Showcase Of Modern Navigation Design Trends


The navigation menu is perhaps a website’s single most important component. Navigation gives you a window onto the website designer’s creative ability to produce a functional yet visually impressive element that’s fundamental to most websites. Because of their value to websites, navigation menus are customarily placed in the most visible location of the page, and thus can make a significant impact on the visitor’s first impression.

The design of a navigation menu has to be outstanding in order to sustain the user’s interest. As the adage goes, “Content is king,” but getting to the content requires navigation. In this post, we’ll be explore some of the more recent trends in navigation design. We’ll look at the aesthetics that recur in today’s best Web designs. The focus here is on the visual direction that leading designers are taking.

You should also read the following related posts:

3-D Navigation

Lately, we’ve seen a trend towards design elements that sit on a higher z-plane; that is, they appear closer than other elements on the page. This trend is commonly applied, no surprise, to navigation menus.

The content area on the Delibar website looks like a pile of two pieces of paper, with the navigation items holding them together. It also features a subtle JavaScript effect that smoothly moves them up when you hover over them.


Blue Door Baby7
The Blue Door Baby navigation bar is styled like a ribbon that is laid over top of the feature area. The menu items are text-image replacements that have a subtle inset-text effect. (Learn how to create the inset-text effect8).

Blue Door Baby9

Mystery Tin10
The Mystery Tin navigation menu is arranged vertically. The active menu item has a background that wraps around the side of the content area. Similarly, hovering over a menu item shows a smaller 3-D ribbon.

Mystery Tin11

The navigation menu bar on this website is designed to look like it’s on a higher plane. Additionally, mousing over a menu item shows a speech bubble with a description of the item.


Harry Bissett14
Harry Bissett’s navigation is made to look like it’s popping off the page.

Harry Bissett15

Sower of Seeds16
The navigation bar on Sower of Seeds looks like it wraps around the content area, making it stand out for the user.

Sower of Seeds17

Speech Balloons

Designing menu items in the shape of speech balloons, or speech bubbles18, appears to be another popular trend. It’s a great way to break out of the conventional rectangular menu.

Alexarts features a background of a city waterfront. Navigation menu items are in large speech bubbles that point to different elements of the scene. Hovering over a navigation bubble propels it slightly upward, a subtle indication that it is interactive and is the current target.


Bush Theatre21
Bush Theatre uses thought bubbles instead of speech balloons, which in comic books denote the subject’s thoughts.

Bush Theatre22

This colorful illustrated website depicts a scene of an alien and kids connected to a rocket ship. The vertical secondary menu is creatively integrated into the illustration: they’re spoken by the alien protruding from the top-right of the page.


Rob Alan25
Irregularly shaped speech balloons make for a distinguished look on Rob Alan’s website. The speech bubble opens a groove in the main content area, which visually connects them.

Rob Alan26

The active item in the SproutBox menu is highlighted with a darker green, and the corners of the rectangular speech bubble are rounded. Placing your mouse over an inactive menu item displays a similarly shaped speech bubble.


Kingpin Social29
Kingpin Social’s primary navigation menu is hard to miss, with its big size, rounded corners and copious padding. The active menu item is highlighted with a speech balloon.

Kingpin Social30

The Contrast website features rectangular speech balloons that have a sketched look. The speech balloon is repeated throughout the design, denoting a clickable element (such as the “Archives” link on the side and the “Read More” link for blog posts).


Design Spartan33
Design Spartan’s primary navigation bar highlights the current page with a colorful and textured round-cornered speech bubble, which pops out because it’s set against a dark background. Each menu item has a different color, making each section of the website easily discernible.

Design Spartan34

Definitely Dubai35
The Definitely Dubai design features rounded rectangles; drop-shadows give them depth. The active page is highlighted with a white rounded speech bubble.

Definitely Dubai36

Robin James Yu37
Speech bubbles are usually rounded, but Robin James Yu opts for rectangles on his portfolio. Speech bubbles recur throughout the design, including for the box of recent tweets in the footer and a more traditional elliptical speech bubble saying “Hi” on the home page.

Robin James Yu38

GIANT Creative39
Bright colors against a dark background and a generous size makes GIANT Creative’s navigation stand out from the rest of the text. Hovering over a menu item reveals the speech bubble’s pointer.

GIANT Creative40

Yellow Bird Project41
The navigation menu on Yellow Bird Project’s seems simple and conventional at first, until you hover over it. Hovering over an item reveals the tip of the balloon, a simple enough technique but one that makes the menu slightly more engaging than before.

