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    Credit: NICK ORABOVIC

Guess what? That gorgeous Website you launched last year is already nearly out of date. 

Online platforms of all kinds are becoming increasingly important in every facet of American life, and the technology is changing so quickly that if you miss a beat, you’ll fall behind.

While aquatics professionals don’t need to be high-tech wizards, maintaining a cursory knowledge of the latest Web trends can go a long way toward big benefits for your facility, and your career.

“To combat increased competition, every single pool operator should have a detailed plan to increase or improve marketing efficiency, community outreach, swimmer safety, staff training, staff retention and revenue generation,” says John Oliver, marketing and safety specialist at West Bend Mutual Insurance Co. “In 2012, and beyond, there is zero chance of effectively making these improvements without an online presence, updated communication tools and a willingness to embrace new technology.”

To help you speak the language with your IT folks, here are six trends in Web design that are changing the look and functionality of today’s Internet.

1. Responsive design. The smartphone is changing the way people view the Internet. In fact, 25 percent of Americans do most of their Web surfing on phones rather than computers, according to a Pew Internet Project report. Web design now must accommodate screens of all sizes, from phones to tablets to laptops.

“Responsive Web design” is a new concept using fluid grids that allow a site to auto-scale its layout and design to fit the screen being used. The alternative is building an entirely separate site optimized specifically for mobile. Choosing which option is best for your business depends on your budget and site’s content.

Redesigning an existing site to be responsive will cost more than creating a separate mobile site, but building a responsive site from scratch costs less than building either a traditional or a mobile site. As another option, vendors such as WordPress provide Web site templates that accommodate responsive design into which you can more easily migrate your information.

A word of caution: Highly interactive sites with lots of video and images will run slower on mobile devices, even when made responsive. In these cases, it’s best to create a separate, scaled-down mobile site.

2. New languages. The mobile revolution is affecting Web design down to the basics. Most sites are built using HTML (to create the skeleton) and CSS (to control the aesthetics). The newest iterations, HTML5 and CSS3, are fully functional on mobile screens.

Another advantage of HTML5 is its ability to support audio and video without a Flash player, which doesn’t work properly on many mobile devices. Once dominant in Web design, Flash is quickly being replaced by jQuery, which uses the JavaScript language to create slide shows, pop-ups, forms and other effects.

3. Simple look. Site designs are becoming increasingly minimalist and sharply focused on user needs. Intuitive interfaces with fewer pages and elements make navigation easy. The goal is to impress users with valuable content around a key idea, not dazzle them with design or overwhelm them with marketing messages.

4. Super-sized. Focusing on minimalism will force designers to find new ways to create visual impact and make a lasting impression. Expect to see more oversized logos and large background images. Headers may take up the entire page, but allow users to scroll down for more content rather than forcing them to click anything.

Large photos that make a big statement also are increasing in popularity (see Facebook’s new timeline design). Expect to see more sites incorporating high-resolution images as page backgrounds that demand attention.

5. Custom typography. If your site still uses Times New Roman and Arial, it may soon look as old-fashioned as a flip-phone. In the past, fancy typefaces required designers to build images that bogged down a site’s performance. That has all changed.

New custom-font tools such as Google Web Fonts, Typekit, CSS Typeset, Typetester, and What the Font, allow designers to embed a bit of JavaScript code into their CSS style and — voila! — the fonts are automatically displayed without slowing the site or forcing users to download anything.

6. Social media integration. It is already nearly impossible to find a Website without social media features, but until recently, these elements were relegated to the footer as an afterthought. Expect Facebook, Twitter and the like to take starring roles as tools to increase interactivity.

By making it easier for visitors to connect and share content, it’s possible to boost customer engagement and unique Web traffic.