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Symptoms Of An Epidemic: Web Design Trends

Since Elliot Jay Stocks so poignantly told us to destroy the Web 2.0 look1, we’ve witnessed a de-shinification of the Web, with fewer glass buttons, beveled edges, reflections, special-offer badges, vulgar gradients with vibrant colors and diagonal background patterns. The transformation has been welcomed with relief by all but the most hardened gloss-enthusiasts. However, design and aesthetics work in mysterious ways, and no sooner does one Web design trend leave us before another appears.

You might be interested in the following related posts:

The Symptoms Link

So, exactly what is this new epidemic? Well, let’s start by looking at some of the most common symptoms, many of which you have probably noticed. They are easy to spot, and as with many other conditions, they often appear in conjunction with each other. (This is why the contagion spreads so effectively — seemingly independent symptoms grow more infectious when combined with others.)

Please note: The following list appears in no particular order and does not indicate the level of infectiousness or severity, which seem to be stable across the board. Note also that the instances given often exhibit more than one symptom, making classification more difficult.

Stitching Link

Stitching appears gradually, often as a result of the designer playing too long with borders and lines, particularly of the dotted variety. A full-blown stitch is evidenced by the subtle shift from dots to dashes, augmented by drop shadows and other effects to give the impression of 3-D. The purpose of the stitch is somewhat elusive, but it seems to thrive in environments where certain textures are applied, most notably fabric and leather, but also generic graininess.

While determining the exact cause of stitching is difficult, scientists are certain that it belongs to a larger strain of the infection known as “Skeuomorphism.”

Collage of interfaces with stiches
Clockwise from top: The Journal of Min Tran; Dribbble shot by Mason Yarnell5; Dribbble shot by Liam McCabe6.

Zigzag Borders Link

Borders are common elements of Web design, and as such, they are difficult to avoid; luckily, they are usually harmless and often have a positive effect on the layout. However, for some reason, a particular type of border — the zigzag — has grown exponentially in the last few years and is now threatening the natural habitat of more benign border specimens. Exactly why this is happening is unknown, although some researchers claim that the pattern created by the repeating opposing diagonals has such an alluring effect on designers and clients alike that straight borders have somewhat lost their appeal.

Collage of interfaces with zigzag borders
Clockwise from top: You Know Who7; Dribbble shot by Christopher Paul8; Dribbble shot by Meagan Fisher9.

Forked Ribbons Link

Like borders, ribbons have long existed in various forms. What we’re seeing now, though, is the near dominance of a particular style of ribbon, easily identified by a fork at one or both ends. Some ribbons are also folded over twice, creating a faux effect of depth and reinforcing the diagonal lines in the fork. Whether the fork is related to the zigzag effect is unknown, but it seems that diagonal lines are the key to the ribbon’s survival, along with its ability to evoke memories of times past.

The danger of the ribbon lies mainly in its ability to exist independent of other symptoms (although it thrives in the company of vintage typography), meaning that it could date your design long after the epidemic ends, even if the symptom itself appears dormant. In many ways, this is reminiscent of the “special offers” badge of the Web 2.0 look.

Collage of interfaces using forked ribbons
Clockwise from top: Ryan O’Rourke10; Cabedge11; Jake Przespo12

Textures Link

In the age of all things digital, it’s a conundrum that textures should dominate our illustrations and backgrounds, and yet they are indeed one of the most common symptoms on our list. Manifested by subtle grain, dirt and scratches, paper-esque surfaces and fold marks, they seem to embrace the spirit of the handmade. But ironically, they’re often the complete opposite: computer-generated effects or Photoshop brushes.

Possible explanations for the widespread use of textures include a yearning for tactile media (especially considering the emergence of touchscreens) or envy towards print designers, who have a much richer palette of materials and surfaces to play with.

Collage of interfaces with textures
Clockwise from top: Gerren Lamson13; Zero14; Amazee Labs15.

Letterpress Link

A Smashing Magazine article from 200916 outlined letterpress as one of the emerging trends of the year and, boy, were they right. The simple effect has gone from strength to strength and is now a household technique for sprucing up typography online. A relatively harmless symptom, letterpress might also have infected designers through other digital interfaces, such as operating systems and games, as early as the turn of the millennium, indicating a very long incubation period.

Scientists disagree over whether the incubation period is due to the infection needing a critical mass before emerging from dormancy or whether the infection simply needed the right conditions — CSS3 text shadows, to be specific — for symptoms to appear.

Collage of interfaces with letterpress
Clockwise from top: Billy Tamplin17; Dribbble shot by Phillip Marriot18; Remix19.

19th-Century Illustration Link

After being released from copyright quarantine, this symptom, favoured by fashionable ladies and gentlemen, was nearly eliminated during the last epidemic due to its inability to cope well with gloss and shine. But in this new vintage-friendly environment, it has found its way back into our visual repertoire. For better or worse, the 19th-century illustration will most likely hang around for a while, emerging stronger from time to time like a flu virus.

Collage of interfaces with 19th century illustrations
Clockwise from top: Killian Muster20; Dribbble shot by Trent Walton21; Simon Collison22.

Muted Tones Link

After a long period of vibrancy, the average online color scheme seems to have been somewhat desaturated across the board. We’re seeing widespread use of browns, earthy greens and mustards and a general leaning towards “impure” colors, although this is generally thought to be a minor symptom of the epidemic. Some scientists will even argue that muted tones are, in fact, not a symptom themselves but rather a side effect of other symptoms, in the way that sweating is a natural response to a fever.

Collage of interfaces with muted colours
Clockwise from top: Dribble shot by Dave Ruiz23; Cognition24; Web Standards Sherpa25.

Justified or Centered Typography (JCT) Link

This symptom is nothing new; in fact, it was pretty much the standard for the first 500 years of typography, until Tschichold and the New Typography showed up and quarantined it on the grounds that it was old fashioned, difficult to read and inefficient. Although we’re not sure at this point, this link with history might be what has made JCT reappear so vigorously under the umbrella of vintage symptoms. We do know that overall reading habits among humans have not changed in recent years (most Westerners still read left to right), and there is no plausible argument that JCT improves legibility; so, whatever the cause of the outbreak, we know it’s rooted in subjective emotion rather than rational thought.

Collage of interfaces with justified or centered typography
Clockwise from top: Grip Limited26; Tommy27; Visual Republic28.

Circular Script Logotypes (SCL) Link

A circle is a basic shape and, in isolation, is no more a symptom of an epidemic than a triangle. However, if you repeat enough triangles in a line, you get a zigzag. Similarly, if you include a circle in your logotype, you end up with a circular logotype. And if that logotype happens to be set in a script font, you’ll get — that’s right! — a Circular Script Logotype (SCL). Not that SCL is lethal or anything, but it is relatively contagious and can be highly detrimental when enough hosts have been infected.

Collage of circular script logos
Clockwise from top: Trent Walton29; Mercy30; Dribbble shot by James Seymor-Lock.

Skeuomorphic Features Link

Skeuomorphic features — i.e. ornamentation or design features on an object that are copied from the object’s form in another medium — are rife, particularly in mobile applications, and this symptom is one of the defining indicators of the epidemic. Possibly a mutant cancerous strain of mildly skeuomorphic features such as stitches and letterpress, it can sometimes grow to overtake an entire interface, bloating it with redundant visual references to physical objects and materials. However, due to the labor involved in preparing the graphics and the heavy reliance on image resources, some researchers argue that we’re unlikely to see full-blown skeuomorphism dominate our desktop browsers any time soon.

In fact, most scientists regard the phenomenon as a curiosity and predict that some virtual metaphors for physical attributes will prove useful (as tabs have) and some won’t. Interestingly, while Apple has embraced and continues to pioneer the technique, Google seems to some degree to resist the urge to mimic physical reality in its interfaces. Perhaps it has developed a vaccine?

Collage of skeuomorphic interface elements
Clockwise from top: iBooks31; Dribbble shot by skorky; Dribbble shot by Igor Shkarin32.

How Did It Start? Link

Pinpointing the epicentre of a design epidemic (read: trend) is always hard, especially given the myriad of symptoms and the contagious nature of the Internet. Identifying Patient Zero is virtually impossible, and, to be pragmatic, doing so would serve no purpose. What we can say is that we’re most likely experiencing a reaction to the Web 2.0 aesthetic — a craving for textured surfaces and retro imagery, something tactile and natural-looking, as an antidote to the shiny impersonality of the past — and that this is both healthy and necessary for pushing the design industry forward33. Whatever the sources of trends34, they often start with applying smart design to solve a particular problem or, indeed, to counter another trend.

Let’s say that everyone used sans-serif fonts, strong contrasting colors and crisp white backgrounds as a rule. Imagine, in this environment, if a designer went against the grain by using Clarendon or some other warm serif to infuse some personality into their website (which happens to be selling “Grandma’s homemade jam”), and then complemented the personality of their font selection with earthy colors and some brown paper textures. The result would inevitably stand out from the crowd: beautiful, emotional, different.

Incidentally, this aesthetic inspires another designer who happens to be working on a website with a global audience, exposing the new approach to a whole generation of designers who, in turn, apply it at will (often without considering the context). A trend is born. And yet, paradoxically, the potency of the epidemic is under constant threat. The more people get infected, the less differentiated the symptoms appear; and once the infection reaches a critical mass, the symptoms begin to work against themselves. Infusing personality into your visuals is meaningless if everything looks the same.

Is It Dangerous? Link

In today’s open collaborative world, avoiding an epidemic of this scale is difficult; so, in a sense, everyone is affected to some degree. The symptoms listed above are not restricted to small-scale up-and-coming designers, but affect even the elite of the design community. This means that even though some symptoms are harmless — like a light fever or a runny nose from a flu infection — the viral onslaught of trendy features puts constant pressure on our immune system to protect our creativity, and staying vigilant is important to maintaining a healthy dose of original thought.

If you’re displaying a handful of symptoms, it’s really nothing to worry about — catching a cold that’s going around is not hard, but recovering from it is also easy. If, on the other hand, you display most or all of these symptoms, then there’s reason to be extra cautious in your next project. Using all of a trend’s identifiers as cornerstones of your work might make your portfolio look oh so contemporary, but in a way this practice is no different than passing off the work of your favorite designer, artist or musician as your own. Granted, symptoms with no identifiable origin are not protected by copyright, but that’s beside the point — you should be worried not about legal implications, but rather about the creative integrity of your output. The danger is not only that your work will be seen as a passing fad, a popular aesthetic that will look dated in a couple of years’ time, but that you will lose the respect of your peers when they catch on to you.