Yellow Bird Project42

Rounded Corners

Rounded corners are often used to soften sharp rectangles. The trend has carried over from call to action buttons43 to menu items, whose appearance as buttons is meant to entice users to click on them.

Ballpark’s navigation menu in the top-right uses CSS background text replacement to add round-cornered buttons to the text.


The round-cornered navigation buttons of NOSTROS have pressed and unpressed states, which borrows the functionality of actual buttons. Additionally, JavaScript is used to smoothly animate the transition from unpressed to pressed state.


New Look Media48
New Look Media’s blue navigation buttons are striking because of the dark background.

New Look Media49

LemonStand’s primary navigation features rounded dark-gray buttons with a slight gradient.


Rounded corners with graphic icons to the left are featured in this popular website’s menu bar.


Vistrac’s rounded buttons can only be seen in modern versions of Web browsers such as Firefox, Safari, Google Chrome and Opera because the developers have implemented the working draft specifications of the CSS 3 border-radius property. In other Web browsers (i.e. IE 8 and lower: the browser that’s hindering the progress of Web design), the menu items appear as normal rectangles.


gugafit’s navigation buttons change to green on hover. The active item is given a dark-blue pressed look.


PeepNote has beige rounded buttons, with the active menu item in blue. It also uses the CSS 3 text-shadow property to add drop-shadows in most modern Web browsers.


Viljami Salminen60
Web designer Viljami Salimen gives the active items in his navigation menu a rounded button look.

Viljami Salminen61

Icons In Navigation

Elaborate and highly visual designs are now widespread because bandwidth is no longer much of a concern. Over a year ago, we noted that visually appealing icons are increasingly being used62, and this trend has continued. Icons not only are eye candy but help create visual recognition for users. Having said that, one should keep in mind that it’s always important to keep the loading time as short as possible, thus making the page as responsive as possible. In general, it’s more important than additional visual clues; however, used properly and moderately, the latter can assist users in their scanning process and make the content of the page easier to perceive and navigate.

Adii Rockstar63
Adii Rockstar has a blog whose navigation is fixed to the bottom of the page. The menu items are complemented by icons above the text, making for a beautiful navigation scheme. In addition, the text is given the CSS 3 text-shadow property for depth (at least in browsers that have implemented the current draft of the W3C’s CSS 3 specifications for the Text module).

Adii Rockstar64

Sourcebits uses small icons for its menu and sub-menu items. They add intricacy to the navigation.


Carsonified uses icons to indicate the active menu item; and upon hovering over an inactive menu item, its icon is revealed.


The portfolio of marcusK has a large navigation menu laid out vertically along the left, making it a big part of the design and difficult to miss. Large icons are featured above menu text, reflecting the vivid character of the design.


The company behind this website specializes in creating mobile versions of websites, so the designer made the navigation look similar to the iPhone’s UI72, making it seem familiar to first-time visitors.


Karl Francisco Fernandes’ portfolio has a hand-drawn-themed navigation menu. Icons make the menu items more visual, giving the website a distinguished look.


The website displays icons and text that look hand-sketched with a black ink pen. It gives the design a personable quality.


nadamastrite’s website is eye-catching because of the cartoonish heads that represent menu items by emotions (e.g. sadness, surprise, puzzlement, anger).


This website features hand-drawn elements, and the navigation menu continues that theme with hand-drawn and -sketched icons above the text.


Custom Toronto82
Custom Toronto has a vertically oriented secondary navigation menu, containing sub-menu items. Icons help users quickly locate product categories.

Custom Toronto83

JavaScript Animation

With JavaScript frameworks making it easier for Web designers to create animated page elements using just a few lines of code, designers have been using JavaScript lately for more aesthetic than functional purposes.

Andreas Hinkel84
The primary navigation of Andreas Hinkel is large and presented as polaroids. When hovered over, the menu item rises.

Andreas Hinkel85

Jon White Studio86
Jon White Studio’s navigation menu is visual and the focus of the page. Hovering over a menu item pops up a card with the word “Click,” calling the user to action.

Jon White Studio87

Votaw’s navigation is a simple design (text-image replacement) with a JavaScript effect: upon hover, the text fades slightly. The effect is subtle but makes an impression.


The items in’s vertical navigation menu pop out to the right when hovered over. Sub-menu items reveal a brochure map in the background.


The beauty of RUDEWORKS’ navigation menu is its simplicity. Noticing it at first glance may be difficult because of the menu’s low contrast with the background. When a menu item is hovered over, it fades to dark red.


The primary menu of MULTIWAYS has a simple effect: a blue bar follows your mouse as you hover over items.


