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Exploring Design: Outstanding Start Pages

Designers have only a fraction of a second to attract users’ eye and win over their loyalty. Clear visual structure, thought-out typography and moderate use of images are extremely important – as they can drastically improve the scanning process for the users. Consequently, to achieve a lasting positive impression, it’s common to make use of basic rules of usability.

However, classical solutions can be boring; creative solutions can be appealing. Therefore to impress visitors, designers risk unusual and innovative approaches. After all, between standards and creativity there is a lot of room for design experiments. We observe these experiments. We explore new approaches. And we collect them, so you don’t have to.

And since no page is equally important as the start page, it’s interesting to know, which approaches designers come up with, developing an innovative design for start pages. Let’s take a look. Unusual, remarkable and outstanding start pages – in a brief overview.

1. Dynamic, interactive, stylish. Link

Apparently Leo Burnett prefers to work with pencils, at least in the sketch phase of the site development. The flash-based design of LeoBurnett.ca1 uses a pencil as a mouse pointer. Users can use it to navigate in 3D. Beautiful, interactive and user-friendly.

Leo Burnett, Screenshot2

The navigation items on Capitalcomm3 seem to be bounded to a string. To navigate through the content users have to drag the menu items. Extremely well designed, extremely nice to explore.


Flash-based navigation at Yammat.com5 sticks to a rubber or elastic band; once a link is clicked, the whole page gets in motion. The background images changes with every page reload.


Interactive vertical navigation menu. SectionSeven.com7 lets you browse through its sections like through the pages of a book.


Not only users can play with web-sites, web-sites can play with users. The navigation menu on Flaboy.com10 captures the mouse cursor and offers specific browsing locations – automatically. Nicely designed, nicely implemented.


Navigation menu can be gorgeous. MHQ.nl12 proves it. (The site was already featured in one of our previous posts13).


2. Browsing a site in a new way. Link

What about browsing a web-site without having to click on any links? Interesting approach. Designers experiment.

Dontclickit, Screenshot15

3. Using enhanced interface design. Link

Jason Hickner offers sliding navigation with amazing typography and well thought-out dynamic interaction.


4. Offering another perspective. Link

An unusual design perspective is offered at Davor Vaneijk16‘s site. Users look at the icon-based navigation under an acute angle.


Similar approach by Mathieu Badimon18.


Lance Wyman20 showcases his work in the form of a spiral. The latests works are placed on the outer side. A navigation menu helps to select some more specific works. Implemented with Flash.


5. Using visual communication. Link

The start page of the campaign “One Laptop per Child”22. The start page isn’t a splash-page: the images refer to different sections of the site. The icons can be found in the navigation menu. An unusual, but interesting concept.

Screenshot Startseite23
Screenshot Startseite24

6. Using the power of visual elements. Link

73dpi.net25 conveys its message with images, not with words. The works are presented one after another. Without comments and descriptions.

73 dpi, Screenshot26

Basism27 showcases its works in well-structured grids; the description is hidden, but appears once the image is hovered. Flash-based solution.


7. Using Huge Tag Clouds. Link

Search the Beat29, a music search engine, experiments with huge tag clouds. The start page has over 150 Kb text.

Screenshot Searchthebit30

Talking about huge tag clouds: the agency Wieden +Kennedy31 makes use of them to present its clients – according to their “weight” and their authority. Apparently, there are many of them. Users can also use a timeline to navigate through all of them with the mouse. A Flash-based solution, which has some usability shortcomings. What is not necessarily gorgeous, sounds like an interesting concept.

Screenshot Startseite32

8. Dynamic interaction & artwork. Link

Vault4933 uses the Flash-approach to show off its works. The page is divided into six sections; navigating through each of them users can see the results as the background images. Although well designed, the site makes use of annoying popups. Firefox blocks.

Screenshot Startseite34

Cappen.com35 achieves the user-friendliness with illustrations, artwork and though-out site structure.

Screenshot Startseite36

9. Interactive & user-friendly. Link

A single-page online-shop: delivers single-in-one solution: all products can be found and viewed directly from the start page.


10. Typography in use. Link

Quite unusual37, but still remarkable. Users can even play with text stripes – if they are linked, which they not always are. Not particularly informative, but quite unusual – however, there are further possibilities, particularly if Flash is used.

Screenshot Startseite38

Typography39-based solution at its best. For those who can see the beauty in the text. Shortcoming: in no-stylesheets-mode navigation simply disappears.


Similar idea, but Flash-based approach by Neil Duerden41.


11. Using a text marker-effect. Link

For instance, Andy Rutledge43‘s web-site. Andy presents long text passages as headlines. Sometimes just three colors are enough for a visually appealing design. Textmarker-effect in use.


Similar Textmarker-Effect is also used by Mostardesign45. The whole design is based upon a background image and the highlighted content.


Eoghan Mccabe47 surprises his visitors with a hover-effect. As long as no text is hovered, the page looks quite boring. Important aspects are highlighted with a green marker. The font-size is definitely too big.


12. Experiment with your sites. Link

Shaun Inman49 experiments using color and saturation to suggest the age (and arguably relative importance) of site content. Each day of the year is associated with a color.50 Winter begins with a blue which Spring changes to green. Summer fades to yellow and turns an orange-red by Autumn. As time passes, these colors begin to fade.