While nothing is original35, we all need to respect the difference between inspiration and imitation. As Jean Luc Goddard said, “It’s not where you take things from — it’s where you take them to.” And if you don’t take them anywhere, what’s the point?

Worse perhaps than the loss of respect and integrity is the effect that epidemics have on clients and, in turn, the design community as a whole. The more designers are infected and the more symptoms they show of the same disease, the less your clients will believe that you’re capable of solving real business problems. Eventually they’ll exclude you from the early stages (where all the real design thinking takes place) and employ your services merely to skin their wireframes, in the process reducing the whole profession to an army of decorators.

What Can You Do About It? Link

Now that we’ve seen how detrimental trends can be, how does one avoid them? Is this even possible? Trends, by definition, are popular, and arguably nothing is wrong with tapping into that popularity to increase the exposure of your product. Convincing a client to accept a design that is off-trend can be difficult, and you run the risk of alienating the audience by going completely against the trend just for the sake of it. On the other hand, blindly following others is never a good idea, and you could severely stifle your creativity, integrity and client base by accepting what’s “in” as a given and copying it without purpose.

So, what’s the right thing to do? Trends are intrinsic to our society, whether in politics, culture, design or even religion, and as the consensus sways in one direction or another, so will your opinion (or “taste”) — to some degree, at least. Alas, avoiding trends altogether seems an impossible and pointless undertaking, but that doesn’t leave you powerless. In fact, you can do a host of things to combat the lemming syndrome.

Ask Why Link

Always question your design decisions (and make sure they are your own), and keep asking the magic question, Why am I doing this? Am I doing this simply because it looks cool or because it suits the message I’m trying to communicate? Why am I using this ribbon? Does the zigzag border add to or detract from the personality of the website? What does this leather texture have to do with the finance app I’m designing? The moment you stop asking questions, you fall prey to the epidemic.

Put Some Effort In Link

In his article “The Dying Art of Design36” Francisco Inchauste asserts, among other things, that inspiration requires perspiration, and I couldn’t agree more. I was lucky enough to attend a college where no computers were allowed in the first year, which meant we had to use physical tools to express ourselves — tracing letters by hand, drawing our photography, stocking up on Pantone pens (remember those?), abusing the copier. Not only did our creativity grow, but we learned an important lesson: good design is not effortless, and the best results come from your own experimentation.

Try Something Different Link

Remember that being distinctive is, for the most part, a good thing. Most great artists in history, regardless of their field, stood out enough for the world to take notice. Who painted melting clocks before Dali? Who would have thought to build a huge wall on stage before Pink Floyd? While mimicking what’s popular might be comfortable and might secure short-term victories, long-term success requires a unique, memorable approach.

Diversify Your Inspiration Link

In order to remain creative, staying curious and looking for inspiration all around you is crucial, not just in the latest showcase of fashionable WordPress themes. Read a book, perform a scientific experiment, listen to music you haven’t heard before, walk through a new neighborhood, or experience a foreign culture. Widening your horizons beyond your favorite websites and finding more than one source of inspiration is critical to making original, lasting designs.

Focus on the Basics Link

Finally and most importantly, study the underlying principles of design in order to understand what is and isn’t defined by style. Grid systems, contrast, legibility, juxtaposing imagery, well-written copy — these are the key components of successful design, yet they are entirely independent of fads and styles.

At the end of the day, design is not so much about style as it is about communication, and all style, imagery and typography should be inspired by the content, functionality and personality of the product, not by what simply looks cool at the moment.

No matter how cool37 something looks, it too shall pass.

(al) (fi)

Footnotes Link

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Espen Brunborg is Head of Design at Primate, a web agency driven by an overwhelming passion for the web industry and a slightly unsettling love for monkeys, and is an advocate of content-led design, simplicity and typographic principles. He writes about his design convictions at 8 Gram Gorilla and his tweets are occasionally worth reading.

  1. 1

    You missed – putting images of people in circles, as you see on your own website, ThinkVitamin, the new BaseCamp, off the top of my head.

    • 2

      Jim Silverman

      March 15, 2012 6:56 am

      yes! circles are everywhere! even when they’re cutting off content/images. now THAT’S an epidemic.

    • 3

      Espen Brunborg

      March 15, 2012 6:59 am

      Yeah Joe, it was a tough call. Include all type of circular imagery or just the scrip logos – either way it seem the circle is having a blast nowadays!

      • 4

        Also, I should have generalized to “Apes in circles”

      • 5

        While circles can certainly be overused, the web is a very square shaped place. Straight lines, 90 degree angles, nearly all photos are a square or rectangle… Using a circle provides a nice contrast to this and can make an element stand out. Such as a logo.

        • 6

          True but the point is not to overuse these elements… An oval, ellipse, or irregular shape would provide some contrast yet not be the same old sameold,

          • 7

            You kids! We overused ovals in 99/2000 – I’m so over those. In fact, they make me cringe. =P

            Honestly, I’d take a normal, (small – med sized), website header over these ginormous photo banners and single page parallax scrolling behemoths I’m seeing everywhere.

            I have a hard enough time getting one decent shot from an industrial / small business client.

    • 8

      good one! @joe

  2. 9

    Such an amazing article. The same can be said for the print and digital art realms — trends stick out like a sore thumb.

  3. 10

    Don’t forget the grain!
    The grain! There’s no true Letterpress without the grain!

    As much as I enjoy reading this article, I don’t embrace the negative tone that accompanies it. In my opinion, sometimes inspiration comes from imitation.

    Someone has to set the trend, no matter how vulgar. People will copy and amend said trend to their own style in the end. It’s how design evolves. Just take a look at your own website.

  4. 11

    I enjoyed every bit of your article. I enjoyed reading so much I jumped up and followed the link to your websites ( and I couldn’t wait for the pages to load because I was excited to see how they look.
    Apparently, you’ve been infected!

    Disappointed, I surrendered to the fact that it’s the trend nowadays.

    PS: you have a tendency to apply printing styles and guidelines to websites

    • 12

      Espen Brunborg

      March 15, 2012 8:25 am

      Woah – I am indeed infected! Not sure where my SCL or Skeuomorphism is, but admittedly and undoubtedly I am part of the epidemic. Hopefully I also have aspects of my work that sits outside the current trends.

      PS. My background is in print so I’m not surprised. In fact I think web designers can learn a lot from print principles.

      • 13

        Web designers can sure learn a lot from print principles as long as they don’t apply them as is.
        Serif fonts? I still can’t find them readable on screens, unless they’re huge. Most online magazines and newspapers use them (unfortunately).
        Drop Caps? Unless it’s a tale, it looks like another type of SKEUOMORPHIC FEATURES.

        Anyway, good article!

  5. 14

    Michael Meininger

    March 15, 2012 6:39 am

    Good article but these all stem back to ’11 or even ’10.

    I just think that clients are more accepting because of the exposure or these tricks and tools.

    • 15

      Dogan Kutbay

      March 15, 2012 8:10 am

      Very known and common ways shouldn’t be on the front page of smashingmagazine..

      • 16

        ..perhaps if you mean that these effects are so well known that we don’t need help learning how to execute them.

        But that’s not what this article was about.

        It’s about over-use, which—by definition—can only occur some time _after_ a particular set of effects or styles have become popular.

  6. 17

    Great article! Its hard pressed to keep up with the technology and style changes in the last couple of years, and I only see it getting harder to stay current in the very near future. I feel that “the ability to stay on top” may be going through so much change, so fast, because of all these turn-key web and graphic design shops now that can make anyone into a web designer for just a few dollars a month.

    With out these changes, the web will become flat and web designers will find themselves scrambling for work.

    • 18

      If you try to stay on top by following trends, you are inevitably doomed. If you stay on top by being relevant, you’ll never be wondering how to get work.

    • 19

      “Staying current” with technology is a good thing. Staying current with design fads and pop culture is a utterly useless waste of time.

  7. 20

    I’ll quote what I said on Twitter: I remember using aged textures, ribbons and zig-zag borders back in the late 90s, grunge and retro in web design is not a trend, it’s a style. And that style fits some brands very well, so I don’t see it going anywhere any time soon.

  8. 22

    I love everything that was posted, especially muted colours.

  9. 23

    Things are always going to be ‘cool’ or not, you could argue that all design ‘styles’ are ‘trends’ and as such no one could ever design anything without confirming to a trend.

    • 24

      Overuse of ANYTHING is a bad thing. Salt. Surgery. Even drinking too much water can be harmful to your health. So putting up a list of things that are bad if overused – how about adding to the list: Too many articles about what not to do with your web designs are bad for design blogs?

      note: I’m not buying the Smashing Book, and all the phony editors notes trying to be “cleverly” disguised advertisements are really irritating.

      And, an important correction. “Since Elliot Jay Stocks so poignantly told us to destroy the Web 2.0 look” is a blatant misrepresentation of his message. You have to go further than reading the title of the blog article to know what was actually communicated. Jay even states in the comments on that article’s page:

      “I don’t think that the typical ‘Web 2.0 Look’ elements are a bad thing at all; they just need to be used in moderation and with care.”

      It’s the fifth comment. You don’t have to read very far to find it.

      A good designer can use ANY element, from really any “period” and make it work. It’s how the elements are used. If it’s new within the current trend, it can be labeled as “retro”, and will still be acceptable.

      I think the flock design trend problems stem mostly because of blogs like these. They post a page of “50 fancy sites with stitch elements”. People who get most of their design education from blogs absorb this, then use it. Almost overnight stitch elements are overused around the web, and then the same blog that was pushing it, is now decrying the use of it.

      • 25

        I agree! I think a fair amount of hypocrisy is afoot here.

        I think web design is more about messaging than anything anyway. Certain “styles” evoke certain “feelings” about a brand that one would expect if visiting a particular site. It’s not necessarily bad design if a designer chooses to use tags and stitching for a clothing company, or dirt textures for a mountain-biking site. Its when above examples are arbitrarily used that it becomes tiresome.
        Clients have the final say and if zigzag borders and stitched tagging helps convey the message and feeling of the brand…so be it.

        I can’t stand it when the design police swoop in and decide what is good and bad design. If the audience understands the “message” of the brand and feels good about using whatever product (i.e. website or otherwise), then the design is successful in my opinion. I don’t visit a mountain biking site and say “WELL! The people who designed this site clearly don’t know good design, because said “DesignBlog” says dirty grunge is an overused trend” PLEASE…You design police think too much. Design, when done right should be natural and unnoticed.