Bert Timmermans96
Bert Timmbermans’ portfolio website is laid out like a notebook, with the primary navigation menu designed like ribbon bookmarks. The menu has only icons; when you mouse over an item, it animates to reveal the text.

Bert Timmermans97

Dragon Interactive98
Dragon Interactive’s primary menu items smoothly transition to a colorful state when hovered over. (Learn how to create a similar effect using jQuery on a tutorial I wrote99.)

Dragon Interactive100

Unusual Shapes

Because most websites have straight edges and sharp corners, irregular shapes give you a chance to break from the norm. One current trend is to give menus an amorphous shape to make them really stick out.

Booma has roughly sketched items in a random alignment for its main navigation, making it different from what you see on most other websites.


Kutztown University103
The main menu for Kutztown University is unusual in many ways. First, it’s positioned in the middle of the page, towards the bottom, whereas primary menus are typically located higher up. The alignment of menu items is staggered, not the usual left aligned. Finally, the lettering of the menu item text is randomized.

Kutztown University104

Irregular shapes and variable alignment of menu items give this website design a memorable look. The design fits the theme, too.


The Crazy Love Campaign107
The menu bar of this website is slightly tilted and not perfectly horizontal.

The Crazy Love Campaign108

Carnivale du Vin 2009109
The navigation menu on the Carnivale du Vin website is shaped like brushstrokes. Hovering over certain items reveals sub-menus, making it look like the artist has swiped a brush across the page.

Carnivale du Vin 2009110

Wrangler Face Off111
This website’s vertical primary menu items are designed as tickets that stick out of the side, shuffled up.

Wrangler Face Off112

HTO’s navigation bar is a strip of aged paper angled down and clipped to the background photograph.


smriyaz.com115 shuffles its primary menu items, and the text is written vertically.


Think Up117
Think Up’s menu items are crumpled post-it notes, and the navigation follows the tabbed navigation user interface design pattern118. Hovering over an item changes the color, and clicking on it brings it forward on the z-plane.

Think Up119

f claire baxter120
The menu items on this website stick out like bookmarks. The vertically written text and the varied color and size all help the website stand out.

f claire baxter121

Inner Metro Green122
This menu bar has an irregular shape, contributing to the disorganized grunge theme of the website.

Inner Metro Green123

Custom Tshirts UK124
The navigation items on this website are flare buttons pinned to the corner of a t-shirt background.

Custom Tshirts UK125

Pirata London126
Pirata London has a unique and beautiful navigation menu: overlapping and semi-transparent ellipses. The text is given the CSS 3 text-shadow property for a bit of drop-shadow.

Pirata London127

The navigation bar of this website is oriented vertically as stacked ellipses, an unconventional structure that uses a single image with <map> elements for the links.


Idea.org130’s primary menu has an odd shape: sub-menus seem to drip from their parents.


Paging For Primary Navigation

Some websites have dropped the standard list of primary menu links. You’ll often see magazine-style (or blogazine132) websites do this, to give users an interactive experience, similar to flipping through the pages of a magazine or book.

Jack Cheng133
Jack Cheng opts for individually styled blog posts, and his navigation bar is a chronological timeline of posts. Each post appears as a dot, and hovering over one reveals more information in a speech bubble.

Jack Cheng134
Gregory Wood also custom-styles his blog posts so that you can flip through them using the left and right arrows. To help users get to important pages, he has small icon links for the home, about, RSS and contact pages at the top-left.

The Rich And Powerful137
Dustin Curtis’s custom-styled blogazine posts can be navigated using the “Next” and “Previous” controls that are centered in the masthead.

The Rich And Powerful138

72nd Ave.139
This website features custom-styled posts that you can navigate using the “Next” and “Previous” links in the bottom-right.

72nd Ave.140



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Jacob Gube is the Founder and Chief Editor of Six Revisions, a web publication for web developers and designers, and the Deputy Editor of Design Instruct, a web magazine for designers and digital artists. He has over seven years of experience as professional web developer and web designer and has written a book on JavaScript.

  1. 1

    Great work – thnx for the List – i have made also such an Menu structure on

  2. 52

    Thanks for all the great nav ideas and some beautiful sites in general!

  3. 103

    Very good stuff. But I must say that I have noticed same websites are reported several times by smashingmagazine in various articles.

  4. 154

    Nice list. Here’s one more worth considering: Great menu. Fun site.

  5. 205

    Its really grt for us designer. Infact, all posts are really great. W W T I W Y P- What We Think Is What You Post.

  6. 256

    Its really great post for us Designers. Infact, all posts are really great. W W T I W Y P- What We Think Is What You Post.

