The Web Design Trend Obituary & Death Clock
Trends rule the web design world. More so than with other areas of design, the web is very transparent and in a matter of hours I can click my way through the work of maybe hundreds of individuals, without even realizing it. This ease of access makes “trend osmosis” something of an unfortunate inevitability. However, trends come and go. Here is a small collection of web design trends that I predict we will all be completely sick of in about 6-8 months. The advent of social and accessible web design has brought with it a curious gang of design trends and gimmicks.
First, though, lets have a little obituary. Here are some of the web design trends that have been long dead, and most of us in the industry look back on with shame, even though they were totally wicked at the time.
I’d say it was around the late 90s when pixel fonts really started to take off. At the time, adding a pixel font to any design suddenly transformed it into something “cutting edge”. Pixel fonts provided a certain futuristic and technological je-ne-sais-quois that normal, readable fonts simply couldn’t provide. Popularised by flash gurus such as Joshua Davis, pixel fonts also provided designers with a handy method of putting lots of content up on screen without compromising space. After all, users would be much more inclined to move their faces closer to the screen than have to scroll the page a bit, right? RIGHT? Biggest big-name abuser: K10k. And to this day still. For shame.
Links that don’t look like links:
Another one of those pesky form-over-function design decisions. There was a time when we would try to make links as inconspicuous as possible, so as to preserve the overall aesthetics of the page. Removing the link underline, making links only a tiny shade of difference in colour to the body text…yeah we were pretty silly. Who would have thought that users would want to click on those things anyway? Nowadays with big sites like flickr leading the way with their simple, beautiful blue underlined links, I can once again actually find my way around a website.
I distinctly remember a time - again around the late 90s - when the only colours in a web designer’s armoury were #CCCCCC (light grey), #999999 (slightly darker grey), #666666 (slightly darkerer grey), #333333 (dark grey) and whatever glorious variation of grey you could get by picking colours in between those 4 stalwarts. Yes, low-contrast was hot and grey was a convenient scapegoat colour scheme for when you didn’t have any inspiration. An optional extra to your exquisite all-grey colour scheme would be to add some kind of garish pink or orange logo to show that whilst you were all-grey (and thus at the height of cool) you also retained some wild, thrill-seeking sensibilities, proving you were a cut above the rest.
Which brings us now to our death clock predictions. I want to reiterate again - I don’t hate any of these design trends. Yet. In fact, I use them as much as everyone else - but I just feel they are distinctive enough that in 6 months to a year, we will all be completely fed up with them and be looking to Web 2.5a to herald the next wave of design gimmicks that we can all ingest and regurgitate onto the interweb in glorious technicolour.
Application-like Icons, I forgive you, for you are a victim of circumstance. The boom in web services and web applications has meant that now more than ever, people are doing things on the web that would normally take place in a desktop software application. Organising photos, checking email, writing documents - these are all fairly complex activities that involve metaphors often seen in desktop applications (disk = “save”, blank page with star = “new page”, etc).
Couple this mentality with the fact that there are now many high quality free icon libraries available for use and bam, little icons everywhere, all arrogantly assuming that I understand what the hell they do based on the quality of the metaphor.
Death Clock Prediction: In early 2008 these will be taboo for anything but the most desktop-like of web applications. Use them on your blog at your peril.
As a generic way of drawing a user’s attention to something, I really like the supermarket sticker. It has a good mix of being kinda kitsch yet versatile, and it also has a solid grounding in cognitive psychology - everyone knows what a supermarket sticker is, it’s just something I, as a web user or a supermarket shopper, need to look at.
However, just as in real life, the supermarket sticker’s value degrades with overuse. If I walk down an aisle with 100 supermarket stickers on random products throughout, I’m probably not going to look at any - either I’ll be too distracted, or because there are so many my level of expectation will decrease overall and I’ll choose to not give my attention to any particular one. If I have one tip: don’t have more than one supermarket sticker on your site!
Death Clock Prediction: Within the next 6 months Supermarket Stickers will die a grisly, overused death.
I was going to say “big fonts ‘n’ gradient fills” but actually I’m hoping big fonts will stay with us a while longer. Gradient fills however, hoo boy. Gradient fills are slightly more difficult to judge than other web design trends as in some cases they provide a huge amount of personality to the site. Take a look at the mini web-empire created by 37signals, it’s blog, one of its products, it’s public framework - they all feature a bluey greeny gradient fill at the top. Cheap trick or genius branding move? Personally I’m not sure, but I wish that I had thought of it first (I also wish I had a mini web-empire to apply it to).
Death Clock Prediction: Gradient fills will be dead around mid 2008. People are having way too much fun with them now, and they aren’t very intrusive. Will remain trendy for a good while.
I think we have Apple to blame for this one. The shiny, glossy look has long been a popular trait of many OS X icons and applications, made ever more popular with the advent of Apple’s Dashboard and it’s chunky 3D-ish shiny icons. The look has since found it’s way into web design in the form of shiny tabbed navigation, shiny buttons, shiny site logos and more. So much more.
Death Clock Prediction: We’re just going to have to wait for Apple to come up with the next cool design convention that we can all nick.
The use of superfluous visual effects:
Death Clock Prediction: I give superfluous effects another 5 months - purposeful effects I hope are here to stay.