Social media & smartphones have changed web design forever

By Simon Ensor
Social Media , Web Design 19.10.2015

The methods by which we display and consume content has changed drastically in the last few years. The use of technology has become an intrinsic part of our daily lives with smartphones taking centre stage as our trusted companions ready to deliver any content that we desire. In fact, Ofcom’s communications market report released on 6th August, states that over two thirds of British adults have a smartphone, 72% have a social media profile and 22% rated themselves above 7 on a scale of 1-10 where 10 represents being ‘completely hooked’ on social media. As a major point to the report, we were labelled as a ‘smart phone society’ no doubt fuelled by our voracious appetite for social media.
You don’t need an Ofcom report to tell you this though, you only need to look at your own personal use of technology to see for yourself. This change in usage of technology has occurred at a frighteningly rapid pace, but thankfully the design world has always been responsive to change. We have identified the key aspects that have altered web design as a direct result of smartphone and social media use.

Card Style Layouts

card layout for web design

The major social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest all work on a similar card style layout for their respective feeds.These cards (also called tiles or modular design) are a succinct method of ‘boxing off’ or separating unrelated content, allowing the user to scroll through various feeds at a faster rate. This card style layout has filtered from social media to other sites, most notably those sites displaying a considerable amount, or wide variety of content. The most obvious of which are news sites. News sites have always been relatively good at separating content, after all they have had years of experience in print layouts. The influence of social style cards has been more evidently recently though, with BBC updating their website in 2015 to include much clearer defined cards. Don’t believe us? Have a look at whatever news website you like to peruse and it should become obvious. The most notable element is in the display of related content, just take a look at how the BBC’s website design has changed since 2003.

BBC design change

Smartphones have also lent favour towards boxed off content. The Ofcom research behind our use of mobile devices is staggering:

– We spend nearly double the time on a monthly basis on our mobile devices (58hrs 39 mins smartphones and tablets) compared with laptops and desktops (31hrs 19mins).

– 54% of households have one or more tablets, with 34-55 ownership of tablets hitting nearly two thirds (64%)

Websites must therefore display their content across multiple devices with varying screen sizes, or more accurately, varying screen resolutions. Responsive website design is no longer an optional extra, it is an absolute necessity. With floating elements replacing fixed elements on websites, designs have to cater for content that will dynamically adapt to the device upon which it is being displayed. Card style layouts can produce a much more cohesive design across multiple devices and it is this necessity for responsive design which has been a supporting factor for the rise of card/tiled/modular style websites.


Not too long ago, web design was focussed upon creating websites which delivered a message instantly and menu navigations which negated any requirement to scroll down for additional content. In fact from an SEO perspective Google announced their Page Layout algorithm update which penalised sites which required a significant amount of scrolling to find the desired content (usually because of ads).

Delivering a message instantly is still a priority for web design but mobile devices (and to an extent social media) has meant that as a society we are almost automatically inclined to swipe or scroll down a website. Swiping on mobile devices comes naturally to most of us nowadays, not just Generation Z. In addition to this, technologies such as parallax scrolling have meant that websites with longer pages can use creative design to keep the user engaged as they navigate down the web page.

Bear in mind that we are not recommending that you place all of your content below the fold, far from it. The content (and design of the page) above the fold should be highly engaging and deliver as much of the desired message as possible. However, this should not come at the expense of the web page’s design or content layout. If a longer page is better suited for displaying the content then go for it.

An expectation of real time news

Our concept of up to date information and data has shifted in recent years. As a society we no longer expect to wait hours for information, we now demand that information be ‘real time’. Very little is retrospective nowadays. There has been a considerable push towards live information, It permeates throughout our lives from real time enterprise analytics which help managers make informed business decisions to our ability to watch live television remotely.

There are multiple factors which have driven this forward including information being stored in the cloud and faster internet connections but in keeping with the subject of this article our own networks on social media and the constant use of these platforms to display our lives has played a part in this societal expectation. Status updates, checking into locations, tweeting every move we make or posting our dinner on Instagram are but a handful of near real time updates that many of us broadcast on social media. Combine this with 4G connections on smartphones and there is very little information that we cannot access on a real time basis, from anywhere.

In turn this is having a direct effect on website design. RSS news feeds are no longer displayed in an obscure corner of a website, they now take centre stage. News feeds and social integration allow organisations to develop an online personality and react to relevant news. Website design now caters for this shift towards real time information, with news & events, blogs and social feeds taking a more prominent place on both homepages and throughout sites.

Traditional brochure websites with main header images and simple text layout will still be an option for those that do not require complex sites or might be lacking in budget. However, we are seeing an increase in websites designed with mobile devices and social media in mind. It is encouraging to be part of an industry which reacts to how users are consuming content in order to produce websites which are intuitive and engaging.


Want know more about Yellowball’s web design services? Let our creative designers ensure that your website caters for our smartphone and social media driven society!

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