3 mobile design trends to look out for in 2016

Simplicity, animation & you

The world of online design has been an embarrassingly trend-led affair at various points throughout its history. To design outsiders, it sometimes seems as if the entire industry is simply waiting for the next trend to blindly leap on, regardless of whether it makes any actual sense in the context of individual sites or apps. That said …

One of the many plus points of the mobile device revolution over the last eight years has been a renewed emphasis on the fundamentals of good interface design in order to maximize the small amounts of screen real estate available.

In this piece, we’ll shine a light on three of the main mobile design trends you can expect to see more of in 2016 — each of them firmly centered around actual user experience rather simply following the herd.

Let’s dive in!

1. Simplicity will continue to shine

Though the rise of phablets has given designers a few more pixels to play with, in many cases the focus of mobile design will continue to be on simplicity.

Whether it’s an app or a website, users want to be presented with clear choices that can be instantly understood. The canonical example here is Tinder, where the potentially infinite complexities of dating have been boiled down to a simple decision to swipe right or left.

Expect to see a doubling down on this drive towards simplicity in 2016.


We’ll see bigger fonts and fewer features, along with a move towards stripped down search-led navigation and a renewed focus on solving one problem well.

Realmac Simplicity in Mobile Design
Simplicity in action with the Clear app from Realmac.

Apps such as Clear, Canopy and Dark Sky are already showing the way here, and we can anticipate that level of straightforward execution to finally start filtering through to complex mobile use cases such as online banking and travel in 2016.

2. Functional animation will provide details that delight

User gestures placed motion at the heart of mobile from the get-go and have opened the door for an animation renaissance in online design. In stark contrast to the historical excesses of Flash in the desktop era, the focus this time around is very much on functional animation.

Functional animation can inform and engage.


What is functional animation, you might reasonably ask? Simply put, it’s animation that’s there for a reason. As UI/UX designer Anatoly Nesterov expertly breaks down there are all manner of areas on mobile interfaces where a judicious sprinkling of animation makes all the difference. From subtly animated menu reveals to discrete interaction cues, functional animation provides users with orientation and constantly updated context in a non-intrusive but engaging manner.

Slack Uses Functional Animation
Modern apps such as Slack already employ subtle animation elements to great effect.

Current apps such as Slack are already wowing users with a whole suite of carefully considered animations based around micro-interactions and are setting user expectations for the next wave of mobile design. Expect this trend to gather serious momentum in 2016 as animation becomes more and more a core part of UI/UX design.

3. User context will be key

The long-term trends in mobile are towards both increasingly intimate devices (the latest wave of wearables, for example) and huge strides forward in what they know about your habits, history and desires. The combination of those trends is putting user context front and center in mobile design.

Whereas the last major mobile design movement was all about making sites and applications seamlessly react to the device in the form of responsive solutions, the next wave is all about making sure they adjust flawlessly to you.

Wearables Feature User Context Design
The latest generation of wearables open up entirely new fields for user context design.

Expect to see more and more mobile designs tackling the problem of anticipating user needs in response to a combination of personalized data based on previous behavior and real time analysis of user contexts. We’ve already seen glimpses of what’s coming down the line with apps such as Waze and Foursquare, along with Facebook’s increasingly sophisticated contextual targeting.

As Web Designer Depot’s excellent overview of user context in mobile design makes clear, the combination of next-generation devices and sensors potentially open up entire new fields of user-focused, context-driven design. For a great overview of how this trend stands to influence current categories of apps, check out Nazrul Idris’ recent thought-provoking piece on the subject.

Mobile design trends wrap-up

Our three key mobile design trends are certain to play a large role over the next 12 months in ushering in the next generation of mobile design solutions. Let’s recap what you should be keeping your eyes peeled for in 2016:

A drive towards simplicity. As the cloud-based computational power available to app developers becomes ever more impressive, the front end focus will continue to shift towards pared-down interfaces and overall ease of use.

Increased use of functional animation. Expect designers to rediscover the power of animation in focusing user attention and creating interfaces that delight.

User context taking center stage. The next generation of mobile device will revolve around devices knowing who you are, where you are, and what you want to do at any given moment.

Is there a particular development you’re eagerly awaiting in the world of mobile design? Get in touch via the comments section below and let us know!

Tom Ewer
Tom Ewer is a freelance writer, online entrepreneur, and the founder of Leaving Work Behind and WordCandy. He has been obsessed with WordPress since he first laid eyes on it, and has been writing educational and informative content for WordPress users since 2011. When he's not running his businesses, you're likely to find him outdoors somewhere – as far away from a screen as possible!