More Web Design Trends For 2009


Last week we presented 10 Web Design Trends For 20091, our review of the most promising developments and techniques in web design that may become big in 2009. In the first part we covered embossing letters (“letterpress”), rich user interfaces, PNG transparency, big typography, carousels and media blocks.

This post is the second part of our review. It presents design trends for 2009 in terms of layouts, visual approaches and design elements. Please notice that this post showcases trends and developments that were extensively covered in our previous articles (e.g. handwriting, retro and vintage etc.) and therefore weren’t covered in this post (they are all linked in the overview, so feel free to explore these single posts as well). Did you miss any recent development in this overview? Let us know in the comments!

You may want to take a look at the following related posts:

Let’s first take a closer look at some of the 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. Out-of-the-box layouts

    Web Design Trends 20098

  2. One-page layouts

    Web Design Trends 20099

  3. Multi-column layouts

    Web Design Trends 200910

  4. Huge illustrations and vibrant graphics

    Web Design Trends 200911

  5. More white space than ever

    Web Design Trends 200912

  6. Social design elements

    Web Design Trends 200913

  7. “Speaking” navigation14

    Web Design Trends 200915

  8. Dynamic tabs

    Web Design Trends 200916

  9. Still large search boxes

    Web Design Trends 2009

  10. Category visuals

    Web Design Trends 200917

  11. Author icons

    Web Design Trends 200918

  12. Icons and visual clues

    Web Design Trends 2009

  13. Tag index19 (instead of tag clouds)

    Web Design Trends 200920

  14. Illustrations in blog posts

    Web Design Trends 200921

  15. Watercolor

    Web Design Trends 200922

  16. Handwriting23

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  17. Retro and vintage25

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  18. Organic textures, tiles and photographic backgrounds27

    Web Design Trends 200928

  19. Badges

    Web Design Trends 200929

  20. Price tags

    Web Design Trends 200930

  21. Ribbons

    Web Design Trends 200931

1. Out-Of-The-Box Layouts

As we pointed out a couple of months ago in the showcase 40 Creative Design Layouts: Getting Out Of The Box32, we are observing a strong trend towards more individual and creative layouts. Instead of applying conventional boxy layouts, designers are experimenting with the way information is structured, presented and communicated.

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.

Design Trends 200933

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!

Showcase of Unusual Layouts - Get London Reading34

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Showcase of Unusual Layouts - Good41


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.

Design Trends 200942

When the user clicks on a navigation option, the page changes (partly), and new content is displayed in the area that was previously occupied by the previous content. The navigation of such layouts is supported by sliding and scrolling effects from common JavaScript libraries.

The main advantage for the user is the simple fact that she needs less mouse movement and less clicks to get the information she is looking for. Because this approach is quite new, there is a good chance that some readers will get confused by the unconventional navigation techniques. An alternative “static” version may be helpful or even necessary in this case; you’ll have to offer an alternative version anyway for search engines and for people who have deactivated JavaScript support in their browsers.

Showcase of Unusual Layouts - tap tap tap ~ Groceries43

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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 ReadWriteWeb46 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.

Design Trends 200947

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 Labs48 is a great example of just that).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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7. “Speaking” Navigation

We wrote about “speaking” block navigation70 in one of our showcases last year, and this design element seems to remain popular across various websites. The most significant task a navigation menu has to accomplish is to unambiguously guide visitors through different sections of a website. However, it’s quite hard sometimes to communicate the content of a website’s section with just one or two keywords, particularly if horizontal navigation is used.

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.

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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.

Design Trends 2009


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 tabs76 and ‘tabs’ visual control in jQuery77 to create dynamic tabs.

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Did we miss something?

Did we miss any recent development in this overview? Do you have any further ideas or suggestions? Let us know in the comments!

You may want to take a look at the following related posts:


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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.

  1. 1

    nice ideas. Design trends do change every year so hopefully 2009 will have some great emerging ideas. Thanks for the post.

  2. 102

    Super cool

  3. 203

    Let’s not forget about rounded corner… ;)

    images, javascript, and get ready for CSS 3…

  4. 304

    Thanks for this. Indeed very helpful. :)

  5. 405

    while it is true that most of the things have been seen and done before, it’s is not to say that this a bad thing. things just get better by getting inspired by others, and pick what’s most useful for oneself. the wheel doesn’t always have to be reinvented to create something new and beautiful. and like in fashion, architecture, furniture and everything else, trends do exist also in web design.

    I would maybe add the trend of “watery”… kind of “underwater design”, if that hasn’t been mentioned elsewehere… seen quite a few designs like that lately and loved it!

