Web Design Trends For 2009

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We Web designers are a fickle lot. We love to experiment with things. We love to observe how people interact with our work. And we love to try out unusual design approaches that might possibly go mainstream and become a classic approach. As a result, new design approaches come up, and as more and more designers notice them and make use of them, new trends emerge.

Over the last months, we’ve analyzed numerous Web designs, observing emerging trends and weighing the merits of numerous design decisions and coding solutions. In this post, we present Web design trends for 2009: recent developments, new design elements and new graphic approaches. We also discuss situations in which these trends can be used and present some beautiful examples. Did you miss any recent development in this overview? Let us know in the comments!

This article covers only 10 of the over 25 trends we’ve identified over the last months. The second part will be published next week. We’ll cover new layouts, new visual approaches and new design elements. Please stay tuned.

Update: the second part of our review741 is now published as well.

Web Design Trends For 2009

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.

  1. Embossing Letterpress

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  2. Rich user interfaces

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  3. PNG transparency

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  4. Big typography

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  5. Font replacement (sIFR, etc.)

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  6. Modal boxes

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  7. Media blocks

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  8. The magazine look

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  9. Carousels (slideshows)

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  10. Introduction blocks

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Now let’s go into detail and take a closer look at each of the trends presented above.

1. Letterpress

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.

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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.com21 and Quicksnapper.com22), 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.

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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.

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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.

Last year, we described a variety of ways in which can get creative with transparency in Web design32, and many designers seemed to experiment with these techniques in their work. Interestingly enough, transparency is often used either in the header or footer of designs, but some designs33 go beyond that.

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4. HUGE Typography

We presented some outstanding examples of BIG typography in previous41 posts42. 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.

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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.

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6. Modal Boxes (Lightboxes)

Modal boxes (dialog windows) are, essentially, the second generation of pop-ups. They serve as a user-friendly alternative to classic JavaScript windows and support users by focusing their attention on the most important area of the website. Modal windows are always triggered by a user action (e.g. signing up or logging in) and appear on top of the main content, like a window in a regular desktop application. Modal windows are often presented in a very subtle way: they are often semi-transparent and have a “Close” button.

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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.

But please make sure that videos are an alternative presentation of (and not the main or only!) content on your website. Not every user has broadband access to the Web, not every user is willing to watch a video (e.g. because he or she may have a radio or music playing in the background), and not every user has Flash and JavaScript installed on his or her machine.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Stay tuned!

This article covers only 10 of the over 25 trends we’ve identified over the last months. The second part will be published next week. We’ll cover new layouts, new visual approaches and new design elements. Please stay tuned.

Update: the second part of our review741 is now published as well.

(al)

