one questions the influence mobile devices now have on the way individuals access information and communicate with each other.

Some trends may be worth adopting. How do you recognize whether something is a trend or merely a fleeting fad?

Look to big players in and outside of your industry. Studying non-lawyer websites may provide you with unexpected ideas about how to organize information or provide a positive user experience, helping you break away from the standard lawyer website mold. Large companies employ teams of people whose sole job it is to research where design and marketing are headed. And they have the funds available to produce good analysis about what methods are most effective. Forbes, for example, was an early adopter of larger font sizes and a static header on its website, two trends that have steadily been gaining popularity. When a style has reached the big players, it will likely be "in" for some time to come.

Listen. Schedule time to listen to and read about other people's ideas. Online marketing requires a seemingly constant output of your opinions, your accomplishments and your commentary. Blogging, social media and content marketing create a steady stream of self-focused output. It is easy to lose yourself in yourself. Quieting the cacophony of “you” and nurturing the skill of listening will help you tune in to new theories and may even spark some productive insights about your own website and marketing.

Anticipate people's needs. Trends in design are dictated in large part by the needs of users. If you can foresee the needs of those visiting your website, you will be more able to anticipate changes in what is considered good web design.

Large buttons are a good example of functional necessity which drives design. Smart phones require users to select links on a pocket-sized surface. Tiny text links on a small screen can be maddening and cause users to give up on navigating through your site. One answer to this problem is to incorporate large clickable elements into a site, particularly on landing pages, giving people an easy way to find what they are looking for.

Ask yourself if you can you live with it. Common sense is a powerful tool. Given a little introspection, you will likely find you can spot which fads will quickly grow old. Simply ask yourself if the item in question is something you can see still being a part of your life several months down the road.

Every year, Pantone reveals its "color of the year." Since Pantone is responsible for creating what is arguably the most widely-used color matching system in the world, its choice of color always garners attention, gaining mention in publications like the Washington Post and New York Times. Last year, the color was the vivid Tangerine Tango. This year, it is Emerald Green. You will see lots of green items on the shelves and online, and the color may even grow on you as a result. But ask yourself, could you live with it on your walls? Those bright orange Chuck Taylor high tops may have caught your attention in the store, but can you really see them on your own feet?

Trends in Design for 2013

Look for more websites to begin incorporating one or more the following approaches throughout the coming year:

Responsive Design. Without question, the number one trend for the coming year is responsive design. Responsive design is a method of building websites that allows them the ability to adjust to the user's operating system, browser and screen resolution. The most effective websites are accessible on all machines, but the sheer number of devices on the market makes it nearly impossible to create a template specific to all types and sizes. Your firm would need an iPad version, a Kindle version, a Nook version, an Android version, a Blackberry version and so on, ad nauseum. Trying to anticipate every device is both expensive and impractical.

Sites that are planned and developed in line with responsive design principles will not need to use special templates for individual gadgets. With fluid design, smart use of CSS and the right media queries, your site will actually respond to users' needs.

When planning a responsive website, remember to construct the layout so that it can adjust to be one, two or even three columns depending on the space available on the user's device. Use flexible images that resize automatically to fit within various screen sizes. If your site contains a lot of information, you may need to need to hide some elements from users on smaller devices like smartphones. Identify critical features and map out how they should be displayed from phone to tablet to desktop. All of this must be organized at the beginning of the project, not added as an afterthought.

Large Elements. The graphics and text that come together to create a website design continue to get bigger as more people browse the Internet with high-resolution monitors and high-speed connections. Large images that fill the whole screen, big type treatments, oversized buttons and larger fonts for body copy are all hallmarks of this trend. Designers are finding ways to include more white space on both a micro and macro level. With more room to breathe, large margins can be used to separate groups of content and emphasize important items. On a micro level, text becomes more readable with increased space between individual lines, beneath headlines and within lists. This gives websites a more open, clean feel, making them easier for users to understand and navigate.

Creative use of typography. Type has long been used as a design element in print applications, and that style is finally finding its way to the web. You will see a growing number of websites using display and other non-standard fonts as dominant graphics, often taking most of the real estate above the scroll. Since the advent of web font foundries, designers are no longer limited to a few “acceptable” fonts, and they are using their freedom to produce fun and compelling results.

Scrolling. Users are accustomed to the scroll. Creating pages that force people to scroll is no longer considered problematic; scrolling is even being embraced by some as a design and organizational tool. Pages can be broken up into screen sized sections, separating content and ideas visually as visitors scroll through information. Some companies are moving to single-page websites, on which the scroll is incorporated as a method for navigation.

Designers are also getting creative with the scroll by incorporating parallax scrolling. Parallax scrolling is the technique used to make different items on a page, usually background and foreground elements, move at different speeds. Sometimes you will notice that the background of a page does not move at all as you continue to scroll through information. Or, the navigation will begin to scroll but then stop and rest someplace on the page so that users can continue to have access to important links as they move down the page. Parallax scrolling offers a way to keep important links or action items on the page at all times, and is likely to continue gaining in popularity.

Minimalism. Simplicity is in. Websites that contain one dominant image, a monochromatic color palette or limited navigation options can be quite visually striking. Limiting the choices that confront users when they land on your website helps with conversion. You do not want people to be bombarded with text, graphics and links. This makes it harder for the visitor to know what to do and less likely that they will take any action at all. Prioritize your content and limit options. Minimalist websites can harness the power of simplicity to push visitors to take the actions you want them to take.

Social Integration. As search engines continue to give weight to social cues such as likes, shares and retweets, it is becoming impossible to ignore social media as part of an overall online presence. There is going to continue to be less distinction between “website” and “profile” and more sharing between all aspects of your firm's online activity. In terms of design, social media integration helps turn a website from a static brochure to a more interactive experience. Pulling content from social media sites on to relevant sections of your website can produce a stream of frequently updated, current content.

Branding. All design and marketing should be an extension of your firm's brand. Your brand is the sum of everything you do, from customer service to search marketing and all other client touchpoints. Websites are thankfully being recognized as an element of an overall branding plan rather than their own niche design.

Website designers will continue to explore new possibilities, some of which will have longevity and some of which will go the way of other unflattering fads. Spotting a real trend early can positively affect your firm's online image and search marketing efforts.

Kristen Friend

Kristen Friend is a staff contributor for Bigger Law Firm Magazine. She has covered political stories on radio stations like WMNF in Florida and has had her work broadcast by Free Speech Radio News (FSNR). As an Award Winning Art Director, Kristen has been recognized by the WebAwards, Davey's Award, W3 Awards, Webby Awards, and others for her work with law firms.


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