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40 Creative Design Layouts: Getting Out Of The Box

Over the last months we have seen a strong trend towards more individual web designs. These designs use realistic motifs from everyday life, such as hand-drawn elements, script fonts, pins, paper clips, organic textures and scrapbooks. That’s not a big surprise as they serve the function that faceless, shiny, glassy 3D-buttons completely fail to deliver: individuality and personality. “Personal” designs appear more familiar and more friendly. Used properly, such elements can give a human touch to design and communicate the content in a truly distinctive manner.

However, apart from visual design elements, one can also get creative with the layout of the site — its structure and the way the information is presented and communicated. To give you some ideas of how exactly it can be done, we have been collecting examples of creative design layouts. Design was more important to us than a concrete implementation of some creative idea. We also weren’t interested in whether the code validates or not. Below are some examples we have found so far.

In the showcase below we present 40 creative out-of-the-box layouts that break the boring 2- and 3-columned, boxed layouts. We have collected pure CSS -designs, CSS+JavaScript -layouts as well as Flash -designs. Most designs presented below risk their site structure and content presentation with unusual approaches. That’s what makes them different. Hopefully you will find some creative ideas that you can develop further in your future projects.

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!

20 × Getting Creative With CSS Link

Pavel Buben1
Pavel Buben uses a magazine cover-style layout for his one-page-site. Unfortunately, there are no internal pages — it would be interesting to seek how they would be designed. An interesting and unusual approach.

Showcase of Unusual Layouts - Pavel Buben

AIGA Los Angeles2
AIGA Los Angeles uses boxes in a creative way. All design elements are placed according to the underlying grid, however they clearly break out of the boxes. This approach creates tension within the design and looks truly distinctive.

Showcase of Unusual Layouts - AIGA Los Angeles

SpaceCollective3
For its gallery section SpaceCollective uses a five-column grid. Text and images are perfectly placed on the grid giving the layout a complete form and a sense of order. Notice various font sizes and text styling in the design — they introduce a profound visual hierarchy into the layout that works perfectly within the complex, unpredictable layout.

Showcase of Unusual Layouts - SpaceCollective

Jason Santa Maria4
Jason Santa Maria has taken a truly different route with his site layout. Each article is laid out differently, with strong focus on typography and visual clarity. Below three of the layouts are presented. You may have a hard time finding similar layouts on the Web.

Showcase of Unusual Layouts - Oh, Snap @ Jason Santa Maria
Showcase of Unusual Layouts - Explain Yourself | Jason Santa Maria
Showcase of Unusual Layouts - Jason Santa Maria

Checkout: Point of Sale for Mac (POS)5
At the first glance, Checkout looks like an ordinary Apple grid-layout. What makes the layout interesting is not only the position of its visual elements, but the fact that each section of the page has its individual (although consistent) design. Still, the layout is very scannable and intuitive.

Showcase of Unusual Layouts - Checkout: Point of Sale for Mac (POS)

NOFRKS.design
NOFRKS uses JavaScript to slide between various parts of the site. What we found more interesting was the way the content is presented. Most elements are placed within a context, giving the content a secondary meaning.

Showcase of Unusual Layouts - NOFRKS.design

SMS Parking6
At the first glance SMSParking has no layout at all. The design appears to be one single illustration — all elements fit perfectly with each other, creating visual harmony and a sense of balance and closure.

Showcase of Unusual Layouts - SMS Parking: Welcome

Matriz Communicacao7
This Brazilian company delivers a perfect example of how design and content can seamlessly be integrated within a complete yet simple layout.

Showcase of Unusual Layouts - MATRIZ COMUNICAÇÃO

Mihmorandum8
Mihmorandum uses a common 3-column-layout in an unusual way. Although the structure is quite usual, the design itself looks distinctive and resembles a pile of paper put inside a folder.

Showcase of Unusual Layouts - Mihmorandum: The Small Business Web Design + Local SEO Blog

3rdM9
3rdM uses icons to indicate various navigation options. This is not a type of layout you will find in many other web designs. And that’s what makes the layout creative.

Showcase of Unusual Layouts - 3rdM

Nile Inside10
Many portfolios use vertical layout to showcase their works. Nile.ru displays its works in a chronological order as if it was a horizontal blog.

Showcase of Unusual Layouts - Nile Inside / years-2008

Rockatee11
Rockatee uses asymmetry to position content blocks in an unusual yet appealing style. Notice that the left block perfectly aligns with the navigation option “Home” at the top of the page. The screenshot in the middle of the page spans exactly two navigation options and has the same width as the description block on the right side of the page.