Footnotes

  1. 1 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/01/21/current-web-design-trends-for-2009/
  2. 2 http://365daysofastronomy.org/
  3. 3 http://www.newspond.com/science/
  4. 4 http://rustinjessen.com/
  5. 5 http://www.francescomugnai.com/
  6. 6 http://www.chigarden.com/
  7. 7 http://listen.grooveshark.com/
  8. 8 http://www.goodbarry.com/
  9. 9 http://cutandtaste.com/
  10. 10 http://www.itv.com/
  11. 11 http://productplanner.com/
  12. 12 http://365daysofastronomy.org/
  13. 13 http://www.alexbuga.com/v8/
  14. 14 http://brightkite.com/
  15. 15 http://www.powerset.com/
  16. 16 http://www.storenvy.com/
  17. 17 http://unblab.com/login
  18. 18 http://www.leemunroe.com/
  19. 19 http://2d2.es/
  20. 20 http://www.respiromedia.com/
  21. 21 http://www.newspond.com
  22. 22 http://www.quicksnapper.com
  23. 23 http://www.quicksnapper.com/
  24. 24 http://dc2009.drupalcon.org/
  25. 25 http://konigi.com/interface/mobileme-calendar-date-selector
  26. 26 http://www.newspond.com/science/
  27. 27 http://www.howcast.com/categories
  28. 28 http://moodstream.gettyimages.com/
  29. 29 http://www.gettyimages.com/
  30. 30 http://listen.grooveshark.com
  31. 31 http://www.kontain.com/#home
  32. 32 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2008/04/16/getting-creative-with-transparency-in-web-design/
  33. 33 http://24ways.org/
  34. 34 http://rustinjessen.com/
  35. 35 http://dc2009.drupalcon.org/
  36. 36 http://24ways.org/
  37. 37 http://labs.paulicio.us/viewport/#2
  38. 38 http://www.restroom.nl/
  39. 39 http://www.wishingline.com/notebook/
  40. 40 http://carrotcreative.com/
  41. 41 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2007/10/15/the-showcase-of-big-typography/
  42. 42 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2008/05/20/the-showcase-of-big-typography-second-edition/
  43. 43 http://www.francescomugnai.com/
  44. 44 http://madebygiant.com/
  45. 45 http://theautumnfilm.com/red-white-sale/us.html
  46. 46 http://www.signalapps.com/
  47. 47 http://www.blackestate.co.nz/
  48. 48 http://www.onefastbuffalo.com/
  49. 49 http://www.shiftpx.com/
  50. 50 http://blog.iso50.com/
  51. 51 http://365daysofastronomy.org/
  52. 52 http://www.chigarden.com/
  53. 53 http://www.nonesuch.com/journal
  54. 54 http://daily.creattica.com/
  55. 55 http://typedeskref.com/
  56. 56 http://www.realmacsoftware.com/rapidweaver/overview/
  57. 57 http://listen.grooveshark.com/
  58. 58 http://www.getbackboard.com
  59. 59 http://www.goodbarry.com
  60. 60 http://www.objectifiedfilm.com/
  61. 61 http://www.inspirationbit.com/sources-of-inspiration-to-the-rescue/
  62. 62 http://www.good.is/
  63. 63 http://cutandtaste.com/
  64. 64 http://www.nonesuch.com/journal
  65. 65 http://www.itv.com
  66. 66 http://money.cnn.com
  67. 67 http://music.yahoo.com
  68. 68 http://vickycristina-movie.com/
  69. 69 http://www.shannonmoeller.com/
  70. 70 http://productplanner.com/
  71. 71 http://www.45royale.com/
  72. 72 http://revyver.com/
  73. 73 http://creamscoop.com/
  74. 74 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/01/21/current-web-design-trends-for-2009/

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Vitaly Friedman loves beautiful content and doesn’t like to give in easily. Vitaly is writer, speaker, author and editor-in-chief of Smashing Magazine. He runs responsive Web design workshops, online workshops and loves solving complex performance problems in large companies. Get in touch.

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  1. 1

    Very nice collection, thanks!

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  2. 52

    Drupal Con’s got Smashed – strong motivation for Drupal themers!

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  3. 103

    Inspirational post and some great examples. Thanks for the mention

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  4. 154

    Nice article!

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  5. 205

    ok, lets keep it straight, letterpress is not possible on the web. I have yet to see anything that even slightly resembles the beauty of letterpress printing anywhere on the web, drop shadows and embossing in Photoshop just doesn’t cut it. Visually interesting…yes, Letterpress…no. If you really want letterpress on your website, do the real thing and scan it in, now that’s innovative!

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  6. 256

    Great post. I was thinking of twisting my site a little bit this way.

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  7. 307

    I normally don’t spend as much time as I do on one post (Reading, following links, etc.). I literally ended up with about a dozen tabs open. It wasn’t until I started to bookmark the ones I really enjoyed and closed the others did I realize how I got to them in the first place – this post.

    Thanks!

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  8. 358

    Except for _maybe_ the first two, these are not really new trends for 2009 I think. The title should have been: The most popular trends in web design in the last couple of years. Of course, it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen, especially in a field as fast changing as web design.

    Nice article though, but it’s not what the title promised.

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  9. 409

    Great post! I’m in the process of designing my personal/portfolio website, and found this to be very inspiring! Keep up the great work, you’re my fav resource!

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  10. 460

    i always like hearing about trends.. gives me guidance on what NOT to do too often.

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  11. 511

    Good stuff, I enjoyed trawling through it

    Thanks a million

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  12. 562

    Very nice collection. I particularly like Modal Boxes. A trend I’ve noticed is that the font
    Helvetica Neue is being used more often. But when I load a site using this font it displays jagged in Firefox.

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  13. 613

    Sigh. The misconceptions of the design-uneducated masses…

    There are no such things as web design trends, only good, appropriate design.

    P.S. Most of the “trends” posted have been around since 2006 or more…

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  14. 664

    Bad ass article for us web designers. Danke.