      • 26

        I could not agree more. While many of these design styles have populated the web in their 15 minutes of fame, sometimes they really work to fit the brand. These are somewhat ‘elitist’ problems as well. Are we designing for other designers, or for the consumer? I’ve met consumers that request some of these styles; I think sometimes their popularity can improve recognition or give a site some credibility, to a point. The minimal design, clean typography, and saturated colors that are in style today will soon, if not already, be one of the next trends to flood web designs. And I keep seeing the black register tape with white lettering, like on Scoutmob’s hero, everywhere these past few weeks… the trends go on and on and on…

  10. 27

    Realismen is here and it looks awesome. Webdesign is so much more fun to play around with these days and there are many talented people out there comparing for few years ago.

    Thanks :)

  11. 28

    I feel like the term “epidemic” might be a tad sensationalized for the actual “trends” you’re representing in the list, especially since you’ve chosen to include core elements of design such as “texture”.

    It is also not lost on me that you have use a number of these “symptoms” on your own site, which makes me wonder exactly how much you believe in what you’ve written here.

    That being said, I do appreciate (and see value) in not using the same recycled techniques repeatedly/mindlessly – your Ask Why paragraph nails this line of thinking exactly.

    • 29

      Yes, I agree with you Sam, but a well-written article, nevertheless.

    • 31

      Paul d'Aoust

      April 9, 2012 12:03 pm

      I honestly thought that was the direction this article was heading as well. But then in the closing paragraphs, the author says that none of these styles are bad in themselves, and that we simply have to ask ourselves every step of the way whether a given choice serves our design goals. This made it clear to me that he’s merely exaggerating in order to drive home his point humorously.

      I think this article illustrates how far Smashing has come in their editorial policy. Once upon a time they were one of *those* sites — multiple trend roundups in one day, and very little content. I eventually removed them from my RSS reader. Now their stuff is smart, engaging, and a valuable contribution the web professions. So much so that they’re now publishing articles that decry the things they were once known for.

      Bravo, Smashing Mag, for listening to your readers! Needless to say, you’re now in my reading list once again.

  12. 32

    Matthew Wood

    March 15, 2012 7:16 am

    I agree with the sentiment of this article. There will always be competant trend followers / Adobe jockeys but whom lack individuality and artistic flair in their designs. Their sites look clean and fresh but are derivative of what others are doing and therefore become less impactful. You Know Who is a perfect example of this – almost a design cliche. Those who are really artistic and individual are often the minority in this field but I recognise it is harder to be innovative or an iconoclast in designing.

    There are elements of 2.0 styling that I have been influenced by but have interpreted these styles in my own way balanced with the appropriateness of meeting the client brief, artistic expression, site message, aiding clarity and the call to action rather than for the sake of doing something contemporary. I’ve never subscribed to the notion that ‘if everybody else is doing it, then it must be the right process’. Let’s see some individuality back in design.

  13. 33

    You know, I can’t paint all of these techniques with the same brush (ha!). In fact, I believe there is a strong functional motivation underlying the change in style for some of them and that is everything that incorporates a haptic reference. Be it skeuomorphism or textures and faux depth, when done right they are an affordance to touch devices.

    Not that all designers use them with intent and good purpose, many may well just blindly follow a trend, but a case can be made for why those trends pop up at certain times like now. There’s a 500 billion USD gorilla in the room and they totally promote certain design practices to a large audience. But it’s not just Apple, sociological pressure adds to that of functional incentives for choosing certain designs.

  14. 34

    Like nearly every other industry, web design is market driven, hence the trends. As browsers get better and bandwidths improve, the web must not only become more usable, but it must become more aesthetically pleasing.

    We make our money (in most cases) from producing sales tools (websites) for our clients. In my experience, the better they look, the more they sell.

    I find it very bizarre that you are trying to prove a point using some of the best looking design on the web. I would have been more fitting if you have chosen some poor examples.

    • 35

      Espen Brunborg

      March 15, 2012 8:45 am

      My point has little to do with the execution of the ideas – it doesn’t matter if your ribbon or skeuomorphed volume knob is tastefully done – what I’m arguing is that we need to question why we use these techniques and whether they actually suit the particular project we’re working on.

      • 36

        The designer’s job is to create something that appeals to the customer. If you don’t like what the designer is doing then you need to question the role of the consumer, not the designer.

        • 37

          I honestly thought the job of the designer was to design, not to appease a client.

          Design (IMO) is about problem solving, psychology, societal fluctuations, economical highs and lows, communication etc. All served in a nice little package of fonts, colors images and form. It’s not about decoration or art.

          I would dare the claim that there’s a distinct reason in society why the above mentioned trends are occurring today. Look at the financial state of the world. How many people are feeling overly secure and safe? (hint: very few).
          By referencing arts and craft – in particular “classic ‘creative’ past times” – that quite a number of people will associate with childhood (which by definition of how the human brain works are painted in a romantic light), you are actually infusing your design with values like, family, handmade, solid and tangible, romanticism, safety and security *.

          Referencing old fashioned items is an easy way to incur this security as you are giving people the mental image of a time in their life where they are likely to have felt safe (or they think they did). Whereas if you are to focus solely on an industrial, clean design, you are suggesting people should feel innovative and you are visually instilling courage, power, innovation and tenacity. However if people are feeling insecure, telling them visually to be courageous and that they should move forward is likely to enforce their feeling of timidity and fear *.

          Albeit the article is on the negative side. There is one very important notion to take away from the article:

          Don’t follow a trend blindly because it’s trendy. Follow it because the trend just happens to fit with the problem you are solving. If it doesn’t, stay very clear from the trend.

          *Insert comments about the skeumorphic design of iDevice software as a means to instill the users with a feeling of familiarity supposedly making the transition to the platform easier.

          • 38

            While I feel your dissection of this article is actually very interesting, I can’t seem to wrap my head around your opening statement. The only time a designer’s job is NOT to ‘appease a client’ is when they are unemployed. I don’t know where you work, but when I design something a client doesn’t like, I get to re-do it.

          • 39

            Maureen Ciaccio

            March 16, 2012 1:55 pm

            I agree with Ida in her method of analyzing the audience and their perceptions and needs while creating a design that works to communicate. Good insight on current mainstream culture. I would add an incidental observation that as we move more and more toward a virtual form of communication, we crave what we left behind — real texture. Most of these trends call to mind that which we miss. Of course, though, these techniques should not be knee-jerk and need to be analyzed for their validity to specific projects.

          • 40

            If you want to pay the bills, then you need to appease the client. I’m sure every designer who’s worked commercially has had to compromise their vision for the sake of their clients. How many times have you presented a client with multiple mockups only to have them choose the one you like the least?

            In the strictest sense the job of, well, everybody, is to appease the client/customer.

      • 41

        Anna Robertson

        March 16, 2012 5:53 am

        I read your article assuming that you were playing with sarcarsm – pointing out the trends while poking fun at how styles ebb and flow – but still celebrating the great work of the designers you showcased.

        Reading your replies though, it seems like you do believe trends are some sort of ‘epidemic’.

        Trends are unavoidable, and while they sometimes carry a short shelf life, I believe they exist as a reflection of our current society, industry and taste. Because of this they should be enjoyed, in the same way I can look back at the delicate ornamentation of rococo and appreciate it for its beauty and timely relevance.

  15. 42

    Jon Masterson

    March 15, 2012 7:40 am

    As someone who uses faux paper texture and letterpress on my own site — this article is great! However, I believe these trends are far more benign than animated gifs or blinking text. Aside from skeuomorphic features, which are prolific, most of these trends appear on many web developer/studio/designer sites, and are microtrends rather than full-blown trends, at least at this point. Personally, I’ve noticed a whole lot of full-screen image background sites lately…

    • 43

      This is exactly how I feel. I definitely notice these trends, but so long as they’re done tastefully (like almost every example the article provides), I think they’re perfectly fine. Naturally I’m giddy anytime I see something new.

      I’m guilty of the circular logo but other than that I think my site is safe. :)

    • 44

      Michael Tuck

      March 15, 2012 7:49 pm

      LOL, let’s all start lining up and howling for the return of the MARQUEE tag. :) (Which one of my middle-school students rediscovered last month, to my horror.) I am personally tired of this “Wicked Worn Playbill Poster Hanging on the Side of the Quickie Mart for Six Months in the Rain” look, but you’re right, it doesn’t hold a candle to the animated GIFs or strobing backgrounds that were all the rage fifteen years ago.

  16. 45

    Marcello Damasceno

    March 15, 2012 7:55 am

    Great article, but one thing we should always have in mind when designing anything (and the article fails to mention that) is the lifespan or lifecycle of the work itself – how long it is supposed to live/last for? That is a very important aspect and should drive design decisions. That is something that I learned from Industrial Design – are you designing a toothbrush – something that will be used and discarded in a few months – or a couch – something that your audience/customer will have to live with for, maybe, a couple decades?

  17. 47

    Luke Connolly

    March 15, 2012 7:57 am

    I’m not sure at what point you explained why any of these trends are “bad.”

    “Now that we’ve seen how detrimental trends can be…”

    How did we see that? Everybody who is on Dribbble (or anywhere online) knows these trends very well. You would have been better off explaining why we don’t need them than labeling them as “symptoms” and listing them all out.

    • 48

      Espen Brunborg

      March 15, 2012 8:29 am

      Fair comment Luke, maybe I should have emphasised the “why” a bit more. I guess it boils down to this: if we, as designers, embrace aesthetic trends without thinking, all our work will start to look the same and our clients will suffer (after all, it’s our job to make their sites stand out).

      • 49

        I like the overall sentiment expressed in the article which is basically urging people to be “pioneers” in designing. But we have all types of people and trends evolve over a period of time. Not everyone is as great Dali. But that does not make a good painter completely bad.
        In general, I don’t think a “trend” is necessarily a symptom. Many of your “objectionable” design elements actually appeal to people and that is one reason why they are used. I like zig zag borders personally. I think they look cool. And if they don’t interfere in any way with the usability of the web page, what is wrong with using them?

  18. 50

    Kayleigh Rogers

    March 15, 2012 8:00 am

    Comes across as a bit negative and repetitive with the “What scientists think…” humor.
    Outdated really in mind, these trends have been repeated for the past couple of years. Not exactly a fresh insight.

