Menu Search
Jump to the content X X
Smashing Conf Barcelona 2016

We use ad-blockers as well, you know. We gotta keep those servers running though. Did you know that we publish useful books and run friendly conferences — crafted for pros like yourself? E.g. upcoming SmashingConf Barcelona, dedicated to smart front-end techniques and design patterns.

Hand-Drawing Style In Modern Web Design – Volume 2

When it comes to web design too often perfect, colorful and boxy designs make the cut; however, the reality is different as it is hard to find objects with a perfect shape and a perfect color in our daily routine. To achieve a unique and communicative design we need to consider more creative approaches. For instance, we can draw sites by ourselves — or at least some parts of it.

The main purpose of hand-drawn elements lies in their ability to convey a personality and an individual note in times when perfect, boxy and rounded elements can be found almost everywhere. They look different and they can make a web-site look different. And this is what we usually are after in the first place.

And in fact, this is done quite often: whether a blog, a shop, an ad, a private page, or some collaborative project — doesn’t matter whether with Flash or (X)HTML. This post presents fresh examples of hand-drawing style in modern web design. All screenshots can be clicked and lead to the sites from which they’ve been taken.

Please also have a look at our previous showcase

What’s new? Link

Few months ago we’ve declared2 that, in our humble opinion, shiny and glossy design elements were officially outdated. We have also suggested that web designs will become more subtle, more user-centric, more content-oriented and less loud. Indeed, this is exactly what we observe at the moment. Hand-writing, earlier often taken to extreme, now seems to become subtle, supporting and less dominating. Below you’ll find some examples which are supposed to prove exactly that.

Hand-drawn elements are used moderately Link

In particular, since designers try to provide visitors with a comforting, user-friendly presentations, they tend to use hand-drawn and hand-written elements moderately. Sometimes, only few design elements are designed accordingly while the rest of the design is focuses on clean conten presentation and isn’t drawn at all. For instance, often only category headers, search boxes or navigation are hand-written.

However, it is important to understand that there are still many examples of exaggerated use of hand-writing and hand-drawn elements (see examples below). Yet we’ve observed a growing number of designs where such elements are used sparsely and accurately.


Jeff Sarmiento4 combines hand-written and hand-drawn elements with a classic retro-look. Although there are only few elements which are actually hand-drawn, they give the design an authentic style which perfectly fits to its look. More precisely, hand-drawing is used only for category headers,

Script fonts gain on popularity Link

Since hand-drawn elements become more subtle, designers often tend to imitate hand-writing instead of using it. For instance, this is done by using clean and sharp script fonts instead of literally hand-written or drawn sketches. This approach helps designers to make the layout cleaner and easier to scan.


Paul Wallas6 uses script fonts in header and for category headings. The script font is, however, easy to read and perfectly fits to the informal style of the site.

Beware: usability issues! Link

Regarding the usability point of view we’ve managed to find some negative examples. Attempting to create a distinctive design, designers often tend to neglect usability issues. Whether some design element is hand-drawn or not, it is important that it successfully communicates its function and visitors are able to a) find it and b) immediately know how to use it.

Hand-Writing Screenshot
Hand-written navigation options. That may be too much hand-writing at once.

Mind Never (screenshot above) uses hand-writing for 6 design elements — logo, tagline, navigation, headers, illustration and all clickable elements. The main problem with the design is the simple fact that it is hard to scan.


Furthermore, links are styled differently — sometimes they are blue, sometimes black, sometimes they have a hover-effect, sometimes they don’t. That’s not effective and not user-friendly. Here one should reduce the number of hand-drawn elements and use standard design elements instead.

Hand-Writing Screenshot7

Consider another example above. Omnia.ae8 uses hand-drawn design elements for almost every possible element in the layout. The image displays a country selector which is a radio-button. Although this is definitely an interesting solution, this selection is easy to overlook as it appears to be rather a part of the background image than a standalone design element.

