With a title like this, one might think that there is a consensus among computer, networking and communications professionals as to what these three challenges are. This is not the case, of course. There are many, many challenges for Web designers (past, present and future) and those who stay abreast of high-tech industries could make many lengthy lists. However, there really are just a handful of truly troubling prospects, and this article will introduce you to what truly are three major Web design challenges of the future. There are others, but no one in the know would discount the importance of the three discussed here.
1. Standards: Apple and Adobe are at war, figuratively speaking, over the fact that Apple will not make its iPhone Flash compatible. Not only that, the new Apple developer kit agreement forbids application makers from using non-Apple tools to make iPhone apps. This is a direct slap in the face to Adobe, whose new Creative Studio 5 includes tools for making Flash-based and other apps for Apple’s mega-best-selling phone. The larger issue that it points up is that of standards. We are supposed to see video, animation and Flash-like functionality from the upcoming HTML5. (Upcoming? Our interest is up, but when is it coming?)
If this sort of behavior metastasizes throughout the associated industries, the fluid and predictable nature of Web use may change. It would be hard, especially for small firms, to create various versions of its applications for different devices. Perhaps a few years ago, people would have wondered what the Web, and Web designers, had to do with phones. Today, however, a growing fraction of Web surfing is being done from a wide range of mobile devices. Standards create a predictable, stable environment, and the sooner the next multimedia-centric set is adopted widely, the better.
2. Color calibration: With the number of different devices displaying Web pages, whether the standard pages or alternatives made for some phone displays, there is no simple way to ensure color consistency. At the dawn of the Web (so long ago for some, just yesterday for others) it was common for some publishers to produce two layouts, one in the CMYK four-color space for printing, the other in the computer-monitor RGB color space. (CMYK refers to the four colors, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and black, that are used in process color printing. RGB means Red, Green and Blue, the colors that monitors and other displays use.) However, it is not only the color space that affects the way color is perceived, the kind of display matters, too.
Today there are all kinds of different displays (LCD, LED, OLED, TFT, etc.) of all different sizes, some glossy and some matte, and the variation in color display is dramatic. Web designers used to spend tremendous amounts of time producing variations of sites for different displays (computer monitors, mobile phones, TVs, even in-dash car units). Some still do. Others are attempting to find the best single color scheme for their sites, one that will display at least acceptably precise colors on a multiplicity of displays. There is no easy answer to this one, as there are so many variables. Until a new, cross-platform and device-independent color calibration standard is in place, there is nothing else to do but the best possible job with the current tools, techniques and technologies.
3. Displays: In addition to having an impact on the colors used by Web designers, different displays present a problem of what is called screen real estate. If you do not prepare and deploy different sites for different platforms, you will have a site that displays properly in only one place, more than likely the computer monitor. However, mobile Web surfing from small-screen netbooks, handhelds, iPads and smartphones is growing fast, and may one day (soon) move from a strong second to first place in page views.
There is great progress being made in interposing some software routines between the site and the receiver’s display, so that the correct size parameters and design alternatives will be presented depending on the size of that display. That part of the problem is being solved, perhaps, but there are other display technologies coming that will present other hurdles. Displays that are 3D, flexible and/or capable of being rolled up in a tube will have properties (and present problems) we do not even know about yet. A major issue with portable displays of every kind, of course, is how they look in sunlight, shade, changing conditions and at different viewing angles. There is an amazing amount of money going into display R&D today, you had better believe it.
Sure, there are other challenges for Web designers, but these three (standards, color calibration and displays) can confidently lay claim to being toward the top of any tech-savvy observer’s list.