On AListApart.com52 each issue has its own color scheme. “Imagine: Red and green for Christmas; blue underlined links for when Jakob Nielsen finally writes for us.”


13. Let users explore the page. Link

Rinzen54 offers a start page for explorers. The navigation consists of dozens of colored pixels; each of them leads to a specific location. Tooltips at the top of the page provide clues of where the pixel is linked to.


The navigation items has to be explored on Mstudio, too. The sections are represented as three-dimensional paper sheet.


Catalogtree56 offers probably one of the weirdest navigation menus ever designed. A small animation on the left side of the alphabet (type here) offers users to type in the code symbols and numbers; once the input is confirmed with the return-key, the new page is loaded.

The site is quite strange, and has few problems in modern browsers. Users who don’t cope with this kind of navigation can use the index link, which lists all available pages. Although implemented not perfectly, the idea of letting users type in the page they’d like to land to, is worth mentioning.


The start page of Post Typography58 is a Splash-Screen that offers you a foreteaste of what the site is all about – typography.


The inner pages look like a button-collection. Yes, they are links, indeed.


At the first glance KEEN61 doesn’t offer something particular. However, instead of traditional navigation the site uses sliding data blocks; the whole information is shown on a one single page, no page refresh is needed.

Screenshot 62
Screenshot Startseite63

14. Minimalism and attention to small details. Link

Tiny, but with a keen attention to the smallest details: The Tangerine Tree. It doesn’t really have to be that small.


15. Using uncommon solutions. Link

Where to place the navigation menu? On the left, on the right? At the top or at the bottom? Well, why not in the middle of the page? Nonstep places the navigation menu on a fixed position, which never change – even if the page is scrolled. Navigation is extremely simple – the click on a navigation item scrolls to the content dynamically and changes the background color of the page.


Believe it or not, but this is actually a weblog. The page not only looks like Windows Notepad, but also works like that. The navigation menu appears as the drop-down-menu at the top of the window.


Footnotes Link

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  13. 13 /2015/07/hunt-for-the-webs-lost-soul/
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SmashingConf Barcelona 2016

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Sven is the co-founder and former CEO of Smashing Magazine. He's now writing at his Conterest Blog, where he focuses on blogs, content strategy and publishing — all in German.

  1. 1

    This is the awesomest post since your dark designs and “KISS” posts, at least IMHO.

    *fap fap fap*

  2. 2

    Love the web-site! Simply amazing.

    Thanks for a truly wonderful article; indeed, this is one of the best articles since the KISS post.

  3. 3

    So many usability nightmares… :(

  4. 4

    Nice! Lots of inspiration. Keep it commin’!

  5. 5

    I agree with Gamermk. Lots of Flash…

  6. 6

    neat, thats why geek sysadmin choose black and white world :-)

  7. 7

    LOVE the notepad site.

  8. 8

    Love the article, some very usefull sites/concepts presented. As for there being too much flash in this article, while flash also doesn’t have my personal preference it doesn’t really matter since the whole idea is to learn/be inspired from the sites presented.

  9. 9

    Flash used for navigation is as bad as pounding nails through your scrotum, but the use of colour in many of these examples and the amusing experimentation that has been done more than makes up for it. Just make sure that you NEVER EVER rely on Flash for a site’s navigation, ok?

  10. 10

    That last page (the notepad / windows design) is totally kool

  11. 11

    Great sites, the notepad one is killer! :) I’ve always liked

  12. 12

    “…a fracture of a second” should be “…a fraction of a second”

  13. 13

    Vitaly Friedman & Sven Lennartz

    July 18, 2007 3:17 am

    Thanks, Alex. Fixed.

  14. 14

    I really love the no click start page. It’s probably my favorite concept.

  15. 15

    Really nice collection here even though there is a lot of flash.

  16. 16

    So much Flash… horrible.

  17. 17

    These ideas are fine if you don’t care about usability, accessibility or search engines.

    The “single page e-commerce website” is a great case in point. That’s one page that will get indexed by search engines, whether you have 1 item for sale or 10,000. That’s bad for shoppers who have to navigate to the product they want via your Flash navigation rather than have Google index the specific page of that item and the shopper just land on it directly from the search engine (like a normal HTML page).

    These ideas might be aesthetically appealing, but eye candy isn’t very useful if you want people to find your site and actually use it.

  18. 18

    Very interesting.

    I’d like to see a version of this less oriented toward interaction and branding and more oriented towards converting visitors to signups. Something every designer needs to consider when doing commercial work is the successful communication of the message.

    “Successful start pages for web 2.0 companies” could be the theme.

    If it was really well done, each start page presented would include statistics on new visitors vs. conversions.

    Love the site. Keep it up!

  19. 19

    Ed O'Keeffe

    July 18, 2007 5:42 am

    Lovely design ideas, very creative but too many search and user issues – some of these designs need there own manual / user guide / website for users just to figure out how to browse the content. Must be a nightmare for Google to index also. Still very interesting concepts, looking forward to seeing more of this type of thing on the web in the future.

  20. 20

    good list definitely a few new ways to look at how we use the web.
    also a little typo:
    “Typography-based solution at ist best”


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