6 web design trends that are here to stay

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Before I started writing this article, I was very concerned about the direction to take – there are literally hundreds of “design trends” blog posts out there, each covering dozen or more examples. The strange thing was that most of these articles confused trends with fads. It’s time to make a distinction between fads and real trends taking place out there.

Trends vs. Fads: An important distinction

A trend is something that slowly takes place over a longer period of time and will slowly fade away, if ever. A fad is something that gets very popular during a short period of time then disappears as if it never existed in the first place.

Organic food is a trend; the latest crash diet is a fad. The first one has staying power; the second will be replaced by something new in a matter of months.

The same thing occurs within the design industry. If you put too much focus on the latest bells and whistles, you risk creating work with a very short shelf life. On the other hand, understanding real trends helps you stay current and produce work that won’t look outdated in a year.

Let’s explore some of them.

1. Rich typography

Long gone are the days when designers were limited to typefaces available on users computer. Web font foundries, such as Google fonts and Typekit allow you to use virtually unlimited number of fonts in your web designs, dramatically enhancing their appeal.

Top: a Kern and Burn website uses beautiful type and easy pallete for a fantastic effect.
Left and Middle: Typographica and Fray use custom fonts to create a special look of their pages.
Right: Center for Investigative reporting combines web fonts with good  layout for a surprinsingly modern look.

Designers have been taking advantage of this opportunity for some time now, and more and more sites are being built with a strong attention paid to typography. Some of the sites, like Typographica, rely almost entirely on type and still look beautiful.

For more on web design typography, check out typography trends in web design (and some goodies to get you started).

 When and how to use it:

  • You can use rich typography in virtually every web design project – every site will benefit from having richly set type.
  • Make sure to check if there is a cost associated with a particular font – there are many free web fonts out there, and Google fonts has its own collection. In my opinion, Typekit offers the best choice but there is a charge.
  • Use one font for headlines and a different, contrasting one for body text. This gives the best visual appeal.
  • Take special care with font sizes for body text – in most cases, you need to make body text a bit larger than normal in order to get the best results.

2. Solid blocking

This trend has been around for a while, and it basically introduces a brick-like design grid which features blocks of solid color coupled with blocks carrying photos or text.

Design and marketing companies are particularly fond of this approach. Top: Dynamite  Left: Lithium Right: Landor

It sticks with users because of its simplicity – it offers a quick, organized overview of the site content, with minimum distractions. Contrast between blocks of solid colors and blocks with images / text creates strong visual interest, which usually stimulates users to explore more.

When and how to use it:

  • Solid blocking is a great way to approach a multitude of projects – from corporate websites to personal portfolios, even social networks (check out Pinterest or Huddle).
  • Experiment with different solid colors and move the blocks around to get radically different results.
  • Spice it up – avoid the generic look by adding your own personal touch to design. For example, you could use a special combination of fonts or put illustrations in some of the blocks.
  • Solid blocking works for home pages but inside pages need to hold larger pieces of content. When doing inside pages, keep some of the blocks around so you make the design more consistent and the switch less dramatic.

3. Homemade

The words says it all – this trend is about warm, simple and unpretentious designs, something you would expect to see in a grandmas kitchen.

Yum!  I would mind seeing any of this on a homemade jar of jam. Top:  Hello Bar. Left: Shoplocket. Right: Amazelabs

This look & feel is achieved by combining subtle textures and colors, hand written or drawn elements and easy-going typography. Because it uses visual cues we associate with relaxation and better times, it instantly makes the site look warm, friendly and inviting.

When and how to use it:

  • This style is best fitted for service industries which need to look simple, inexpensive and easy going.
  • Subtle, grainy textures are essential for this particular look & feel but good, readable typography is just as important.
  • This design style is very fun to do but don’t overdo it – remember, it’s what’s inside the box that matters.

4. Oversized type

Large, bold headlines are nothing new in graphic design but they are a relatively new trend in web design industry.  More and more companies and individuals are using this approach to spark users interest and make them engage with the site.

These sites love their type. Top: Big Omaha is a prime example of great type at work. Left: Basecamp homepage makes a clear statement. Right:  Zurb makes a big promise – in big type.

For best effect, you need something compelling to say — make sure to think about what you want to say.

When and how to use it:

  • Oversized type is great when you have a strong offer, statement or announcement to make. It doesn’t work very well for headlines which say nothing important.
  • This is an attention grabbing tool – use it for headlines only and regular type for everything else.
  • Big type can work in almost any type of project but it’s best suited for design pieces which need a strong sense of personality.

5. Photo backgrounds

Another design trend that has been around for quite some time and works wonders for user engagement – provided the photography is good.

Top, left: Creative people’s and Alexey Abramov’s sites look astonishing. Right: When Tennessee fishing is at stake, nothing can replace a good photo.

Pioneered by fashion brands and photographers, this design approach is now being used in virtually all industries with great degree of success. Clients love it because it looks good – users love it because it feels good.

When and how to use it:

  • Photo background approach is great for branding and presentational purposes – when your main objective is to make a strong visual statement. This is why it’s often used by fashion and clothing brands and travel destinations too.
  • Use only top quality, high resolution photos.
  • Try laying out the content so it interacts with the photo – this can make the design even more interesting.

6. Infographics

Infographics is definitely here to stay – once being used only for educational purposes for niche topics, they’ve gained unprecedented popularity over past several years. Although they are not a web design trend as such, a growing number of sites use them as a good way to add visual interest to content which would otherwise look bland.

Infographic is a great way to spice up a website. Top: Academy. Left: Grip Limited Right: Pointless Corp

When and how to use it:

  • Infographics can be used in more cases than you can imagine — hey can be used to describe a process, a set of numbers or statistics, a cause and effect, and more.
  • Good infographics adds clarity to information being presented, not the other way round – make sure to read about infographic principles on the web. Here is a good place to start.
  • If you’re doing a highly technical or generic looking project that needs a touch of originality, this is the way to go.

Conclusion

Graphic design trends described above are probably here to stay for quite some time – there is no evidence showing that people are abandoning them in favor of something else. On the other hand, there are a dozen design fads that get their “5 minutes” of fame but burn out very quickly – leather ribbons and stitching being one of them.

When you want to do a website design that has staying power, consider trends above – rich or oversized typography, solid blocking, homemade look, photo backgrounds and infographics. These design approaches are less likely to become outdated, and you can combine them in a myriad of ways to make great looking websites.

Know of any other web design trends? Please share.

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Peter Vukovic is a seasoned designer & creative director with 10 years of experience in worldwide advertising agency. He is a proud member of the 99designs community. http://99designs.com/people/pvukovich