Hand-Writing Screenshot9
Hand-Writing Screenshot10

While the RSS-button and a sign-up-illustration are likely to be perceived as clickable design elements, in the language selection above it is not the case. Keep in mind: if your decision to use an artistic element instead of a standard solution raises some usability issues, you should prefer a standard solution.

Let’s now take a look at some examples of how hand-writing and hand-drawing are used in practice.

1. Hand-drawing in logos and headers Link

When hand-written elements are placed in logo or in a header, the designer makes sure that visitors will detect these elements. Since these areas are clicked more often than other layout elements, the “hand-drawn”-feeling will be conveyed. That’s what some designers are trying to achieve. Besides, if the designer wants its design to convey a personal note and some design elements are already hand-written, it makes sense to consider adding some hand-written notes to the header as well.

Logos Link

Hand-Writing Screenshot13

Headers Link

Hand-Writing Screenshot14
Hand-Writing Screenshot15
Hand-Writing Screenshot16

2. Single hand-drawn design elements Link

To give the layout a “hand-written”-style design elements need to be styled accordingly. In fact, you can apply the style to any part of your layout. Usually designers use hand-writing for teasers, RSS-buttons, navigation, input fields, headers and background images.

Teaser, Slogan Link

Hand-Writing Screenshot17
Hand-Writing Screenshot18

RSS-feeds Link


Input fields Link

Newsletter Box
Search box

Illustration Link

Hand-Writing Screenshot23
Hand-Writing Screenshot24

Preloaders Link

Hand-Writing Screenshot
Hand-Writing Screenshot26
Hand-Writing Screenshot
Hand-Writing Screenshot
Hand-Writing Screenshot27
Hand-Writing Screenshot28

Background image Link

Hand-Writing Screenshot31
Hand-Writing Screenshot32

3. Hand-drawing in navigation Link

Navigation is the primary element of every site design. Designers know it and give it some unique artistic elements to make the design more unique and distinctive. However, you shouldn’t experiment too much with navigation. Make sure it works. The function is more important than the design. Below you’ll find some example of how one can effectively combine the hand-drawing-style with clear and intuitive navigation.

Hand-drawn rectangles for navigation options
Hand-Writing Screenshot33
Hand-drawing combined with hand-writing
Hand-Writing Screenshot34
Hand-drawn icons appear when the navigation option is hovered
Hand-Writing Screenshot35
Hand-drawn icons are used to indicate navigation options
Hand-drawn icons appear when a section is hovered
Hand-Writing Screenshot36
A script font in use
Hand-Writing Screenshot37
Subtle hand-writing used for tabs
Hand-Writing Screenshot38
Tiny hand-writing for section headers and script font used to display navigation options

4. Hand-drawing used moderately. Link

As we have written above, designers attempt to make sure that the design looks distinctive without compromising the usability and user-friendliness of the design. In fact, it’s not that hard as it may look like. Consider the examples below.

Hand-Writing Screenshot40
This is how we like it: huge typography, flashy colors, memorable favicon and a sweet roboter willing to help. Well, the roboter speaks hand-writing, of course.
The design become more interesting when standard-elements are mixed with some hand-written elements. In such cases visitors are offered the design which looks unusual and different. That’figure a good way to impress visitors with an unusual design approach. That’s what Li Chin does. The navigation menu has hover-effects as well.

Icons, navigation and products in an online-shop
Coldplay offers some free downloads
Hand-Writing Screenshot
Beware: Flash-based music player starts automatically
Hand-Writing Screenshot46
This is a pretty hand-drawn sidebar!
Graphic artists and illustrators seem to have no problems with drawing a web-site from scratch. This is how Sarah Rays has done it.
Grégory Dourdes with the same approach.

5. Hand-drawing used heavily Link

There are still many examples of exaggerated use of hand-writing and hand-drawn elements, however they seem to lose on popularity. It’s hard to say if it’s a trend or not — a simple explanation we can come up with is a fact that overcrowded, “too artistic” designs are likely to attract a limited target group while design with moderate use of hand-drawing can be aimed at everybody.