The distortion in the layout is caused by the underlying organic texture. Although the design is perfectly aligned according to the grid, it seems to be chaotic at first glance. The tension between order and chaos creates tension in the layout and looks very appealing.

Showcase of Unusual Layouts - Rockatee Home

Get London Reading
An effective background image can help a layout stand out. The effect achieved here fits with the objective of the project — to encourage people to read more.

Showcase of Unusual Layouts - Get London Reading

BL:ND ( blind )12
At the first glance, the layout looks underwhelming. What distinguishes it, though, are the choice of images sizes and a good use of white space. Notice how well negative space is used in the sidebar, where individual elements are clearly separated and properly aligned. The width of the images equals the width of the content blocks. Yes, the layout is boxy, but the wise use of whitespace makes it far from boring.

Showcase of Unusual Layouts - BL:ND ( blind )

The portfolio of Hannibal13
Usually, navigation menus are placed in the sidebar or at the top of the site. William F. Leffert does it differently. His non-linear layout literally breaks out of the boxy structure and offers something quite different. Sometimes it’s enough to simply experiment with the position of design elements to achieve striking design solutions.

Showcase of Unusual Layouts - The portfolio of Hannibal, Missouri artist, web designer, photographer, musician, and composer: WFL

URLshrinker
Creative design solutions can be as simple as this one. An elegant and attractive layout by URLshrinker.

Showcase of Unusual Layouts - URLshrinker

15 × Getting Creative With CSS+JavaScript Link

ShopComposition14
ShopComposition offers a sliding navigation at the top of the site. Users can choose the content they would like to read and select the width of the content blocks. This store has an integrated blog and some further projects (such as picture-a-day) to attract customer’s attention. JavaScript in use.

Showcase of Unusual Layouts - ShopComposition | Composition | Outfitting Designers Since 2003

forgetfoo15
Forgetfoo uses an almost minimalistic, simple layout with a sidebar and a content area. Designers removed all necessary and unnecessary details focusing only on last blog entries. The design doesn’t contain any category navigation options. That’s unusual, but may be a little bit too much of the minimalism. Navigation through blog posts is realized with Javascript.

Showcase of Unusual Layouts - foo // it

Include16
On Include one content block and the corresponding navigation block seem to “hang in the air”. Essentially the page has two columns; however. the layout seems to be quite original — maybe because of the cows placed on the background for some reason. The navigation on the right-hand side is realized with Javascript.

Showcase of Unusual Layouts - Include

Kobe17
The navigation options at the top of the site are slightly animated yet creating an appropriate atmosphere. Once one of the sections is clicked, the main content area slides vertically — first the background image, then the content. If the content area also has some navigation options, they are slided vertically as well. In this situation it might be a slightly better design decision to use horizontal navigation instead to make it easier for visitors to distinguish between the primary and secondary navigation.

Kobe

tap tap tap18
tap tap tap uses a bold and eye-catching layout to deliver the message to its visitors. The layout, although basically consisting of the sidebar and content area, is not boring at all and looks attractive. The left-hand side navigation and further effects are created using JavaScript.

Showcase of Unusual Layouts - tap tap tap ~ Groceries

youlove.us19
The layout on youlove.us is definitely very vibrant. It uses a large vivid background-image and a the scroll-effect to enable users to quickly jump from one section of the site to another. Notice that the navigation area is repeated four times, in each of the categories. Sliding effects are also used for each of the categories. Instead of using 20 separate page, the layout combines them all on one single page. The result is compact and user-friendly.

Showcase of Unusual Layouts - youlove.us

Method: A Brand Experience Agency
This design agency uses a flexible JavaScript-based layout which updates its size depending on the browser window size. The content is “packed” in boxes is usual for such a grid-based design; however, the alignment of the boxes makes the design literally stand out.

Showcase of Unusual Layouts - Method: A Brand Experience Agency

Viget Labs20
Viget Labs also uses a sliding navigation and a horizontal scroll-effect to make the user interaction more dynamic and hence more appealing. However, more importantly, the layout itself stands out: the layout is invisible and resembles interactive Flash-interfaces. CSS+JavaScript in use. Smashing says: five out of five stars.

Showcase of Unusual Layouts - Viget Labs

Lucuma21
Lucuma also uses horizontal layout as well as a horizontal slider-navigation. The simple yet effective integration of background images, navigation, videos and content makes the layout unusual and distinctive.

