5 Web Development Trends To Watch This Year

Emily Stevens

The world of web development is constantly changing—and rapidly at that. As new technologies emerge and user expectations evolve, we see a continuous flow of new apps, websites, functions and features.

For every new development that the user encounters, there’s plenty going on behind the scenes. As a web developer in today’s fast-moving landscape, keeping abreast of these changes is a must. While no one can predict the future, it’s important to be in tune with how the industry is moving and to anticipate which factors will have the biggest impact.

As we approach 2021, it’s time to consider where the industry is headed. What does the year hold for web development? Let’s take a look.

1. Single-page websites

The first trend on our list is a direct result of user browsing habits. In 2019, 52.2% of all website traffic worldwide was generated through mobile phones. Whilst the shift away from desktop is nothing new, this serves to reiterate that designing and developing for mobile devices must continue to take priority.

Today’s users are all about simplicity and speed - and that’s exactly what single-page websites provide. As the name suggests, they consist of just one long webpage. There’s no traditional menu or complex navigational system; instead, the page is divided up into logical sections. The user only needs to scroll down in one continuous motion, or click on anchor links in order to jump to the relevant section.

A great example of single-page design in action is the Shippen House website. What look like standard menu elements at the top are actually links to various points within the page, and each clickable component expands to show more information.

From a user perspective, single-page websites look good on all devices, are extremely scroll-friendly (the smartphone user’s dream), and may even help to boost conversions. However, as with any trend, it’s important to consider the specific use case of each website in order to determine whether this design pattern is the best option.

2. Progressive web apps

Once again, we’re seeing the influence of mobile in this next trend: the rise of progressive web apps.

Progressive web apps look and behave like mobile apps, but are actually web pages that work in the browser. As Google explains, they combine the best of both: “They are useful to users from the very first visit in a browser tab, no install required. As the user progressively builds a relationship with the app over time, it becomes more and more powerful. It loads quickly, even on flaky networks, sends relevant push notifications, has an icon on the home screen, and loads as a top-level, full screen experience.”

Aside from recreating the much-loved mobile app experience in the browser, PWAs offer many advantages. They can work offline, are highly immersive and engaging, and load extremely quickly as much of the information is stored in the cache. Unlike mobile apps, they can be discovered online via search and don’t require installation.

To build a progressive web app, you’ll need basic knowledge of HTML, CSS and JavaScript - as with a normal web app. The progressive aspect is based on service workers, enabling you to create a rich offline experience and to incorporate things like push notifications, and the web app manifest (manifest.json.file) which allows the user to install the app on the homescreen. This Google codelab will take you through the process.

3. Farewell, Flash

Some trends are simply about saying goodbye, and 2019 looks set to be the year that we bid farewell to Flash.

For a long time, Flash was the go-to protocol for displaying animations. However, Apple’s refusal to support Flash back in 2010 arguably signalled the beginning of the end - you can read Steve Jobs’ original thoughts on Flash here. Subsequently, in 2015, Google started automatically converting Adobe Flash ads to HTML5 - then, in 2017, Adobe announced that, after 2020, the Flash player will no longer be updated or distributed.

There are several factors that have led to the demise of Flash, including security issues, frequent crashes, iOS incompatibility and a lack of mobile browser support. HTML5, on the other hand, offers a secure, low-maintenance, high-performance alternative - enabling web developers to create SEO-friendly animations with ease.

If you haven’t already, it’s time to switch any Flash content over to HTML5, as this is fast becoming the new standard.

4. Artificial intelligence

It seems like the AI hype never lets up, but it wouldn’t be a trends list if we didn’t mention chatbots.

In the age of constant connectivity, user expectations are high. The traditional 9-5 customer service no longer cuts it: we want 24/7 access to answers and information, and this is where chatbots come in. These virtual assistants are quickly becoming the norm - it’s predicted that 80% of businesses plan to integrate chatbots by 2020 - so today’s web developers need to be comfortable with the technology behind them.

This means getting to grips with Natural Language Processing, Natural Language Understanding and Artificial Intelligence principles. Context-based interactions will play a key role, and the focus will shift towards real-time rather than static user experiences. This developer’s guide to chatbots provides a good introduction to the relevant platforms and frameworks.

5. Website push notifications

Push notifications are not just for mobile apps. Websites are also taking advantage of this user engagement tool, and this is a trend we’ll see more and more of throughout 2021.

As with chatbots, brands are constantly seeking ways to communicate with the user and provide valuable information at just the right moment. As long as the user has notifications enabled, they can receive useful updates even if they don’t have the website open.

So how do push notifications work? The push part refers to the server supplying message information to a service worker. The service worker then sends the information to the user, in the form of a notification. This is possible on the web thanks to the Push API. From a development perspective, push notifications are fairly easy to set up, and they offer the benefit of higher engagement without necessarily needing to create a mobile app.

As you can see, a career in web development will certainly keep you on your toes; even the most experienced developers are constantly learning and adapting. Interested in becoming a web developer? Find out what key skills you’ll need to master and how to go about it here.

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