    • 51

      Jeremy Meijer

      March 15, 2012 5:27 pm

      Well, i do agree on the fact that the trends are from the past few years, but don’t you think he’s right about the fact that you should, for example, listen to new music/explorer for inspiration?

  19. 52

    I am definitely infected! I am in love with the vintage design tends happening right now. However, I agree with the points made in this article about striving for individuality and ensuring that our design decisions are based on concept rather than popularity. (Although it’s still okay to appreciate the lovely trends and make use of them once in a while!)

  20. 53

    Dallas McCluske

    March 15, 2012 8:48 am

    I wasn’t a fan of this article. I agree that overuse of any one of the “trends” listed is bad but I think you are making a lot of hasty generalizations. Too much of anything is not good, be it a trend or something original. Yes, the sites with 8 different textures are awful looking but using texture is a powerful tool if done well and in moderation.

    The article is kind of a downer to read and seems more than a little condescending.

  21. 54

    Good read but you’ve covered such a broad range of design principles and samples here that you’re essentially saying to strip design out of everything. Lines, textures, lighting, perspectives… they’re all part of the solutions designers often try to find. In here you’ve denounced the use of circles, disruptive lines (zig zags), textures, period-specific styles and the use of soft color palettes yet ask everyone to be different.

    Yes, nothing is new or original anymore and any great artist is just a thief who knows how to hide his sources but who’s to say if you land on a design that’s textured and period-specific and client-appropriate that you’ve stolen or mimicked a trend?

    Maybe narrowing down the design principles you’d like to destroy would be more helpful when telling someone to not do something.

  22. 55

    This was a great read.
    And just when I was getting tired of all the parallax scrolling.
    I guess being in the web most of the time makes you realize this kind of epidemic faster.

    Thank you. A truly eye opener.

  23. 56

    Jack Sheppard

    March 15, 2012 9:33 am

    You forgot the worst trend of them all; ragging on other people’s designs, this trend usually falls in the “look at me I know more than you” category.

    This article irked me something crazy. I understand that there is/has/will be design trends. But to call them an epidemic and refer to them as an illness or something is just ridiculous. Not to mention a good few of these can be found on the author’s website. (Not pointing fingers, just trying to prove these things aren’t as bad as explained in the article)

    I agree that all ‘trends’ or ‘patterns’ or whathaveyou have a time and a place. Throw in some ribbons and stitching all you like, but as long as you’re aiming for a tactile design. Throw in some textured centred League Gothic ’til you’re blue in the face, but only if you’re aiming for a more vintage tongue-in-cheek design (I for one hope you do it well).

    Web 2.0 had it’s place in the internet, and it was a good thing at the time. We’ve moved on from the clean and shiny to the warm and tactile and some designers are pulling it off brilliantly, other’s not so well.

    I think this article would have much more value if it provided a “think outside the box” solution to what is become cliché, not a list of valid design patterns that are popular.

    • 57

      Michael Tuck

      March 15, 2012 7:45 pm

      I’ve written an article or two myself, and I know what the author is doing by calling it an “epidemic” and an “illness” (or whatever he says). He’s using a touch of hyperbole to make his point, especially since I’m sure he knew before he wrote this that we would all go trundling over to his site to smirk at his own usage of these “diseased” (there’s some serious hyperbole!) techniques. The whole article is quite tongue-in-cheek, though it has an underlying seriousness — this school of design has become way overused in recent years. The author’s selection of currently popular design techniques can be lumped into a single design schema that we can call, say, “Web Throwback” or “Forward into the Past” or something similarly snarky.

      Jack, you make some good points and I’m not trying to snap your galluses, just making observations.

  24. 59

    Aman Anderson

    March 15, 2012 9:54 am

    This article is silly. Don’t forget, before web design there were magazines and print. And all these elements, zebra edges, textures, strokes, forked ribbons, all come from print design. Letter press comes from print design. It’s the same issue going on with the iPad and other tablets. Bringing the feel of print to web.

    If we remember what the internet looked like before print designers surfaced to web design, it was pretty boring and drab.

    There is a swarm of print designers coming to the field of web design, and these elements have been used for years.

  25. 60

    Julian Gaviria

    March 15, 2012 10:00 am

    Great article but you must take in the information here with a grain of salt. Design for things that are relative and avoid trends for the sake of “making it pretty”.

  26. 61

    Warner Hernandez

    March 15, 2012 10:12 am

    Nice Article, well I think that the trends are part of the design work, as designers , we need to solve many problems, one of those is the client alike, so I’m always open to satisfaced him if he likes a special graphical trend as part of the request.
    I think the issue will occur when we forget about the real important things on design, like readability, experience, functionality, etc, for instead, be more focused on the graphical appeareance.
    The trends constantly change, so ok, if this still to long it will be an issue, but not a thing to feel sorry about when you do a art following a specific trend. Actually, even if these trends are easy to find everywhere, I think we’re on a edge where you can find a lot of not trendy websites with a lot of likes from the users. That’s not a sin aymore.
    Also, when you saw old pictures of you wearing baggy pants and shinny shoes is funny,.. so why should people feel sorry about it? about the past? was a trend, i felt confortable and people liked.
    As designers, we need to solve things and enjoy at the same time, that’s why I love my profession.
    Anything in exccess is always a bad idea. :)
    Keep our passion for new things is part of our success.

  27. 62

    Tom McCracken

    March 15, 2012 10:25 am

    So true.

  28. 63

    Kishan Sharma

    March 15, 2012 10:28 am

    loved a lot, details pinpointing everything was great stuff, for beginners it can be milestone. I think Rounded borders and Slow Shadows should also be included which emerged in recent years,,, ny way nice stuff.

  29. 64

    Tom Fortmuller

    March 15, 2012 10:31 am

    The title of this post should have been more along the lines of, “Popular Design Trends to Make Your Websites Kick A$$”. I honestly see nothing wrong with the techniques used here. Web design has come a loooong way over the past 15 years, and the aesthetic quality just keeps getting better over time. That being said, I agree with the conclusions that we should keep trying to improve our designs – don’t settle for mere inspiration, create something new!

  30. 65

    Trends are dangerous in the wrong hands, and very powerful in the hands of those who create with sound judgement. Just like anything creative: music, art, fashion…even cooking.

    One of the problems is that trends are very alluring to those who are not capable of concepting a unique design: All of the tutorials, web design blogs, and designs surrounding them are reflecting the trends right back at them, and even showing them how to achieve the same results. It’s the “weight loss miracle pill” of the web design world, and it’s perpetuated by our own industry.

    It’s very easy to see when someone is relying heavily on a trend to carry a design versus when they’re a great designer that successfully communicates a message — whether or not it includes elements of current trends.

    So for that, there’s no reason to be bitter. Let the shitty designers run the trends into the ground while the talented designers move on and focus on communication.

  31. 66

    Saad Benryane

    March 15, 2012 10:36 am

    I just realized that my website has more than a few of these mentioned trends.
    The interesting thing is that I never designed that to fit a trend but it just happened! I guess we all get influenced by the same things and at one point we commit to what we call trends!

  32. 67

    It’s interesting that I incorporated a bunch of these in my personal site a couple years ago, without any specific inspiration other than the hand-sewn, letterpress cards and stationary I had just invested in (prior to a job-hunting excursion). It’s funny that many of my approaches are mentioned in this release…makes me second guess my work a little :)

  33. 68

    Yeah, gotta point out that the first image you use as an example has almost the exact same texture is the grey sidebar directly to the right of where I’m typing right now!

  34. 69

    Interesting article. And subjective:-) I do love the letterpress and even the stitching! I think they’re fun fads. But like any fad, they must contribute to the message. None of the above can be used in any situation, just for the sake of using it.

  35. 70

    Skeuomorphic Features are awesome. Simulating physical objects in the real world is an easy way to connect a completely digital feature so that a viewer’s real world experience is useful on it.

    Long live the skeuomorphs!

    • 71

      Glen McPherson

      March 15, 2012 5:52 pm

      There was a nice article on skeuomorphs in Wired just recently. They weren’t in favour of them – I think it’s interesting to see why.

  36. 72

    Interesting article, but maybe a little hypocritical. If you visit the author’s website you’ll find every trend in use. Vintage illustrations, textures, banners, letterpressed type and imagery.

    • 73


      There is undoubtedly a use of these trends on his company’s website, but they are absent on his personal web site. Just because a designer works for a brand does not mean their design beliefs align with the brand they are working for.

      Which is fine — what we do is not personal work.

  37. 74

    I kinda think the point of this post is mute. Styles are here to stay. One trend becomes popular, dies off a bit, but never goes away because ultimately, that style works really well for certain jobs. Texture, really? That’s a trend? Then what’s flat colour? Or a gradient? Or a pattern? That’s pretty much all our background choices. Are they all trends? Does a rock band have to stop using a Fender guitar because it’s been trending a lot lately? I kinda feel that web designers are a little too elitist sometimes. As a designer and developer, I design things that serve a function, drive results, and look good. If it happens to use one of the above mentioned ‘trends’ in the process, I’m really not going to hate myself for it. Same goes for the ‘web 2.0’ styles. Sometimes, a reflection is going to be useful, in context. Should I avoid that simply because it was a trend?

  38. 75

    Good article. But the cause is very clear once you look at it from a big and wide perspective. We, human beings of the modern world, are in a transitional phase. (as it pertains to technological innovation) As it stands, we’re right in the transition of moving physical, real-life things into digital medium. Things are going onto cloud storage. Pictures that were once developed by film are now digital, as are videos, as are books, radios, music, etc. Trends are indicative of a need for the popular MASSES and as it stands, most people are in the steps of learning what a Kindle (or tablet) reader is. The design of a “knob” or a woodgrain “bookshelf” is merely a symptom of the “disease” or “syndrome” of what I would call “digititis”. MOST people need to see visually on their screen, a physical rendering of the original (i.e. a bookshelf with books with actual covers) to make the transition from reading physical hardback books to reading online. The same concept applies to music, the stitching, etc. all the design elements that are derivatives of physical materials. Design that is trendy will always be one or two steps behind what would be labeled as “innovative” because TRENDY means popular. And POPULAR means the majority. And MAJORITY means.. lag. Afterall, it’s all old people who need to raise the font size to read their phones. :) I believe the popular design trends that are outlined in this article is merely indicative of the times and just reflective of the necessity for baby-steps for most of the populous. “Trendy”, everyday design is like radio music today, i.e. Keri Hilson, LilWayne, Pitbull. Innovative design encompasses original, pioneering techniques analogous to say, Radiohead or Yndi Halda. Both are required and necessary. But the conclusion is spot on. Know when to use em!

