Current Web Design Trends For 2009-2010
Let’s first take a closer look at the main trends we identified, discovered and observed over the last months. In this overview, you’ll find a review of each trend and more beautiful examples that can inspire you in your next project.
Rich user interfaces
Font replacement (sIFR, etc.)
The magazine look
Huge illustrations and vibrant graphics
More white space than ever
Social design elements
Still large search boxes
Icons and visual clues
Illustrations in blog posts
One of the most unexpected trends we’ve observed over the last months was the emergence of letterpress (actually pressed letters) in Web design. Probably the most important reason for this trend is the simple fact that this technique has been rarely used until now. Letterpress is used in various styles and on various websites and for various topics; in particular, it is often used in product designs and on websites for online services.
2. Rich User Interfaces
Happily, user interfaces in modern websites and Web applications are becoming more beautiful and more usable. Over the last year, the user experience for these applications has dramatically improved, resulting in rich and responsive user interface that have tremendous similarities with classic desktop applications. AJAX and Flash are widely used to offer users the dynamic interaction that they have come to expect from advanced, sophisticated, professional solutions.
In particular, we’ve seen much more white space over the last year, much more padding and much more space for various design elements. We also observed that many modern user interfaces display intuitive visual clues to communicate the status of a user’s interaction with the system. For instance, upon being clicked, event buttons often change their appearance from a “normal” to a “pressed” look (as on Newspond.com and Quicksnapper.com), confirming and providing immediate feedback on the user’s interaction with the system. Aside from this, more and more services are now able to be personalized by the user: for us, it’s a clear sign that adaptive user interfaces are coming in 2009.
Both examples are evidence that designers of Web applications are paying significantly more attention to the way in which functionality is presented and are trying to improve the user experience with more interactive and responsive solutions.
3. PNG transparency
PNG transparency, although unsupported by Internet Explorer 6, seems to have gained popularity on the scene over the last year. Apparently, designers are trying to better integrate background images into the actual content and are aiming for a style that is often seen in printed media, magazines for instance. In most cases, semi-transparent backgrounds stand out in the overall background of a page and are intended to highlight an important design element, such as a headline or announcement. Sometimes PNG transparency is used for the background of modal boxes as well.
4. HUGE Typography
In 2009, big typography should remain popular. In particular, design agencies, portfolios, product websites and online services will use big typography to communicate the most important messages of their websites.
The font size of these design elements often goes beyond 36 pixels, and in many cases quite expensive typefaces are used to reach an audience. Overall, designers are paying closer attention to typographic details such as leading, line height and choice of font. The consequence: websites are more beautiful and more consistent and look solid and trustworthy.
5. Font Replacement
As designers pay more attention to typography, they also pay more attention to the fonts that are used for the copy in the body of websites. Although classics such as Helvetica, Arial, Georgia and Verdana undoubtedly dominate, we observed a slight trend towards font replacement (for instance, with sIFR).
What is interesting is that these fonts are often seamlessly integrated in the design of websites; they are almost never used for their own sake or simply to “upgrade” the typography of a website. Designers are trying to blend beautiful typography and arresting visual design to improve the appearance of websites and improve the user experience.
6. Modal Boxes (Lightboxes)
7. Media Blocks
With more broadband Internet access, users can now afford to browse more than they did a couple of years ago, and designers can use this opportunity to present content in a more attractive and memorable way. Hence, it’s no wonder that many product websites use media blocks (for videos and screencasts) for this very purpose. The main advantage of such elements is that they can communicate content quickly and effectively and make it easier for users to consume information.
Users just lean back and enjoy the show; they get everything explained to them step by step, without having to click, search for descriptions or learn the navigation. The movies are usually pretty short and get directly to the point; they are mostly formal but can be entertaining, too.
8. The Magazine Look
An interesting development in the design of blogs is the adaptation of various techniques usually found in traditional (print) media. The arrangement of posts on the page, the use of typography, illustrations and even text alignment often resemble traditional techniques from print. Grid-based designs are gaining popularity as well but are used mostly in portfolios, product pages and big blogs; they almost never appear on corporate websites or in online shops.
9. Carousels (Slideshows)
Carousels are essentially slideshow navigations, in which the content rotates vertically or horizontally (hence the name “carousel”). To rotate the navigation, users need to click on one of two toggle elements (usually a left/right or up/down arrow). Depending on the toggle element selected, the content is rotated in the desired direction.
Instead of clicking through various sections of the website for their favorite stories, users can quickly skim through the available stories without vertical scrolling or unnecessary mouse movements. The result: users save time, and the carousel focuses their attention sharply on the content, instead of on interacting with the browser. Such slideshow navigation is often used on entertainment websites and big blogs, but designers also make use of it in their portfolios to showcase their work in a more interactive way.
10. Introduction Blocks
The upper-left area of a website is the most important block on the page, because it grabs the most attention from visitors. Therefore, it makes perfect sense to place the most important message of the website right there and thus make sure that readers get the message as quickly as possible.
In fact, this is exactly what many designers are doing. Whether for a Web application, corporate design, online service or portfolio, designers are pushing their slogans and brief introductions to the top of the page and are using strong, vivid typography to make a good first impression. Some introductions are short, others are quite lengthy; in either case, they usually take a lot of space; the full width of the layout and between 250 and 400 pixels in height are common dimensions for these introduction blocks. Notice, though, that introduction blocks almost never appear in blogs and rarely in online shops.