Hand-Writing Screenshot54
Flash in use
Probably the largest hand-drawn design out there
Hand-drawn site layout
Creative chaos at its best

Footnotes Link

  1. 1 /2008/01/03/hand-drawing-style-in-modern-web-design/
  2. 2 /2008/03/11/the-secrets-of-grunge-design/
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5 #
  6. 6 #
  7. 7
  8. 8
  9. 9
  10. 10
  11. 11
  12. 12
  13. 13
  14. 14 #
  15. 15
  16. 16
  17. 17
  18. 18
  19. 19
  20. 20
  21. 21
  22. 22
  23. 23
  24. 24
  25. 25
  26. 26
  27. 27
  28. 28
  29. 29
  30. 30
  31. 31
  32. 32
  33. 33
  34. 34
  35. 35
  36. 36
  37. 37
  38. 38
  39. 39
  40. 40 #
  41. 41
  42. 42 #
  43. 43
  44. 44
  45. 45
  46. 46
  47. 47
  48. 48
  49. 49 #
  50. 50
  51. 51
  52. 52
  53. 53
  54. 54
  55. 55
  56. 56
  57. 57
  58. 58
  59. 59
  60. 60
  61. 61
  62. 62
  63. 63
  64. 64
  65. 65
  66. 66
SmashingConf Barcelona 2016

Hold on, Tiger! Thank you for reading the article. Did you know that we also publish printed books and run friendly conferences – crafted for pros like you? Like SmashingConf Barcelona, on October 25–26, with smart design patterns and front-end techniques.

↑ Back to top Tweet itShare on Facebook


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

    Perfect web sites :)

    Always a good inspiration way

  2. 2

    Good stuff! =)

  3. 3

    Clemson Donnatucci

    June 18, 2008 9:32 am

    Good stuff.

  4. 4

    Great stuff as always!

    Would love to do that kinda thing to my sites, but my handwriting is crap.. :-)

  5. 5

    very nice! n_n

  6. 6

    Really nice showcase! Great for inspiration

    I noticed a small error (above the rss image): “Reason: the design element appears to be too artistic and is “, the last word seems to be omitted.

  7. 7

    Wow! I just realize that personally designed stuffs would have a unique effect. But i think the more meticulous it is, the more unique, the more time needed to finish those designs.

    Another factor that can be considered is, it would be difficult to change from time to time: it can be but another great amount of time would be needed.

  8. 8

    awesome stuff..

  9. 9

    Vitaly Friedman & Sven Lennartz

    June 18, 2008 10:07 am

    @Fabian: thanks, fixed.

  10. 10

    One of the things much forgotten is an alternative for the stylish menu images or elements.
    Try some sites with images turned off.
    Example: where did the nav go without the images?

    Beauty should be accessible too.


  11. 11

    incredible designs!!!!

  12. 12


    Thats an even better example of a site that doesn’t work with images turned off or css turned off even if it looks nice it’s bad practice.

  13. 13

    Nice Article. Lots of great ideas.

  14. 14

    Fouad Masoud

    June 18, 2008 12:23 pm

    Amazing keep it up guys.

  15. 15

    Leigh Taylor

    June 18, 2008 12:53 pm

    I really like how there is a focus on not just the website but the details these designers have gone to the trouble to perfect!

    Great stuff, keep it up

  16. 16

    I visited a website that had one cool hand made background. look

  17. 17

    Sorry, I really like your site and visit it every day, but the ad you have on this page is the worst I have ever heared. Pls make sure you wont get ads with such a crazy sound and without the possibility to stop it other then trun off the speakers.

    This kind os stuff shouldnt be on any site, so they can learn to make some clever banners rather than this noisy trash.

    Thanks and keep on the good work

  18. 18

    Fantastic guys. Would live to see some new templates that use these styles. Thank you

  19. 19


    June 18, 2008 5:26 pm

    great stuff.
    anyway, just installed firefox 3. then the headers cannot be read. it shows random unicodes.
    anyone know why?

  20. 20

    Same problem here


↑ Back to top