  39. 76

    I just caught myself as affected, but reading all comments helped me understand I’m not ill, but inspired with certain style – thanks to all! Keeping in mind the major purpose of website should always lead as to the best design solutions, not our designing habits.

  40. 77

    So I think this is directly related to design, brand design and brand of institutionalism correctly conveyed to the user as many people on the platform of the brand for the future of work to be done, otherwise the negative consequences.

  41. 78

    adham dannaway

    March 15, 2012 4:28 pm

    I think we’re all suffering from at least a few of these symptoms ;-)

  42. 79

    James Morgan

    March 15, 2012 4:43 pm

    I enjoyed the article, but like some of the commenters above I think the term “trend” is being unduly vilified. It’s a snapshot of the evolution of an era’s collective tastes. On the web these eras are seemingly much shorter than in realms like fashion, but they still serve as a branching off point to evolve new styles, techniques, etc. This isn’t good or bad, it’s just how progress is made.

    Designers that push the norm in new and interesting ways are critical to keep things moving forward, but making your run-of-the-mill designer feel like a mindless sheep for joining in on what currently looks cool, especially to the masses (our clients), doesn’t really add much to the conversation. In 6-12 months new trends will pop up and some old ones will lose favor. Websites aren’t meant to keep the same look for years on end. If they were, we’d have a much harder time finding work.

    Embrace trends and and get noticed by implementing them with loads of quality and your own personal touch!

  43. 81

    Jeremy Meijer

    March 15, 2012 5:21 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this because before I started reading I didn’t realize that I’ve catched a cold the past few years. People luckely do sometimes tell me that they can see it’s created by me.

    But still, I realize that not all of my choices in designs I create are done with a reason. Thanks to this post I realiseren I should think more of the ‘commuication’ rather making stuff look cool. :)

    Thanks again.

  44. 82

    Glen Pridgen

    March 15, 2012 7:16 pm

    I hated your new design with a passion the first time I saw it. Now, I love it. It looks good on my tablet, phone and computer. Way to stay ahead of the curve!

  45. 83

    Aren’t these “symptoms” just signs of another chapter closing in the web design history. I mean to clearly define these symptoms and write an article about it is a sign by itself. Web 5 years ago was defined through different kind of rules and trends. Many of these trends are now kitsch.

  46. 84

    What a negative and sarcastic article – you come across as someone who likes to belittle designers who may use these styles – yet you use them yourself – im confused.

    Its a very narrow minded look at today’s web styles that make a very small minority in terms of design styles. The effects you mention work for brands that suit using it – and if done well, they look awesome. We should be praising good design and pointing out the bad, not sniggering in the corner thinking we are better than others – this is not what the design community is about.

    Smashing Mag – You are going slowly downhill with your irony.

  47. 85

    Great article, thanks!
    In the other hand I think that in designing like in real life, we can use all that effects and ways to produce such effects, but as designers we need to know how to dose them effectively :)
    Trends always will change, it’s like big loop that’s nothing new, for 10 years the same effect will be in time IMO.
    That dosen’t mean we, designers should blindly use that effects in every work of course, use ’em, mix ’em, experiment with ’em – and maybe we make new trends to follow ;)

    Cheers :)

  48. 86

    Well written article, BUT i think there’s things missing here and most of those things are mentioned in comments above so i don’t intend to repeat them. I think one thing we could all do with trying to remember is just to think about ‘Why’ we are using certain styles and effects and making sure they are fit for purpose. And i think with the rise of responsive design i hope to see more focus on the functionality!

    Thanks for the article sir!

  49. 87

    Henry Hoffman

    March 16, 2012 1:22 am

    I really want to see design move towards minimalism and flat colour. The Windows 8 ‘Metro’ UI feels progressive when compared to the iOS skeuomorphism.

  50. 88

    Thank you for these stunning words, it’s been a while I haven’t read an entire Smashing Magazine article.

  51. 89

    Love a bit a of sarcasm.

    Great read! (That is not me being sarcy)

  52. 90

    Karolina Szczur

    March 16, 2012 1:54 am

    These trends also show how much web design is shifting towards print. Letterpress, paper-like textures.. it all somehow goes back to strive for retro and vintage and simple need to hold a beautifully crafted book in your hands. It’s actually emulating print on the screen. The grid-based systems hype also proves it. Of couse it applies only for some of these trends.

  53. 91

    Good article thank, I feel I was marching into a lot of those traps, time to re-evaluate and avoid.

  54. 92

    Our problem is that we’ve started to connect the word trend with something that should be avoided. The web 2.0 look became more than a trend and was becoming the default style for the web. Thankfully we’ve moved away from this but there are still genuine cases where such a look would be perfectly acceptable.

    It’s the misuse of trends that is the main problem, where a design wishes to use a particular style even though it doesn’t fit with the purpose of the site. I’ve used stitching for the first time recently in a design for a sofa e-commerce website. The technique aligned with the product and the rest of the design but in a corporate website it would not.

    Trends are no bad thing so long as they are utilised correctly and have some genuine purpose on the website. In the extreme you have the coffee stain trend which is the perfect example of a design technique used widely without reason.

  55. 93

    Espen Brunborg

    March 16, 2012 3:16 am

    First of all, thanks for all the feedback! There seem to be a a couple similar points that are reiterated through your comments and I’ll try my best to respond below:

    1. I’m a hypocrite
    Well, in the strictest sense, this is true, and perhaps I should have been more upfront about my own ‘infection’ in the article. I too use many of the ‘symptoms’ listed, including letterpress, ribbons, textures and vintage illustration. Should I be ashamed? No, of course not, and nor should any of you. Part of my point of this article is that it’s hard to avoid using certain elements or styles when you’re surrounded by them, and sometimes we make design choices without really knowing why. Like I did when I chose the ribbons on the Primate home page, for example. They just looked nice. Problem is that in the wider context of the web, these choices make the site a little less unique and a little more like everything else, and the more of the techniques/styles applied, the less individual the site looks. I’d still like to think that there’s enough on the Primate site to make it look individual, but I will definitely question some of the pure style choices for the next redesign.

    2. I’m suggesting a ‘ban’ on all techniques mentioned
    This article is simply a tongue-in-cheek, humorous look at the popular styles and elements we use today. I’m by no means saying we have to stop using zigzag borders, ribbons, textures, vintage illustrations or letterpress. Many of these techniques look great, and applied in the right context (for example stitching on a tailor’s web site) they work wonders. What I’m arguing is that we should be aware of the popularity of said techniques and that overuse can lead to our work looking the same as everyone else’s. As I said in the article, a circle is a simple elementary shape, I’m absolutely not advocating we all stop using circles!

    Hope this alleviates some of the hard feelings. Again, thanks for reading and thanks for the feedback!

  56. 94

    Nice design trend.Really beautiful works.Thanks a lots.

  57. 95

    Good article to me.

    Nobody can say that using main stream design make you creation stronger.

    It only dissolve it in the crowd.

    But this is theory – in the real world those ready to use tricks exists because of low budget project where specific creation is not possible.

  58. 96

    Jason Cianfrone

    March 16, 2012 4:58 am

    While this is a very true article I think there will always be ‘trends’ and ‘styles’ within design, you could easily write one of these once a year and you’d have new trends to pick out. If we’re seeking inspiration from people reusing the same techniques then our design process is obviously going to go in that direction. I think it’s up to us as designers to make the decision to use these trends in the correct context. As long as what we’re designing is relevant to the message the website is trying to convey it doesn’t matter how ‘trendy’ it looks.

  59. 97

    This is a badly flawed article.

    When I first started out in web design (15 years ago) every design was unique. Why? Because there were so few designers. Now, everyone’s a designer (or potentially can be, given the prevalence of themes and free/cheap UI kits).

    It’s fair to say that trends to come and go (and some stick around longer than others) but just think how very difficult it is to create something that is absolutely 100% different to anything else you’ve seen.

    The article also gives the impression (in my mind) that trends are a bad thing. I don’t think they are, nor do they equate to laziness, cheapness or lack of inspiration on the part of the designer. This article (unless I’ve missed something) seems to assume that every client is prepared to pay for a design that is 100% handcrafted and guaranteed original (in which case, they’re dreaming). There are many clients out there, especially is these economically challening times, who have very limited budgets.

    What does matter is how they are combined, and how they relate to the brand / message they are delivering. If retro / texture / typography fits, then who is the author to look down is nose at the skilled individuals who execute these ‘trends’ flawlessly.

    • 98

      Good point. I’ve been designing since 1995 myself but from the get-go we’ve always tried to give our clients something that wasn’t a copy of something else. We didn’t even advertise for the first 6 years – it was all word of mouth and people still hire us because they look at our portfolio and don’t see what’s in every other design firm’s portfolio. Unique and original are of course relative, but we have a “no template” policy too. Save for maybe using stock photography or an icon here and there, the design we do is “from scratch” for every project we take on. To me, that has always been how we differentiated ourselves in a market over-saturated with arm chair designers with a bootlegged copy of Photoshop. So I really do believe it’s possible to “be different” but it takes a lot of skill as well as an understanding of other facets such as marketing and usability to make different actually work.

      I don’t necessarily think trends are all bad – some are quite good. But it’s like how you say – it’s how they’re utilized for a particular project and to reach a particular market.

    • 100

      It’s your response that’s flawed, not the article.

      The author has stated in some of his replies that the problem lies with ‘over-using’ these trends and using them out of context…

      “Many of these techniques look great, and applied in the right context (for example stitching on a tailor’s web site) they work wonders.”

      Ironically, your final statement “If retro / texture / typography fits…” is in agreement with the author’s statement above.

      15 years in the industry yet you struggle to understand a well-articulated piece of writing on web design?

  60. 101

    Web design like any creative/art form is extinct of new ideas there will always be new methods that take inspiration from old. Just look at today’s fashion its just a repeat of the 70’s with a new spin on it for today’s youth.

    I am guilty of breaking every rule in this article but if a client comes to me looking for a design they will usually say I want something clean, fresh and modern. If I do something cutting edge they will come back and say that is too far out there or just wont get it.
    Trends and designs will change over time, its a select few that get to be trend setters of which we should all strive to be but at the same time we can not neglect the customers wants and needs, otherwise we will be out of work.
    Be a trend setter and put your own spin on today’s trends design and enjoy it best of both worlds right there.

