The Internet as we know it today has been around for roughly two decades and in that time, things have changed a great deal. Even the very concept of hopping online shifted from “something that you do in your leisure time after a hard day at work or school” to something you do all day, every day in the “constantly connected” world that we’re now living in.
The design principles of online graphic design have also changed, but not necessarily in the obvious ways that you might be thinking. Solid visuals are still solid visuals – they always have been and they always will be. What makes something compelling rarely changes. The ideas that those visuals represent, however, have changed significantly and will continue to do so for years to come.
Everything Gets Bigger and Better
The early days of Internet were actually fairly visual-free, if you can remember back that far. Yes, visual content was available – but thanks to slow dial-up connections that plagued most users, they tended to be simple animations and stock photos. They needed to be incredibly small in size so that users could actually download them over their painfully slow Internet connections.
Then, two things happened at essentially the same time: Internet connections got faster as broadband spread across the country and display technology became cheaper and more affordable as well.
This led to not only a situation where more people were browsing the Web on giant desktop computer monitors that looked fantastic, but their Internet connections also supported larger and more intricate graphics (and — gasp — video!)
Graphic design shifted as a response as more and more marketers in particular started to take advantage of these facts. Images got big, bold and brash – it became difficult to find a piece of content that wasn’t filled to the brim with relevant images.
But then, something funny happened. Something that would essentially change the online graphic design landscape forever.
Enter: The Mobile Age
In 2007, Apple released the original version of the iPhone and it changed… well, pretty much everything, forever. Although “smartphones” had existed prior to that point, the catastrophic shift in nearly every industry that you can think of was something that would be felt for years to come – including in terms of online graphic design.
Think about the way you used the Internet in 2006. Now, think about the following mobile-related stats from 2017:
- By the end of 2017, nearly 75% of all adults in the United States will own and actively use a smartphone on a regular basis. The most shocking thing of all is that the smartphone market has yet to truly plateau – if anything, market penetration is only increasing.
- In terms of interacting with technology, most people spend the majority of their time each day not just on the Internet, but interacting with apps. People spend about 3 hours and 23 minutes each day in apps, while they only spend about 50 minutes on the mobile Web.
- A person who owns a smartphone spends about 10% of their time, or about 20 minutes every day, interacting with mobile social media apps like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Suddenly, the “big and grand” elements of online graphic design took a dramatic-yet-predictable about face. People were no longer interacting with your content on giant monitors with high definition (or even 4K) resolutions.
They were instead experiencing your content for the first time – and likely the only time – on a small but powerful little device that they carry around with them in their pocket all day.
Based on this, visual content needed a shift of its own in response. Those giant, crystal clear images that looked stunning on a desktop computer only made it more difficult to convey ideas on a smaller screen with a touch screen interface.
Not only that, but giant images also made it nearly impossible to navigate certain websites when viewers were using the mobile version of a particular site.
The response itself was just as important as the effect that caused it: online graphic design didn’t necessarily change, but it certainly became more thoughtful. Suddenly, marketers couldn’t just write a piece of content and add visuals in as an afterthought.
In many ways, those visuals actually became the content in the first place.
This era gave rise to things like Infographics and presentations, both of which are growing increasingly popular all the time. People had to acknowledge that visuals were more essential than ever before (because who wants to spend all day reading a wall of text on their smartphone?) and that visuals needed to be a natural, organic part of the user experience.
This is evident when you take a look at the available Infographic or presentation themes available in a tool like Visme (which, I founded a few years ago). You can no longer take a piece of content that you designed for the “real Web” and post-convert it into a mobile format. You need to start with mobile design principles for visuals and work backwards from there, because in 2017 the mobile Web IS the “real Web.”
In many ways, the evolution of online graphic design over the last 20 years has seen nothing change and everything change – all at once. Yes, visuals are still an important part of the content you’re creating and they’re still an incredibly efficient way to convey larger ideas in the easiest possible way.
But thanks largely to the smartphone revolution and the mobile world that we’re now living in, visuals are now more important than ever. In many ways, they’ve become not a supplement to the content you’re creating but the content itself. This is a simple idea, yes – but it’s one that is only going to get more and more important as time goes on. This is a large part of why tools like this Website Grader are so important. Not only can they tell you how your site is doing in a macro sense, but they can also help you make sure that your graphic design choices are being embraced by both desktop and mobile users alike.