  7. 307

    Thanks for gathering all these into one exhaustive review of nav styling. While I enjoy the creativity and refinement of treatment I find many of the examples are in the category of “trying too hard.” Most disappointing is a great looking nav treatment that does not deliver on the interactive (hover, etc.) aspect.

    I’m generally put off a little by nav that calls too much attention to itself pointlessly. Striking a balance between creativity and blending with the overall content of the site in support of user goals is the true test, and challenge (and fun) of being an interaction designer.

    That said, I’m finding (surprisingly) that I’m drawn most to the “unusual shapes” category and in particular the more hand-drawn style or those that look like physical elements. Another interesting example: Boloco takes the unusual/hand-drawn nav to an extreme, but it’s entertaining:

  8. 358

    Superb list. Thanks

  9. 409

    Nice examples :)

  10. 460

    Again a great inspiration for web designers like us. I just love this way but do not overreacting, keep the basics ahead. Long live CSS!

  11. 511

    Wolfgang Woehrle

    January 6, 2010 1:09 am

    Very nice article and some really nice examples!

  12. 562

    You guys completely miss very unique style of navigation..

  13. 613

    Wow a list of items which is actually worth looking at, great inspirational list.

    Good work.


  14. 664

    Humbled to see our studio Xische’s website for Dubai Tourism (Definitely Dubai) featured in the list! :-)

  15. 715

    Clean, bright design with good use of white space should be the new standard. Minimalist design with use of fonts as design itself. This will help speed of loading and that helps with search and Smart Phones accessing the site. Mobile smart phone usage set to explode ie Google HTC Nexus.

  16. 766

    Honestly, this list is not very good. Too many examples of trends that are old hat and not well “trendy.” There is nothing new or trendy about icons in navigation or rounded corners. Did you guys add those sections to the list as filler? I’m not sure why this list is being praised for its mediocrity.

    Maybe drop the filler from the this list and I would say it is concise and accurate. Especially on addressing the javascript animations and flat 3D elements… although i see those as becoming more fads than trends relatively soon.

    • 817

      Yes, actually some things are old hat and stolen. Mystery Tin’s chef illustration is a complete knock off of the Simpson’s chef character Luigi Risotto! Do a search for The 5 Most Underrated Simpsons Characters. You will find the drawing they stole.

  17. 868

    @BillB Hi BillB, you’re dead right about the Mystery Tin chef — it was a project for my University course.

  18. 970

    Hi Jacob,
    It’s a very nice list. By the way, thanks for including my site’s navigation ( as well in the list. Expect more of this kind.

  19. 1021

    Nice article.
    Do you like my flash menu ? =P

  20. 1072

    I’m glad to see more jquery effects driving innovative navigation schemes.

  21. 1123

    Fantastic post, there are some great examples here – cheers!

  22. 1174

    Excellent…our firm needed to see this. Thanks…


  23. 1225

    Hey, I should check my referrers more often! Thanks for the mention.

  24. 1276

    Some great design inspiration. Lovin Mystery Tin!

  25. 1327

    Mobile App Development

    July 16, 2010 1:58 am

    This was great! I want to do cool things to my navigation now! But… I won’t, because you featured me here, so I will let it continue to be as cool as you think it is for a while!

  26. 1378

    I have enjoyed your article on navigation menus. With so many options it is a challenge sometimes to decide what would be best for a particular design. Menus are so important; I believe should be easy to see and use. Thanks once again for an informative collection.

  27. 1429

    It seems to me that the trend for the past year or so has been to move away from css hover drop-down menus. I can think of multiple reasons for this: 1. CSS drop-down menus don’t function well on mobile devices; 2. with many sites having large headers pushes the nav down a bit, which means the drop-down list would force the user to scroll down; etc. Still, though, with even fewer links on your nav bar, it’s hard to describe to the user all of the content that is under the link (I know, expanded footer, right?). But is this really the case? Have you decided against drop-down menus? Why?

  28. 1480

    I am on my learning period, and i am inspired by the showcase u have. Can u please give a link to tutorial of how to slice the unusual shape navigation in photoshop and coding it in dreamwever.

    thanks in advance.

  29. 1531


    June 29, 2011 2:57 am

    I like this topic very much.

  30. 1582

    Wow, a lot of great examples. So much creativity going on here brings these pages to life!

    Thanks for sharing.


  31. 1633

    Mobile Game Developer@[x]cube GAMES

    December 12, 2013 6:58 am

    Truly inspiring!! … I love mesonprojekt design!!… simply awesome!!


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