    Also calling out people’s work on dribbble for following trends is kind of mean don’t you think I like some of the work show in this article but that doesn’t mean I am not capable of being able to make something unique?

    I’m not saying people have to agree with me just stating fact from my experience with clients.

  61. 102

    Usability is a MUCH bigger deal than what’s “played out” design-wise, and almost all designers suck at usability.

    • 103

      Alex Whitworth

      March 16, 2012 6:59 am

      There are tasteful ways to apply these techniques while maintaining legibility and usability. Quite frankly, I love the use of these techniques, especially in app development.

      We’re in a transitional period, everything print is slowly becoming digital, the average person is reluctant of using technology to replace their daily routines. As a designer, I think that it is my job to help ease this transition by providing an experience that looks, functions, and feels like it’s physical counterpart. This “epidemic” is one solution to the bigger problem, and that is creating a comfortable experience that feels natural for the average person while using technology.

      I’m looking forward to the day we can actually feel textures we’re applying on our applications.

    • 104


      March 16, 2012 10:14 am

      I hope you’re a coder, Ben, in which case stick to your code. Coders aren’t user experts either. And I hope like heck you’re not some “UX expert.” That’s a load of bullroar, especially since UX experts try to make their job out to be this entirely autonomous, all-important job that deserves super high pay. Leave it to designers. If they’re real, good designers, they should know UI/UX.

  62. 105

    Just like with fashion, one design trend will morph into the next, and so on, until we come full circle. Someday there will likely be a revival of any of the techniques mentioned, good or bad.

    I believe that when it come down to it, design needs to be well thought out, and put together well. Could this mean including some of the mentioned techniques? Of course! That doesn’t make it bad, it’s the abuse of trends or making everything the same that’s really the problem.

    The most important thing to remember is that the design should enhance the site, not be so distracting that it takes away from the message.

  63. 106

    Interesting reading. Especially about logos with script font in circels. So true! :-) It make me laugh!

  64. 107

    Sean McCambridge

    March 16, 2012 6:51 am

    I read this entire post as tongue-in-cheek. But I think I missed the punchline. Or did I?

    Different isn’t better. It’s different.

  65. 108

    I agree with some parts of your article. Such as, whatever you put on the page should have a purpose, or relevant to the product or company. I like the use of natural textures and vintage images. I may like parts of the next trend, but I like “now”. I restore vintage cars, and collect all vintage things, so these design technique fit me. Besides, I never like to do things that follow the norm, and like to do things that challenge my capabilities. Before knowing tableless cuss, I used to try to push images outside of their cells. Obviously that did not work. The one trend I don’t like is artificially shiny buttons, and images with those glassy reflections. I think those get way over used, and in the wrong places. Like car dealer websites. It looks like every car on the page is parked in a puddle of water. Now, I’m not a professional web designer, but I have been experimenting with it for over 6 years. Over the years, I realized that there is no real money in it anymore. Like everything else, it has gone overseas. Professional or not, I would not compete with a $50 site. It’s all fun for me, and suits my business well. I like your article though.

  66. 109

    Greg Swearingen

    March 16, 2012 9:17 am

    I think the article is smashing. I am typically focused on business functionality and workflow and not so much design. However, I sure notice if a website has bad design or bad flow. For example a website advertising a mobile application conference, but the website itself is not mobile friendly…seriously. Reading through this article brought to my mind how I have seen many of these techniques and not paid them much thought. I like design that works and hits your subconscious without detracting from the content.

  67. 110

    I too agree with the sentiment of the article, and as I am very much an outside the box thinker I really appreciated the author’s take on the possible adverse affects of overusing trends. I don’t think that he intended for us to stop using the trends mentioned altogether (or that it’s even really possible to avoid them as we design based on our clients wants and needs – which are OFTEN dictated by popular culture and web trends), but that if we as designers are not careful we risk ending up with an epidemic of these or future trends becoming the new standard. …Fad or not, if it’s cool, as designers we tend to want to use it too! :) But if we aren’t careful, if we fail to put our own spin on things, we risk the freedom to express our creativity as well as the ability to set ourselves apart. And if we fail to set ourselves apart we risk losing our jobs, and for many of us …our businesses! { Sherri – Creative Director, Fly Media Productions }

  68. 111

    Dorothy Phillips

    March 16, 2012 9:26 am

    I loved this article because it’s been on my mind for a while. While I love the look of a lot of these trends, like the Web 2.0 phase, I think some of them are becoming overused. When I look at some portfolios online, I notice that a lot of the work looks the same. It all looks really good, but nothing stands apart from one to the other.

    I like the point that was made that we need to ask ourselves why we’re making certain design decisions. I do the same when I shop lol. “Do I want it because of the name brand, or because I genuinely like it/need it?” ” Am I putting this banner here because it’s a hip trend, or because it fits the emotion and context of the project?”

  69. 112

    It seems like the more “professional” the “designer” the more prone we are to this infection. People check out what others are doing and the trends become subconscious with just a touch of “oooooh I like that, I’m going to borrow it “ and before long it all look the same. In small markets consumers don’t have exposure and this rehashed mind vomit is winning awards keeping it relevant through sheer ignorance. Every student portfolio ive seen is chock full of this stuff and these students are getting work/awards while real creatives are shunned and THAT is the biggest reason why trends suck, they push true talent to the wayside because we become blinded by generic “excellence”

  70. 113

    It seems that the biggest offenders are often the ones making a living with a style they didn’t create so it’s no wonder there’s a push back to the article. The sheer number of times people in the comments have said “the best design on the web” alone shows how prolific the mediocre mindset of the average designer is. It looks good and sells is what it boils down to and most people are comfortable selling derivative garbage if it will make them a dollar or get them an award in a region with little to no exposure or culture. Personally I would be ashamed to sell prolific and outright thievery but then I call myself an artist, not a designer. It saddens me what this field has become with tweets and retweets of “standards”, filters, fonts, photoshop actions being the mainstay and we wonder why creativity is waning? Integrity is lost, so derivation becomes the every day and this garbage gets people jobs. Until the hivemind mentality stops being fruitful the plagarism will continue.

  71. 114

    Good article. Well written. Many great points.

    However, I think you missed the real epidemic here, you are pointing out symptoms of a different problem, a few of the right premises but the wrong conclusion.

    The design world has been flooded in the last 10 years with high schoolers with pirated copies of Photoshop. Easy access to pre-made assets and endless tutorials has turned them into a gigantic army of copycats capable of the most destructive forms of confusion for those seeking design services.

    There is nothing inherently wrong with “design trends,” apart from the Copycat Army, we would look back and call them “art movements.” But the inexperienced and uneducated, to quote Dr. Malcolm in Jurassic Park, have “…stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you, you’ve patented it, and packaged it, you’ve slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now…You’re selling it.” The result is an entire myriad of would be “designers” adding bricks to the wall that can look entirely real but are, in fact, hollow.

    You said it yourself: “Grid systems, contrast, legibility, juxtaposing imagery, well-written copy — these are the key components of successful design, yet they are entirely independent of fads and styles.

    At the end of the day, design is not so much about style as it is about communication, and all style, imagery and typography should be inspired by the content, functionality and personality of the product, not by what simply looks cool at the moment.”

    I understand there is some hyperbole at work here but I think your message is confused as a result. You are focusing in on some great art without regard to context and skipping the bigger issue.

  72. 116


    March 16, 2012 10:11 am

    Your company site, Primate, isn’t even free from a lot of these. In the end, who cares. Use what you want. You can’t stop trends.

  73. 117

    Also it seems fairly apparent that a major point of this article should be how this almost templatized garbage not only takes focus away from true creativity but also can crush its spirit by putting people who think differently squarely outside the box and labelled not a team player or rebel, and THOSE are the very foundations of art and design in EVERY field. Basquiat and others were seen as “street” artists and unrefined until one person of influence took hold, and lo and behold everyone’s a street artist and the style is now recognized and relevant. For a field of “creative” individuals to pigeonhole themselves to this level it is truly saddening. All hail the one and only God, the almighty dollar. You are all sheep and the very thing you should loathe having become and joined a profession to escape, you are no different than the ad execs and corporations you claim to revile by allowing this mindset to persist.

  74. 119

    Christian Hain

    March 16, 2012 10:33 am

    I think there are two key factors to this design trend, and these are the same key factors in every design trend.
    1. A reaction to the past.
    2. The environment we’re in.

    Both these things were mentioned in your article. Back when web was new, everything was tables and animated gifs on horrible backgrounds. So using reflections and gloss was a way to combat that.

    Just as that has tired, now real textures in the flavor du jour. And our environment allows for that all to easily.

    Before, if you wanted a bordered image, you needed to use somewhere around 9 images. Then a technique reduced it to 2-6. Then it became a few lines of code. So now, the same effect that designers used to have to really commit to can be done so quickly, people ask themselves, “why not?”

    As was with autotune will be css. Something new to play with must be played with, and then it will start to fade or be used with expert skill in just the right places.

  75. 120

    Very interesting article!

    Greetings from Mexico!

  76. 121

    I loved this article. Mostly because it blended humor with the facts. I’ve never once had a client specifically ask me for the large majority of trendy stuff (glass buttons a-la 2005 aside). I’ll ask clients for sites they like as reference and ask them why they like them, but I don’t hear a whole lot of, “Because it has a stitching effect, 19th Century illustrations and forked ribbons!” Clients are not looking at the web the same way designers are. It’s designers perpetuating these trends, not the people that pay them.

    I completely agree that designers should actually step away from their computers on occasion too. I also did not start by using computers and had instruction in the “old fashion” way of laying things out, using copiers, markers, xacto knives, etc. Looking back, I consider that invaluable. I was also an artist before I was ever a designer which gives me other insight and abilities to look at a challenge from several different angles and come up with creative solutions that aren’t just what’s trendy.

    I love looking at all these “best” design types of websites out there now and they’re really just compilations of the current trends – design for designers. Yes I do believe it’s a designer’s job to use their expertise to convey messages for their clients as well as to push boundaries and set new trends, but that requires skill and a lot more thought than just rehashing what’s currently the hot thing to do that all the other designers put their stamp of approval on.

  77. 122

    Alan Davidson

    March 16, 2012 12:19 pm

    At the end of the day there is truth to what you say and also few things that I don’t quite agree with.

    Yes. The web has become more tactile and textured. There is a limit to how you take advantage of it. You can go “too far” and sometimes people do. That can be said about a great many things but to declare it an epidemic is a bit supercilious.