Showcase of Unusual Layouts - Lucuma

Axel Peemoeller Design22
On this page all design elements are draggable and some of them are clickable. Images seems to be thrown on you in the first moment, but in the end they all make sense. This is an unusual portfolio which is memorable and interesting to explore.

Showcase of Unusual Layouts - Axel Peemoeller Design

IDEO23
IDEO presents everything on its main page. The navigation options are placed in the black boxes and somehow arranged among other content boxes. Once one of the black boxes is hovered, related content blocks are highlighted. That’s not something most users would expect from a layout.

Showcase of Unusual Layouts - IDEO

Bohdan Levishchenko24
Bohdan Levishchenko uses the same approach as IDEO, but presents all navigation option at the top of the page. Single works are presented as images under the navigation and spread throughout the layout.

Showcase of Unusual Layouts - Bohdan Levishchenko

MelissaHie.com25
Melissa Hie places all deign elements on a single large page. Visitors are basically driven from one site are to another using a scroll-effect.

Showcase of Unusual Layouts - www.MelissaHie.com

Hotel Oxford – Timisoara26
A single-page-site with a very calm and comforting layout. All navigation options are available at the first glance. Once some of the options is clicked, the content block on the left is dynamically replaced. The logo of the Hotel Oxford always remains on its place.

Showcase of Unusual Layouts - Hotel Oxford - Timisoara

thruSITES / Portfolio
In this portfolio the illustrations of a designer’s works seem to somehow be loosely placed on an invisible rope. When one of the illustration is clicked, all other elements arrange themselves in such a way that the content which this illustration represents becomes dominant.

Showcase of Unusual Layouts - thruSITES / Portfolio

Erwin Bauer KEG27
The portfolio site of Erwin Bauer takes a different approach to using a pannable user interface, but implementing in JavaScript rather than in Flash. The site allows users to click and drag to pan the canvas, or to use links positioned around the content to move around. The design is clean, and mimics a design document with regisration and crop marks, and visual cues about the directions the canvas will pan to when you navigate.

Showcase of Unusual Layouts - Erwin Bauer KEG – Designbüro für Konzept & Gestaltung

5 × Getting Creative With Flash Link

The Secret Location28
The Secret Location, a media agency based in Toronto, Canada exemplifies their work, by providing an immersive flash experience around a conjured up story leading a character to follow a mysterious path that leads to the secret location. Very interactive approach, a very unusual site layout.

Showcase of Unusual Layouts - The Secret Location - 416 849 5298 - Interactive Media Production, Ideas, Experience Design, Tangible Media, Animation and Mfiguresrc=

Kamil Gottwald29
In his layout Kamil Gottwald enables users to define the width of site columns manually. To navigate vertically users need to scroll horizontally. Hence no vertical scrollbar is necessary. Multiple site views are possible.

Showcase of Unusual Layouts - Kamil Gottwald - interactive developer

Grooveshark Lite 30
Grooveshark seems to imitate an iPod-interface and does it indeed very well. Although it may be not very creative, such layouts are hard to find on the Web.

Showcase of Unusual Layouts - Grooveshark Lite

Jeremy Levine Design31
Flash offers many creative possibilities for an interactive navigation design. Jeremy Levine uses dynamic paper strips which seem to hang in the air.

Showcase of Unusual Layouts - Jeremy Levine Design

SeymourPowell32
SeymourPowell has come up with an interesting idea to provide its visitors with some intuition of how good its work is. Click on the pile to find out.

Showcase of Unusual Layouts - Product Designers

Muku Studios33
“Let Muku Do You”: this friendly buddy just wants to remain visible and hence he tries to find some place on the screen to keep an eye on site’s visitors. The layout of the site is simple yet memorable — well, Muku makes sure he’ll be remembered after the browser window is closed.

Showcase of Unusual Layouts - Muku Studios | Let Muku Do You

You may also be interested in the following articles we published earlier:

Footnotes Link

  1. 1 http://www.pavelbuben.cz/
  2. 2 #
  3. 3 http://spacecollective.org/gallery/
  4. 4 http://jasonsantamaria.com/articles/cheesesteak-crawl/
  5. 5 http://www.checkoutapp.com/
  6. 6 #
  7. 7 #
  8. 8 http://www.davidmihm.com/blog/
  9. 9 http://3rdm.org/
  10. 10 #
  11. 11 http://rockatee.com/
  12. 12 http://www.blind.com/
  13. 13 http://www.classicwfl.com/
  14. 14 http://www.shopcomposition.com/
  15. 15 #
  16. 16 http://www.include-digital.com/
  17. 17 http://www.arcinspirations.com/kobe/
  18. 18 http://www.arcinspirations.com/kobe/
  19. 19 http://youlove.us/
  20. 20 http://www.teamviget.com/
  21. 21 #
  22. 22 http://de-war.de/
  23. 23 http://ideo.com/
  24. 24 #
  25. 25 http://melissahie.com/
  26. 26 http://www.hotel-oxford.ro/
  27. 27 http://www.erwinbauer.com/
  28. 28 http://www.thesecretlocation.com/
  29. 29 http://www.iameuropean.com/
  30. 30 http://listen.grooveshark.com/
  31. 31 http://www.jeremylevine.com/
  32. 32 http://www.seymourpowell.com/
  33. 33 http://www.mukustudios.com/
  34. 34 /2008/08/06/design-showcase-of-creative-online-shops/
  35. 35 /2008/04/02/39-creative-flash-designs/
  36. 36 /2007/10/30/65-excellent-flash-designs/
  37. 37 /2007/07/17/exploring-design-outstanding-start-pages/
SmashingConf Barcelona 2016

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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 UX, front-end and performance problems in large companies. Get in touch.

  1. 1

    Great list!

    -10
  2. 2

    Point and Stare

    September 3, 2008 2:52 pm

    You should do a ‘top ten’ list of URls contained in your comments

    :)

    1
  3. 3

    Great !

    -3
  4. 4

    Beer is my poison

    September 3, 2008 3:18 pm

    Nice compilation! Very inspirational and refreshing.

    -1
  5. 5

    That’s what I’m talking about

    -2
  6. 6

    Thanks everyone, I will keep updating URLShrinker and thanks for listing me on your magazine.

    0
  7. 7

    I am honoured to enter my 1st reply for smashingmagazine for this is an amazing article entry. I like the design of the sites ya displayed here very much.

    -3
  8. 8

    “Over the last months we have seen a strong trend towards more individual web designs.” — Excuse me, are you kidding? We have a totalitarian ans pandemic hell of WordPress box design with totoo-like oranaments and brain-wash-pastel-blue. Everything is blue and WordPress now.

    0
    • 9

      What’s dat now……?????Its Okay if he says so….why do u take the heck of bothering that thing. He is doing his work. You do yours……(Clean)..

      0
  9. 10

    Using Kobe again as an example I see…

    0
  10. 11

    It was again a great article .. Ek dum Fresh :)

    0
  11. 12

    ultimate post 5 *****

    0
  12. 13

    Awaesome collection, very inspiring ! Thanx again !

    0
  13. 14

    No longer caring about website design, it would of course be easy for me to complain about the shortcomings of a great number of websites — especially Flash-based and those scrolly single-page POSes. But if you give yourself a title (web designer, photographer, graphic designer, etc.) you need to work on being the best of the trade, not settle for “okay it looks cool on screen” and ignore the parts you care less about (usability, printer-friendliness).

    0
  14. 15

    Love the site layout of Jason Santa Maria. It really breaks out of the stereotypical blog layouts by incorporating some design techniques from magazines. Get London Reading and Tri-Win both deserve praise from the way they manage to give you a feel of what the site is all about within a couple of seconds. From a user perspective, i love the design of the URL Shrinker but I really can’t see any use for the application …. aren’t there bookmarks to remember long URL’s ? Great collection overall ! Keep it up !

    0
  15. 16

    Truly a great list (I’ve come to expect nothing less, but still)… my favorites were URLShrinker (genius layout) and the Axel infinite scrolling site… one of the hardest things to do with a web design is break out of the box (whether that box be literal or figurative). This collection will definitely be an idea starter for me in the future. Thanks for posting these :)

    1
  16. 17

    That’s a great list of websites. Thanks!

    0
  17. 18

    What a wickedly inspiring round-up. I totally agree with the simplicity but effectiveness of Tri-Win’s site. Seems so basic, but done so well!

    0
  18. 19

    A while back I came across this unusual layout: http://okaydave.com/ It’s a flash based portfolio which I simply adore! At first, there seems to be no navigation, but when you hover over areas of the screen, the design comes to life.

    This is a great article and very inspirational. I design blogs much more than websites, and this has offered me many ideas for layouts I could experiment with for future projects – I love taking design out of the box!

    1
  19. 20

    Curt Simon Harlinghausen

    September 4, 2008 12:44 am

    Some interesting sites and ideas. Thanks.

    0
  20. 21

    Some really interesting and different layouts, very nice :o) Just wondered how my site would site with regards to good layout.
    Thanks for this article, very good.

    0

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