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  15. 715

    Good stuff, even if it’s a pity some visitors use old browsers (as IE6… More than 14% in december in Europe) ; these old browsers doesn’t support new tricks as PNG transparency, it’s an awful puzzle for webdesigners to adapt websites for all browsers…

    Note that CSS3 specifications permits transparency and fonts remplacement ;-)

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  16. 766

    a lot of these aren’t even from 2009. I’ve seen some of these sites on CSSRemix and other “inspirational” CSS galleries a year or longer ago.

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  17. 817

    hate the word trend

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  18. 868

    magazine style! love it… light and informative….

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  19. 919

    Nice collection. I’ve noticed a big increase in typography design this year…even if the main focus isn’t typography.

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  20. 970

    My website makes use of the letterpress look for headers. Didn’t realize it was such a popular trend…dang.

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  21. 1021

    *Ahem* I don’t think the DrupalCon site uses PNG transparency.

    Just throwing that out there.

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  22. 1072

    heather van de mark

    January 15, 2009 10:52 am

    loved the post, but i wonder if the term trends makes us go out and implement these visual strategies, no questions asked or imagination required. rather than if they were named as inspiration, perhaps then we’d use, manipulate and go beyond them… these will be in my head most definitely, but we should all strive to create new trends not live by them.

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  23. 1123

    You rock smashing , Thanks

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  24. 1174

    awesome.

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  25. 1225

    Great article, looking forward to part 2, and expect the colour trends for 2009.
    But the most important thing is that many of these things are related to user experience. Nice to see that the websites are getting more and more focused on the user, and still looking great.

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  26. 1276

    I love all the designs on the list.

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  27. 1327

    Beatifully design.
    thanks for sharing.
    you make me get some idea.

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  28. 1378

    Random question, but what software made the video on the media boxes section (www.goodbarry.com). Is it straight Flash or is there a program that is outputting to Flash?

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  29. 1429

    trend is a scary word because it has the connotation of dating (usually poorly), but I can get behind a lot of these directions because many have held up well when applied to print design.

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  30. 1480

    Awesome post! Thanks again SmashingMag!

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  31. 1531

    what a great collection guys, thanks a lot! some of it is neat, and others, well, they are becoming a bit of a cliche.

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  32. 1582

    Well, this was interesting, never heard of sIFR befor, thank you very mcuh for mentioning it!
    I’m excited about the second part.

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  33. 1633

    Letterpress allowing the background to show through is a great idea. Wish I’d thought of it.

    Great design article, as always.

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  34. 1684

    2009 is looking like a great year :)

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  35. 1735

    Nice Collection of trends… Thanks !!

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  36. 1786

    We have to kill carousel. It’s over!

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  37. 1837

    I just literally spent 4 hours reading all of it, making new bookmars, taking some notes…
    thank you, awsome post, will keep an eye for the next one :)

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  38. 1888

    Interesting trends. Thanks.

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  39. 1939

    Great article. I’d love to see a tutorial on the Letterpress technique or a link to one.

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  40. 1990

    Best Smashing Post ever. Bangin.

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  41. 2041

    the PNG transparent thing…is nice…hehe..i can’t wait to try it, thanks

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  42. 2092

    grt article…highly useful….

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  43. 2143

    Letterpress trend came from CS4 (icons, loading screen)

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  44. 2194

    great!

    I didn`t know about the sIFR thing … have to test it now :) great stuff!

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  45. 2245

    Best Compilation!

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  46. 2296

    Wow, this inspires me like a small green egg!

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  47. 2347

    very cool, 2009 great year

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  48. 2398

    Great inspiration. It has opened my eyes to what my blog needs adjusted :).

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  49. 2449

    The last thing the web need now is more sites with massive fonts (and no content), or those pointless flash carousels… whee, look at it spin!

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  50. 2500

    Good article, but the pedant in me couldn’t help making the following points:

    I can’t help but join Jenn in pointing out that the first style is not what you’d describe as ‘Letterpress’ in print media. Letterpress refers to printing using metal letters. The style you’ve featured would probably be better described as de-bossing, a printing technique where the type is stamped into the surface you are printing, so the letters form an inverted relief pattern.

    Also, a lot of the examples you give for png transparency are actually created using the CSS opacity feature.

    That’s it, end of pedantry.

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