    I do agree that I’ve seen a few sites where they’ve overused everything… everywhere. *Some* styles fit certain brands well and should be used moderately when it actually accentuates the design. I agree that there should always be a clear thought process and design direction.

    My one caveat is that simply overturning websites and showing us trends which will be replaced by newer trends in a few months is not the basis of a good article, even if it is well written. You’re sort of saying, “Look at these horrible trends… aren’t they awful? It’s just imitation of things people have seen elsewhere”.

    The truth is that design as an object, profession, and way of life will always be moving forward. Getting caught up in momentary trends in the evolution of design is the real crime… especially if you’re the one pointing them out.

  78. 123

    OMG. This is the article I have been looking for. I now feel vindicated and validated in what I have felt for about 1 to 2 years. Everything you state is spot on. Letterpress should be at the top of the heap. I know I have been guilty of using it far too much.

    Yes, these techniques look good, but the design danger is all sites begin to look the same and the once handsome letterpress effect becomes passe and boring. I fear that we have yet to see the end of these things as the CSS3 specs that are just in their infancy are all about supporting them.

    We have definitely reached a critical mass with this stuff though. When you find it employed on even the most mundane of sites you know things need to change.

    I do not know what is next and from where it comes. But come quick please.

    I hope this article goes viral and has some real impact on designers and clients. I for one am tired of all the trendy, glossy, antique/modern, letterpress-y sites out there. May they go the way of flash. Amen.

  79. 124

    Angelica Holiday

    March 16, 2012 2:49 pm

    All you “Website Super Hero’s” should excel in ROI design. What if the success of your designs were evaluated by how much $$$$ they made for your client? I think we are going to see a 90 Day Beta Test as a part of a designer’s payment. If stitching and ribbons were a part of being profitable, you could share in the takings. Do you know what colors make people complete a sale online?

    As a Global Brand Director, my Brand Clients want a site designed to artfully collect data and make $$$$$. Website design and programming is about performance, usability and SEO. Every bit of a site’s space is valuable real estate that has to be leveraged.

    I am always looking for “Website Super Hero’s” that understand this principal and have a prolific track record. No offense to the author, but business website designers need to know if the use of vintage art will compel the consumer to buy today.

  80. 126

    Shaun Moynihan

    March 16, 2012 5:15 pm

    Trends are nothing more than a collection of popular techniques that are satisfying customer and brand needs at mass. It only becomes a problem when the use of these “techniques” are implemented without thought.

    The true epidemic is the growing number of complacent designers who don’t put the necessary thought into their work.

  81. 127

    Not to be the nitpicky off-topic guy, but … the cinephile in me can’t hold back: the correct spelling is “Jean-Luc Godard”.

    I feel better.

  82. 128

    The advice section at the end is good.

    The analysis is carried away by it’s own metaphor. Infection, epidemic, outbreak, viruses?? Really – get a grip. Popularity is not the measure of a bad trope. In fact if particular tropes improve affordance designers need to justify not using them.

    Metaphors – great servants, terrible masters. I thought all competent designers new that.

  83. 129

    Nothing to see here, just another BS article about nothing from Smashing magazine…

  84. 130

    I see few designer and client stick to web 2.0 style, and the mirror of this article was in 2007. I suppose trends last for about 5 years, and takes a really long time to completely disappear.
    How many time will last the new trends like geometric 3D shape, parallax, mosaic board “WindowsPhone7” like, triangles and pyramids, animated anchors with single page navigation, scrolling animations, infographic…
    See you in 5 years for “stop pyramids and mosaic” (if websites as we know them are still here)
    This thing isn’t new and happen in all design industries and art. Nothing dangerous and to worry about, really. It’s just how things works. As a designer I just have to be aware of Trends and choose how to deal with them.
    Picasso: “good artists copy but great artists steal”

  85. 131

    Design *is* fashion.

    Designers and clients will follow fashions and trends. Always will.

    So, to me the thrust of this article is a little odd – you can’t change the persistence of mainstream design trends by criticizing their unoriginality. It’s like trying to argue against human nature.

  86. 132

    Great article; looked to authors website and was a little bit surprised to find most of the cool but overused features – so do you think – if not every client – a webdesigner has to deal with the trends?
    Beside this I think the problem of 70% of “todays” websites is, that they deal with the trends from 1990 :) and slowly move from static to dynamic websites…

  87. 133

    A bit of egotistical writing if you ask me! God forbid you people actually try and deign something for a living.

    Everything is cyclical, it’s just how creative you can be with it!

    Writing pretentious articles like this and taking the piss out of some fantastic work, regardless of trends, is just a cheap shot by the author.

  88. 134

    The Trendiest Trender

    March 18, 2012 10:10 am

    Yes, we’re all guilty of using trends in our designs. Isn’t that the point? Clients love it and insist we use it. Creativity isn’t just one designer’s idea anymore. I’ve never heard of a designer taking credit for starting any one of these trends and taking royalties for it. All I know is that some designers get the trends right and some “designers” don’t. Think of trend elements as tools to keep the internet updated and sparkly.

  89. 135

    Nick Gassmann

    March 18, 2012 10:49 am

    Ahh, how refreshing. A post bashing design trends. /s

    There’s a clear line drawn between designers who use techniques that are “trendy” well and those who do not. Bastardizing a trend you see executed well on a site is not design, sure, but there are many designers who take a trend like stitching, or subtle textures, or whatever and do it extremely well. Three or four years from now the sites may look dated, but that’s the fantastic arena we work in. Design is ever shifting.

    It also seems to be cyclical in other facets of design (fashion, architecture, etc.). So who knows, maybe Web 2.0 makes a triumphant “retro” comeback 20 years from now. (I hope not.)

  90. 136

    Find this article observational and pointless. Trends come and go and yes we may see more frequent use of the techniques mentioned but frankly when the majority of websites we visit remain poorly designed functionally and aesthetically, I am personally happy to come across something that has clearly had care and attention lavished upon it – even if it’s using techniques that are seemingly common.

  91. 137

    Everyone on dribbble should take note of this…seriously.

  92. 138

    Rik Hopkinson

    March 19, 2012 1:28 am

    You’ve certainly captured loads of current trends in the article. I like the tone of it too – I think innovations from HTML5 and CSS3 mixed with Jquery has simply put all trends from graphic design past on the mainframe, pretty much meaning no stone un-turned It’s nice that we as designers can pretty much “Do what the hell we want!” nowadays :)

  93. 139

    Yisrael Clorfene

    March 19, 2012 6:55 am

    I think trends are inevitable, not “evil”.


    The Web2.0 look was everywhere until people like you decided that it was contemptible. And now, you are doing the same to this trend. This kind of criticism is part of the trend itself, not a unique and sobering critique of the industry.

    My advice is to relax the doomsday language, it hurt your case.

  94. 140

    I think that the use of trends in web design does have a purpose: it can make a website or app look current. A website that looks 10 years old doesn’t instil confidence in the user, so does a website that looks very current make the user more confident in the service being offered by that website?

    Although trends don’t generally age well, it seems that a lot of website iterations have shorter lifespans than in the past. So long as each redesign is current when it goes live, it could be seen as a sensible design choice to use whatever the trend of the moment is.

  95. 141

    Justin Scarpetti

    March 19, 2012 2:17 pm

    Finally everything I have been thinking in 1 article!

  96. 142

    Michael Whyte

    March 19, 2012 2:45 pm

    Just a fantastic article…a great read…that’s all I’ll say….

  97. 143

    Somehow you forgot the subtle noise backgrounds that now even google and smashing are using :-)

  98. 144

    A very well written article. I think these trends are correlated to technologies that enable them, for example CSS3, small size display, and jQuery, all contributed to the rise of these trends.

    With such speed of innovation in technologies, I believe that these trends will have an even shorter cycles.

    Also, even though, trends are as shown above, the majority of the websites around the world still looks like crap. I see no danger at all if designers decided to stick with these trends a little bit longer. :)

  99. 145

    Hiya Espen, I’m considering doing a bit of research about skeuomorphs. Do you have a citation for the following?

    ‘some researchers argue that we’re unlike­ly to see full-blown skeuo­mor­phism dom­i­nate our desk­top browsers any time soon.’

    Would be much obliged :-)

  100. 146

    Tayfun Ozturkmen

    March 20, 2012 12:33 am

    When it comes to web design, imitation is the nature of the beast. It’s a side-effect of the concept that many of us celebrate most about web design community – sharing. This site is, in fact, a big contributor to the ‘problem’ this article addresses.

    Web design is a field that attracts many self-taught types whom enjoy the creativity of design along with the pragmatism of development. This is an uncommon combination in traditional design disciplines, which tend to emphasize creative nous. It takes time for people to develop their own style and gain a deeper understanding of design. Copy and paste web designers have been part of this community since the pre-CSS days of the sci-fi pixel font trend. Hell, even I was one of those guys.

    Despite nowadays not being a fan of trend-whoring myself, I don’t have a problem with people imitating as they find their way in design. They aren’t hurting anyone – it’s really not a big deal.

  101. 147

    One “trend” I’m glad really hasn’t taken off is the peeled sticker. You know the one… a round button with the edge curled over. I HATE that stuff. It’s the web (and print)! You can’t put a sticker on it. It doesn’t look cool. Even WORSE when its a UI button. I just wanna scratch your poorly stuck element off my screen. [/rant]

    • 148

      Ha! I agree! LoL

      I came all the way to the bottom of the page to comment on The Sticker, but alas! You’ve beat me too it….

  102. 149

    90% of the web-using world probably hasn’t seen most of these design elements. You’re living in a very niche world of web geeks and designers where these things saturate the market, saturate your every day work atmosphere.

    Think about the rest of the world. The mom and pop stores. The individuals who visit sites without a lick of design sense. The techniques criticized above have far more positive to add to this world than negative over the next decade.

    “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” -Isaac Newton

  103. 150


    March 21, 2012 9:21 am

    Some are great, useful functionally as well as aesthetically – and will probably evolve – into new trends and techniques

    For example the muted tones and textures – seem much calmer approach than bludgeoning the user with blocks of bright colour one usually still sees. Today’s websites – will look like CEEFAX/Teletext of the future.

    I like the transparent/layered divs trend for the same reason – as it adds subtle light and darkness for blocking and framing sections of content.

    The ribbons thing seemed really old even as it happened – a bit of a cheap way to add some dimensionality – but i don’t hate it by any stretch.

