This is a guest blog post by Lyons Consulting Group, a Demandware Strategic Solutions Partner 

If there’s one thing you can say about the life of a web developer in 2015, it’s that it wasn’t boring. The pace of change in our industry has increased exponentially over the last few years, with new frameworks, build tools, and techniques coming out seemingly every week. Even if you don’t have the time to play around with or use the latest technologies, you must at least have an understanding of what everything does if you want to maintain parity with your peers.

To help you stay abreast of the latest trends on tap for 2016, Lyons Consulting Group has compiled a list of what we think will be some of the biggest topics in web development, design, and the Demandware platform this year.

JavaScript

There’s a battle for the soul of web development, and it runs right through the main programming language used on the web—JavaScript.  Here are some of the issues to take note of: 

  • Ember. Angular. React. npm. gulp. grunt. webpack. Some of you may remember the good old days where all you needed was a code editor and some HTML, CSS, and a bit of JavaScript and voila, you had a site. No more.

Now as the frameworks shake out, there seems to be a divide opening up between two different world views… you can either adopt a “do it all” comprehensive framework like Ember, Angular or Meteor (for you Node fans), or you can implement a “million little pieces” paradigm using React and a bevy of supporting npm modules to handle all your different needs that you string together yourself (routing, file concatenation / minification, ES6 / JSX transpiling, JS linting, hot browser reloading, etc.).

Demandware has already started using CommonJS-style imports for JavaScript files, as well as grunt/gulp for build tasks.

The React library is taking the development world by storm. It would be easy to overlook the things that React brings to the table because of “JavaScript fatigue” and the constant churn of new libraries, but React seems to be a game-changer. The React team seems to have taken all the lessons learned from previous frameworks (the complexity of two-way data binding, the DOM performance bottleneck, the forest of templating languages, etc.), and fashioned a thoroughly modern way of making websites. And React Native may let us use open web technologies to give native device languages a run for their money. And I haven’t even mentioned isomorphic JavaScript.

  • ES6, the shiny new version of JavaScript (also known as ECMAScript 6 or “JavaScript 2015”) has made inroads over the past year and adoption will continue in 2016. This has been driven by transpilers like Babel (an npm module) and libraries like React, which are a good fit with some of the new functional programming techniques used in ES6.

Design 

  • Mobile-first and responsive design will continue to play a bigger role in web development and ecommerce in particular. In the most recent Demandware Shopping Index, we see that phones accounted for all the year-over-year gains in both traffic and basket creation.
  • Akamai released a report that showed that mobile users spend more on ecommerce than desktop users. Instead of being an afterthought, mobile designs and implementations will take a front seat with desktop following. And mobile-first SiteGenesis design is now on the 2016 Demandware road map.
  • Mobile-first design is further emphasis that we’ll continue seeing the evolution of responsive imagery techniques continue apace, as a big chunk of current page weights is imagery.

A common strategy is to use the new (official spec) “srcset”, “sizes”, and “picture” (using Picturefill as a backup) to provide different images for different screen sizes / devices, saving mobile users from downloading huge costly images. The technique is explained here.

  • Continued evolution of popular front-end frameworks – with leaner Sass, improved grid mixins, full accessibility, and Flexbox support, Foundation and Bootstrap should see increased adoption.
  • And now that we have CSS pre-processing tools like Sass, why not do some post-processing? We’ve used Sass for a year or two now, so we’re able to look at the pros and cons of CSS pre-processing with a little more judgment and less hype. While the performance of a Ruby-based setup was horribly slow (10 seconds to build CSS?), developers quickly discovered node-Sass as part of a grunt/gulp build process could give them sub-second compile times. A common complaint still is the use of nesting CSS selectors, which makes it harder to dive into an existing Sass file to start hacking and also may generate crazy compiled CSS. Best practices seem to be shaking out.
  • Tools like PostCSS allow you to write syntax closer to actual CSS and then drop plugins as more features become standard CSS. Expect to see the discussion and friendly struggle between pre and post CSS processors continue this year.

Demandware Platform

  • Demandware continues to evolve with the introduction in 16.1 of the JavaScript Controllers development model and updated SiteGenesis based on these controllers. JavaScript controllers will enable developers to use JavaScript files instead of pipelines for building Demandware storefronts, which represents a big change in the way Demandware developers have traditionally put together business logic on the server side. This new model gives the developer some advantages, like making searches and merge conflicts easier to handle, as well as giving us the ability to override specific functions of a controller instead of the whole thing. And web developers come in the door knowing JavaScript, so this should be a productivity boost for learning the platform and finding new developers to work on Demandware stores.
  • To us, it’s online vs. offline (brick and mortar vs. click and mortar). To consumers, it’s all just “shopping”. The Demandware omnichannel experience continues to evolve in a few key ways. Some Demandware retailers offer loyalty programs and gift cards that integrate in-store and offline buying. This gives our customers the ability to see behavior across the buying spectrum and provide targeted recommendations. Other retailers are implementing things like endless aisle or order online/pick up in store.
  • With version 16.1, Demandware has started offering interesting social integrations with third party platforms like Pinterest Buyable Pins. In the Pinterest app (iOS and Android), customers can click a Buy button and have the transaction processed on the Demandware side. The retailer can track Pinterest transactions separately. With more than 70 million monthly active users, Pinterest provides a ready-to-buy group of shoppers to Demandware retailers with minimal setup on their side. Just another way Demandware is enabling and improving the mobile shopping experience.

In the world of web development, the only constant is change. It’s going to be an interesting year for developers, so make sure to keep up.

Thanks to Michael Allinger, Matt Rose, and Dave Haas for the technical review.