  6. 506

    What’s with all the negative energy surrounding the trends posts? With the year merely days old, how can anybody expect SM to have assembled a relevant list of trends that have emerged strictly during 2009 or, what is more, essentially “prophesy” about 2009’s design trends as if enough time has even passed by this year for a new pattern of thinking to have been documented? SM stated themselves at the beginning of this post that these articles are their “review of the most promising developments and techniques in web design that may become big in 2009.”
    Naturally, this post includes flavours of previous years. All current and future trends generally have their foundation in past trends. What will really take off still remains to be seen.

    It disappoints me to see how some commenters seem to think they are too well Web-traveled and too highly developed a designer for all this.

    If you are determined to criticize, the least you can do is contribute something to the discussion by suggesting what you feel the actual trends of 2009 are… or what future direction the design community should be following, in your opinion, instead of just acting bored.

    Oh, and by the way, I have no ties to SM.

  7. 607

    John @ Six Figure Report

    January 31, 2009 2:57 am

    Amazing, you guys are the best!!!!!!!!!!! sent it to my designer for review :)

  8. 708

    To everyone noting how the designs in this post are “2006” or “not new” — no kidding. These are trends, not innovative new designs. The point being that all of these things have been seen before, but we will be seeing a lot more of it this coming year.

  9. 809

    OMG! That’s exactly what I was searching for! Thanks!

  10. 910

    This article made me want to get up and cheer… yay for being a web designer in 09’!! So inspired!!

  11. 1011

    Muy buena WEB !!!

  12. 1112

    That us a really good article – Ill be checking back for more from now on!

  13. 1213

    Continually on point! I like these posts because you can see what trends you DON’T want to follow as well. Since some trends are played out.

  14. 1314

    There are 2 great articles on this that I found a few months back. As a result of reading them, I redesigned my site and simply love it. The new behavior seems to delight users, from other designers to grandma. On my site, there is NOTHING to click when you first land there. No navigation. Just a simple scroll. I think the psychology of not searching for things to click allows the user to focus on what you are saying, and not on where to find what you are saying. This solution doesn’t fit every kind of website, but for the vast majority of brochure style websites, this would make design and production much easier…and certainly more profitable if you are smart about it!

    Here are the articles:

    This first article is about a wine site…beautiful typography. I’m sure many Smashing readers have been to before. If not, it’s one you’ll want to bookmark if you are into typography.


    The second article is amazing. Some SUPER long pages there for sure. I think it’s also the longest blog post in blog history :)

    My redesign, if you care to visit and see how it came out, is at www dot bonfx dot com. I’ll leave it to you type that in :) so as not to make this an advert.

    But do visit the other articles!

  15. 1415

    How about 10 or etc. Web Design Trends In Social Networks For 2009? Or Recognizing Great Social Network Designs?

  16. 1516

    Great stuff! Am inspired…

  17. 1617

    Is it just me or did this only go into detail about 1-8?

  18. 1718

    Have to keep up on those design trends.

  19. 1819

    Arekibo Web Design

    February 26, 2009 2:29 pm

    Wonderful post, one to recommend to peers and team I work with. Thank you

  20. 1920

    Very nice post here! Love it!

  21. 2021

    Nice. Didn’t realize we were part of a trend; we also went the one-page route:

  22. 2122

    How about mega drop-down navigation? Studies show that it’s been getting some great reviews…

  23. 2223

    Seems this site has done a bit of a rip off of your top trends:

  24. 2324

    Very enlightening and also lets you know if you’re on the right track Thanks a million!

  25. 2425

    Gwóźdź web designer

    April 23, 2009 11:21 am

    Thanks for sharing this trends. Very useful knowledge, superb inspiration. Some of trends come from 2008, only the strongest one :-) Cheers.

  26. 2526

    This was a great post.

  27. 2627

    Well I noticed a growing trend of ultra-clean, typography based layouts with limited use of colours – which is exactly my cup of tea.

  28. 2728

    it’s interesting

  29. 2829

    It soon dawns on Nick that he can hear women’s thoughts. ,

  30. 2930

    Excellent article, not exactly what it says on the box but still a great summary of the current state of web design.
    Still, the comments gave an opportunity for those from the Ab Fab School of Design to look down their noses.

  31. 3031

    OMG! I Love this :D

    Thank´s so much.

  32. 3132

    Thanks for the wonderful information.

  33. 3233

    ice signed llc adjust

  34. 3334

    findings present keep energy 2007

  35. 3435

    u r doing awesome. Ur icon , templets are too cool and Ur icon. bcz they have nice colour combation. it’s post too helpfull for designers. i’m also a webdesigner. thank for it post.

  36. 3536

    Its good to keep track on the latest trends of web designing. Good resourceful site.

  37. 3637

    I could have given you a better answer for this but i would say its better way is to survey instead of spending times on reading affiliate programs. Stick with us every month possibly I will be writing a new article on how to improve the industry rather than spending time on reading the improvement materials for seo trends.

  38. 3738

    Very good article and nice web design tools
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