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11 min read

The big ideas that will change web design in 2023

Designers across the country share their big bets, areas of focus, and ways to move the industry forward this year.

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Illustration by Anita Goldstein.

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The past year was pivotal in the design world. New cutting-edge tech, like AI tools, were introduced to the market, a recession led to contraction across the economy, and freelancers and agencies alike pivoted to meet its prevailing headwinds. It’ll take more effort than ever before to stand out in the crowded digital ecosystem.

Coming off several years of uncertainty, one thing is clear: big ideas are needed now more than ever to move the creativity industry forward. With a new year stretching ahead of us, we touched base with industry leaders in decision-making roles—from studio founders in California and New York to lead developers in Milwaukee—to share their big ideas, acute areas of focus and visions for how the industry will change in 2023.

1. Unconventional navigation will be on the rise

A gradient abstract illustration of a zigzag going from bottom left to top right of the composition.

Designers are finding that they no longer need to rely on old standards like a hamburger menu to effectively guide user behavior. Users are ready for the new and unconventional. In fact, the unexpected can actually be a boon to user experience according to Editor X design lead Vered Bloch, “because a user will spend more time engaging with a site if their experience is worth scrolling for,” she says.

In 2023, expect to see more navigation and website architecture that break the norm, whether that’s bottom navigation bars and oversize footers, new approaches to grids, or floating buttons (all three of which are seen in design studio Build in Amsterdam’s recent site). Mike Wagz, a cofounder of Philadelphia based web design studio Self Aware, says we’ll see this increase in offbeat website structures because of a widening number of unique CSS features that have become newly available over the last few years, like CSS filters and support for custom masking shapes, as well as more websites that share guidance on how to use these features, like Mozilla’s Resources for Developers, by Developers.

But it’s not just about individual feature changes. There will also be a push towards website infrastructure that feels more like a native phone app, according to Jennifer Heintz, the other cofounder of Self-Aware. She gives the new Maison Margiela website, which pairs an intuitive scroll-like navigation and simple iOS-like rounded corners, as an example.

Somewhat counter-intuitively, her main tip for dipping your toe in the waters of weird-architecture is to stop looking at the web at all. “While it’s important to know what’s going on in the field of web design, I’m finding myself taking a bit of a detox from digital references, and am becoming more drawn instead to tactile analog inspiration like signage, fine art, and architecture,” she says.

2. AI will become another tool in the toolbox

Artificially intelligent tools like image generator Dall-E and text engine ChatGPT are going viral online, and it’s only a matter of time before we see tools like these showing up in web design too.

Brent Couchman, founder and creative director at San Francisco-based design studio Moniker, believes that experimentation in the AI and digital tool space will lead to the adoption of more generative and responsive tools and plug-ins on the web— far beyond what’s been done by early adopters. This could be as simple as more platforms relying on applications