Web Design Trends: Metro Style

Jeremy Pratte
May 28, 2014
User Experience Design

The problem with trends in website design in a nutshell is that they are just that: trends. The same goes for trends in anything, from fashion to food. Having something trendy is good until it isn't anymore. Will any cool new shiny thing you're doing in web design today become reviled and/or mocked like trends of yesteryear, like the all-Flash corporate website? Glass effects on all photos? Hover menus four or more levels deep? 

Oh wait; they still have those sometimes, don't they?

One current trend in website design is the tile layout, also called "Metro" style. There is strong hope for many UX designers, myself included, that this style will prove to be more than just a trend. In my opinion, it has proven to have actual value in user experience and if done correctly can lead users to the content they're looking for more easily and naturally than the standard navigation-style website that we’re used to seeing. 

The Evolution of Web Design

Web designers and developers have seen a lot of changes in trends and techniques come and go but the very basic corporate site structure has changed little in many years. This is because, after a crazy early era in web design with tons of wildly varying ideas, some patterns and motifs have stuck because they more or less work (header, navigation, content, footer, logo at the top-left, boxed calls-to-action, etc). Evolution of anything - from organisms to airplane design - works the same way. Exotic and intriguing things that aren't very functional eventually die out and the stuff that works - even if it's boring - sticks around.

So us web designers been stuck in a rut, not necessarily a bad rut, but a rut nonetheless. Metro design could prove to be not only a much-needed new trend, but something more. At Roundedcube, we're excited about this new trend and what benefits it could bring for some of our projects.

Responsive Design and Content Strategy

The inspiration for the tile layout is obviously the Windows 8 operating system, which you will find on all new PCs, Windows phones and tablets. You can also see the new design style on MSN.com, but only if you are on Windows 8. I think it has the potential to be the realization of an idea I had a few years ago, dropping a layout altogether and designing modules of content instead for the purposes of having a good responsive design. And responsive design is what the tile style is all about.

Windows 8 was designed to be a single operating system easily transferred to tablet and mobile. The tiles just stack or arrange differently depending on which device it is on. This idea can easily translate to a responsive website design. The caveat is a website has to have the content to justify the design. It doesn’t have to be as busy or as content-full as MSN.com, but it has to have more than just a few product pages, an about us page, and a contact form. Since at Roundedcube a very important step in our design process is content inventory and content strategy, we can determine if a site is right for this design. So when the tiles are implemented, it will be a welcome and refreshing way for users to consume the content. 

With the good content strategy, everything they’re looking for is all right there, no need to dig through the site, or even use a navigation bar. With the tile design it might even be possible to eliminate the main navigation bar altogether. To be able to get rid of something that was such a static fixture of website design for decades, that would be quite a revolution indeed.

The question is, are UX designers and end-users are ready for it? UX professionals, are you up to the task of this new journey, where content strategy and development will be more important than ever? Users, will you welcome more and more websites that organize the content in tiles (at least on the homepage)?

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