1. Out-Of-The-Box Layouts
In these out-of-the-box-designs, the overall creative approach is often more important and more memorable than the attention to details. Still, usability, typography and visual design are rarely overlooked and are often carefully executed. Creative layouts are particularly popular for portfolios, websites of design agencies and promotional websites (e.g. commercial campaigns of large companies), but they are also very popular on blogs.
When it comes to creativity, the line between a usable and unusable design is very thin; thus, usability testing is particularly important, because a new creative approach can literally break a website. Often, it’s a good idea to find a compromise between a creative approach and a classic, traditional design, and try to achieve a balance between a “bulletproof” (yet ultimately boring) usable designs and an innovative unusable designs. Keep in mind that innovative ideas need some time to mature: to be rethought, modified, adapted, optimized and finally integrated in the design.
We strongly encourage designers to break out of the usual boxed layout conventions, experiment with new approaches and risk crazy ideas. Show what you are capable of!
2. One-Page Layouts
An alternative route that designers often take to impress their visitors is using so-called one-page layouts: layouts that use one single page to present the content of the website. It doesn’t necessarily mean that these designs are minimalistic (adhering to the principle “Less is more”). On the contrary, such designs are often quite complex, include rich imagery and vivid animation effects and therefore take some time to load.
3. Multi-Column Layouts
A design with multiple columns (3+ columns) is not necessarily a complex design. On the contrary, when designed properly, multi-column designs can be really helpful to visitors because they are given (hopefully) a better overview of the available navigation options and can more quickly find the information they are looking for.
Over last few years, we’ve seen an explosion of content on the Web, which has led to the problem of a decrease user attention span, the time that visitors are willing to spend on a given website (see an article on ReadWriteWeb for details). Consequently, it’s no wonder that designers have tried to find ways of presenting information compactly, both to keep visitors on a website as long as possible and to make it as easy as possible to find content.
One way of achieving this is simply to use layouts with more columns placed next to each other. The idea is quite reasonable. Screen resolutions have been constantly increasing in recent years (though a wide adoption of netbooks, like Asus’ Eee PC, may change that), providing users with more horizontal space and designers with additional space to fill with content.
The result: now more and more designers are using more and more columns. We have observed a strong trend towards these so-called multi-column layouts, which are often fixed layouts of 850 by 1000 pixels in width. Multiple columns are used in magazine layouts and portfolios. In these layouts, grids are often used to guarantee a structural balance, hierarchy and order.
With multi-column layouts, the importance of active white space between and within columns cannot be overstated. (Active white space is the space that is deliberately left blank to better structure the page and emphasize different areas of content.)
For this purpose designers often make use of Shneiderman’s Mantra (”convey big picture first, reveal details later”), providing users with a brief overview of available options first and offering details on demand — later, when a link was clicked (Mozilla Labs is a great example of just that).
4. Huge Illustrations And Vibrant Graphics
Just as huge typography keeps dominating modern Web design, huge illustrations seem to be gaining popularity across both professional and personal Web projects. And designers are trying to communicate the message of a website using interactive elements (embedded video blocks) and visual elements (introduction blocks and illustrations). Recently in designs, illustrations have taken up much more space than before and usually supplement huge typography, and they are more attractive, more vivid and therefore more memorable to visitors.
Alternatively, designers are also using vibrant graphics, particularly for backgrounds but also for other design elements. Various styles and graphic approaches are used: grunge, collage and scrapbook, ornaments, retro and vintage, watercolor, organic textures and photographic backgrounds.
5. More White Space Than Ever
Probably one of the most predictable, yet extremely beneficial, developments in Web design over the last few years has been the increasing prominence of white space. White space dominates many designs and is used generously to improve the flow of articles and structure of websites.
In fact, we have never seen so much padding in content areas and navigation menus. Padding of 20 to 25 pixels in the wrapper and content area is becoming a rule of thumb, and even more padding is often considered acceptable. Hopefully, this development is here to stay.
6. “Social” Design Elements
If you take a close look at the blogosphere, you’ll hardly be able to find a blog that doesn’t use some kind of “social” icons or social blocks to encourage readers to promote its stories on popular social media websites. Every author loves traffic and recognition, which is why the social element in modern design is becoming bigger and aesthetically more attractive.
Social icons are usually put all over the place, often in the top right of articles or at the bottom of the post. Social blocks often fill the area beneath a post and sometimes appear beside a list of related articles. Twitter, Flickr and Last.FM integration is still common for blogs and portfolios.
7. “Speaking” Navigation
That’s why navigation options aren’t often listed simply one after another using appropriate keywords (i.e. using “silent” navigation). Instead, designers are attempting to concretely explain what options are available and what visitors should expect from a website section upon clicking the corresponding link.
Because designers are trying to initiate more effective dialogue with visitors, we like to call this navigation scheme “speaking” navigation, as opposed to “silent” navigation, which is based on listings of keywords.
So that visitors perceive content as being easy to navigate, the navigation is often structured with blocks of the same height and width. Large icons are quite often used; but in most cases the decision as to whether or not they are appropriate depends on the content of the website and the overall layout. “Soft” hover effects often support the navigation design by making browsing more pleasant.
8. Dynamic Tabs
One of the most popular trends in interactive design is having a tabbed area whose content can be changed dynamically. The idea behind dynamic tabs is that the content of all tabs is loaded when the page is loaded, but only one part of the content is displayed at a time (the attribute
display is used to achieve this effect). You can follow a tutorial on dynamic tabs and ‘tabs’ visual control in jQuery to create dynamic tabs.
Found something missing in this post?
While compiling this stuff on this post, it’s possible that we miss some other great web design trends. Do not hesitate to share it with us in Comments so that we can add instantly.
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