Web design trends we're noticing

Whether we like it or not, the world of web design is always quickly changing — perhaps even faster than we can keep up. And with the inherently net-savvy nature of web designers and the popularity of design-sharing sites like Dribbble, trending should remain a powerful and very full-bodied force for the foreseeable future.

What we've done is put together some of the major movements that we have noticed with the hopes that we can provide you with a snapshot of the big picture as we have seen it lately. No doubt you've noticed many of these trends as well, but perhaps clients are reluctant to let you experiment with their site. While clients may never utter the blessed words, "Do as you wish and have fun," you may find you're able to insert subtle creativity in many places where your client has been silent. 

What trends are losing steam?

  1. Glossy aqua buttons a la OS X

    Apple really brought glossy gel-filled buttons to the forefront with OS X. And that style has pervaded for a very long time, even influencing Windows Vista and Windows 7. But although gloss often looks very clean and striking, it has also been very overdone. The solution? Buttons have tended to become much less intense, with subtle gradients and matte finishes (see embossed typography below). Along the same lines, buttons have become more and more responsive and realistically designed. A standard model for button reactivity is that they change instantly and subtly when hovered over and then respond more drastically to being clicked (darker, lighter, or even inverted colors).
    glossy web design image
  2. Cliche stock images

    These are going out for many reasons, one of which is because they say very little. They fail to set the website apart from others, and they don't offer much unique insight into an organization. Offending images include the business handshake or the young woman smiling while chatting happily on her headset. The solution? Trying to find imagery that is both personal to the company and still informative seems to be the best solution. Perhaps have someone take pictures of the building or create a graphics-themed site.
    stock photos
  3. Font experimentation

    The last couple of years in design have seen some unique typographical layouts, possibly due to the increasing interest in typography and the introduction of many new font enthusiasts. In particular, there has been an increasing use of slab serif fonts on heavily gradated or busy backgrounds, which can create an unusual look for this traditionally clean font.

    fonts in design
  4. Reflections

    This is another trend that seems to have followed the continuing success of Apple. And now, as with most things that gain such a large following, it has been overused. Reflection and mirroring looks to be on its way out the door (for everyone except Apple, apparently), even though it is still very sharp and clean looking.
    mirroring in design

What trends are picking up steam right now?

  1. Simplicity

    Designs are trending toward very simple, intuitive layouts that make site navigation much easier. This tendency toward clean interfaces helps to organize the page visually so that visitors can get where they need to go without sorting through information that should really be a layer or two deep. Several years ago, it seemed to be the pervading opinion that if a user couldn't see what they wanted without scrolling or clicking, then they would leave. This turns out to not be true, and giving the visitor a very clean, clutter-free interface has shown to be a better option. I've pulled up some local news and radio stations, typically known for their use of clutter:

    It is difficult to decide where to begin.
    clutter in design
    Again, you know what you want is right there, but where?
    clutter 2
    This example from the LightCMS gallery really harnesses the advantages of a simple layout.
    simple design
  2. Print layouts and the grid system

    The science of traditional print media has been having a large impact on the design community for years, and its influence is only growing. Why? Because it's clean, it simplifies aesthetic, and it is inherently more organized. For more information on this, check out this previous post that offers some resources for grid design.
  3. Embossed typography

    With the advances in font use on the internet, and especially web fonts, typography is continuing to grow rapidly as a subject relevant to the web. Embossing typography has been popular for a while now, but it remains strong. A noticeable change is that, like many trends, it has become more subtle. It often looks great, it plays well off the less-glossy, matte gradients of many site designs, and it works well for setting the type apart for headings or labels. It's also going to be easier to achieve without image manipulation using CSS3 and web fonts.

    In this blown-up example, you can see the subtle embossing we use in our admin menus.
    embossed menu
  4. Noise

    It would seem that something so basic and so "low-tech" would have no chance at making any sort of comeback, especially when it was never considered something you wanted. But somewhat recently, many designers have been incorporating noise into their images to create an almost unconscious visual interest and texture. It can be easily overdone and can destroy clean lines if allowed. It also seems to play in well with the move away from gloss and toward matte.

    Here you can vaguely make out what might be noise or a very slight texturing. noise in design
    When zoomed in, the use of noise is easily seen but is still subtle.
    zooming in on noise in design
  5. What else?

    • Ribbons for parenthetical statements
      ribbon trend
    • Increased white space and big headings (also from the LightCMS gallery)
      big heading
    • Designs that don't follow the typical five-piece model
      unique webdesign

Are there other trends that you have noticed either coming or going? Be sure to share your thoughts with us in the comments!