    Another set of trends I can see is with inventive ways of navigating via scroll
    Parallax >
    perhaps even a Zooming type of scroll – into the screen?

    We’ll probably see “Web Stylists called Fronc” in the future – There’ll be so much choice and option!

  104. 151

    Think this article is a cry for attention and has a negative tone that I will gladly list what I disagree with it.

    1) You are saying some trends are epidemic yet they are used on this very site.
    2) You are saying some trends get to be overused, yet ignore that the world is about that, trends that come and go. If overusing them makes others (few ones) take a new route and explore new things that work, the better then.
    3) Trends, overused or not, is what makes it possible for things to move forward. Historically people will look back at this period and understand why we did what we did. Overused or not.
    4) We have clients and deadlines. Using trends, the work shared by others, overused and what not, do make clients happy when we design sites. This is what matters if you ask me. Not to have certain status quo of not overusing trends.

    I really don’t mind the overuse of trends. They look beautiful if done right.

  105. 152

    I find it odd how that the website for Primate features forked ribbons, letterpress, textures, JCT, and muted tones. The only things that are missing are 19th century illustrations, stitching, and zigzag borders.

  106. 153

    I have to disagree with the tone of this article. Trends are just that: trends. If we didn’t survive the basic colour schemes of the 90’s we probably wouldn’t have been overjoyed by the use of more colours and trends such as in the web 2.0 days. From then we have scaled back on the rounded corners, shiny buttons and the most bizare of all: the reflection. Thanks Apple!

    If something isn’t viewed as helpful or neat or exciting then it doesn’t become a trend. I for one welcome these trends as it adds a slick and almost tangible effect to most websites. Everything in moderation, friends. Besides look at Smashing Magazine and its drop-shadows and film grain. Kettle, you just called the pot black.

    • 154

      I agree. Although the article was well written, the negative tone kinda turned me off from the get-go. Thumbing your nose at virtually every popular technique out there doesn’t seem very constructive (although the debate its started has had some great insight). Some people are so enchanted by the idea of “going against the grain” that they fail to adopt some trends that do have some value. Popular doesn’t always equal cliched, and I think every one of these techniques can have their place. Design should reflect your clients’ message and goals, and if any or (hopefully not) all of these techniques help accurately convey that message, then they should be used. Like many of the commenters above already have said, everything in moderation.

  107. 155

    It would be interesting to see some newish websites that don’t follow these trends that are very well designed. I don’t mean to say that all good, recent designs use these techniques and there are no other good sites (if that’s what it sounds like). I mean what I wrote; I would be legitimately interested in seeing a few examples of newer sites that don’t follow the trends and look nice.

  108. 156

    Chakib Tsouli

    March 22, 2012 1:58 am

    I compare Web Design trends to the Music Industry, whether you produce popular & Commercial Music that SELLS, or you stick to your own style and not gaining a dime from what you make.

    So I don’t see how following Trends can be a bad thing as long as you create beautiful interfaces for the masses.

  109. 157

    Mike O'kelly

    March 22, 2012 1:20 pm

    I think the tone and treatment of trends was overly harsh and honestly it made it harder to get to your actual point you seem to find near the end.

    I can’t honestly call my self a designer. My job leads me there from time to time but I am far from a fulltimer.

    With that said I honestly think trends probably produce a lot of work for designers. Trends are the result of somebody trying something new or something old in a new way. When it resonates with people other emulate it. If you never had trends ,site would never look dated, and people wouldn’t need to have designers re-design their sites. (Granted designers probably have pulled out many a hairs trying to get clients to see that what they want is cliche and tired and to just let them do their jobs)

    I agree mindlessly following a trend and shoehorning fads into your design mindlessly is a quick way to make yourself irrelevant and unemployable but how is this insightful or new?

    The whole thing seems like a drive by.

  110. 158

    Andrew Lazarus

    March 26, 2012 4:09 am

    I understand that these are becoming trends / are trends, i just don’t like the fact that every technique has / will be a ‘trend’, So how do we use anything without the guilty feeling that we’re referencing that thing we say on that website the other day…

    on the other hand… If you strip back all the trends and see what you’re left with… maybe you can create something new & push yourself. (ironically, you’d most likely create a new trend)

  111. 159

    Such a fun article- I must say I really enjoy some of the new design developments. Design has always been about trends whether it was fashion architecture, magazine design and now web design. Most will come and go, some will stay permanentaly.

  112. 160

    Marcelo Azevedo

    March 27, 2012 7:25 am

    Unhopefully since the WWW was created, time after time the design elements are getting more and more cliché. When you see an article saying something about “ten sites using the abduzeedo style”, you can bet nothing is original anymore and in some way such articles or sites are helping to make this happen. I wouldnt use the word remix. If the original is dead the remix is melting….

  113. 161

    Actually, this article has inspired me to use both zig-zag edges and a textured background in my next website project. These are good trends. By the time they’re out of fashion it will be time to change the website anyway. Who keeps a website longer than 3 years nowadays anyway?

    • 162

      I’d say anyone who wants to run a reputable & reliable business. Take a look at some of the biggest successes online e.g. Amazon, Ebay, Google. I wonder what your clients/employer would say if you told them you think your design isn’t meant to last more than 3 years?

  114. 163

    Erica Fisher

    April 1, 2012 7:56 am

    I’m not sure what I’m supposed to have learned from this article except, maybe, that this style is overused. This trend has stuck around for a long while because it looks good and, when done properly, works well, making the end user feel comfortable with the interface. That said, if your portfolio consists ONLY of this kind of mimicry, you’re doing it wrong.

    Always use your own voice, but respect what works for the design and for your client. I design for my clients and their intended audience, not for other designers to critique.

  115. 164

    Levi Szekeres

    April 3, 2012 2:13 pm

    I can’t believe I’ve read all the comments so far. Maybe that’s the purpose of this post, after all. If yes, it’s done well, I found these opinions very useful. If it’s written for the heck of it, it’s also well done. The “Hello, I’m an other one of the threemillionfivehundredsixtyninethousandeghtyfive designers who says hello in the header” trend passed away?
    At least I know why so many people jumps at your throat. It’s very easy to create a misunderstanding when you talk about beloved things, even if you mean well. So, you better not. It’s just a question of evolution (talking to a primate;) and like the web codes, everything tends to blend into a bigger thing. I wouldn’t be surprised if any of these effects would be available in the near future at one click in some online “create your own website” code. Personally I can’t stand that mass madness or flock fashion, but that’s the deal with trends. I remember noticing that years ago at the first button shine that clearly wasn’t meant for Apple.
    And it’s also very true – someone here talks about it – that we find designers at every street corner and softwares are very handy nowadays. No wonder that ten year olds can create websites that look like that. Especially when you get the readymade kit for free on some “eager to get more comments and likes” site. That’s not what I’m worry about, but the copy/paste syndrome, the one that steals concepts, structure and other personal specifics.
    A real eye opener. Maybe a few can reflect a bit more before mixing oil with water. There is only one thing I don’t like: the fact that you have to explain yourself after all the reactions.

    • 165

      “a ten year old can make it look as good”

      you make it seem designers are worthless.. come on dude..

      I just finished an app design for a car alert center and i did use the leather stitching because it was within the context. My point is it was pretty time consuming. so please for our sake don’t make it seem like it’s a cookie cutting process.

      • 166

        Tuaha Badar

        May 31, 2012 3:37 am

        hi there Mr. Moony, I agree that the article was annoying, something we all are thriving to achieve these days by absorbing trends unintentionally, but lets not judge over the content, its in the conclusion that has an open ending by saying “use it where it is needed do not over use it”.

        If leather stitching effect fits in your context then do it, otherwise your giving yourself a break to do something more efficient, making something look cool is like convincing your client you know trend and you know techniques I am gonna light you up with my pro-abilities to merge in flock”

  116. 167

    You’re rather pre-mature with your statement on how it’s becoming an epidemic.. this article was annoying. sorry.

  117. 168

    I think what was annoying was the comparison of design trends to a viral infection. I would love a infection of good typeset, textures and circle logos if it makes for a better design.

    I don’t see Tends as being a epidemic but more like the next popular step in design. Was all the major art movements of the 20 century a epidemic? I see them but style in which people work? Although I would suggest not only working in trend for fear of your work looking outdated in a year or so. I think the meaning of this post is use popular trends wisely. by the way it is also trendy to bitch about trends! Dam hipsters. I think the author sums up his thesis about trends when he says to use a healthy dose of original thought. Don’t just follow a trend because its popular use trends to accomplish a goal and innovate those trends in your own way so we can all move design world forward onto the next step.

  118. 169

    I think the critique is right on the money – though I don’t believe it’s a new trend (print designers have been doing this kind of retro stuff or 30 years now).

    Unless there’s a specific reason to suggest a certain time and place in history (which I admit, there often is), retro design is just a boring cliche. It’s also a little depressing. The web is such an exciting and still-new medium that it’s very uninspiring to see it constantly referencing a “simpler time.” As the someone once said, “When men got structural steel, they didn’t use it to build steel copies of wooden bridges.”

  119. 170

    I don’t like this article….

    Everything we have in web trends right now is named as “epidemic”…..

    • 171

      There are a lot of “epidemics” in graphic design…

      Using a bold typeface to catch attention
      Using little circles at the beginning of items in a list
      Making the initial cap in the first paragraph of an article two or 3 lines tall
      Ending an article with a little square to let people know the article is done

  120. 172

    I think a lot of designers should maybe learn how to think creatively instead of learning ‘how to design a website’. The creative process doesn’t allow for narrow thinking and opens up possibilities. This is important.

  121. 173

    Guys, Don’t get scared…

    Creativity Never Ends.. Designers who find these techniques overused or old always find better newer and better ways to create fresh designs….

    The one’s who are happy with this they can continue….

  122. 174

    Well, it is in Human Nature, to look around and follow. How many Salvador’s Dali were living at the same time? Leonardo’s, Hokusai’s? Only one, right? At least the way we know. And art scholars were learning AND USING their inspirations. Some successfully, some not so.
    And the rest of smaller scale creators of daily life artifacts were getting inspirations, copying them, reverse engineering sometimes. Was anyone concerned back then, that some Lorenzo di Whataveri’s frescos were too similar to Leonardo’s paintings? Well, buy urself a round fare to Roma and dig it up from some public archives. Does it stop smaller scale developers to contract and pay local Lorenzo to paint another church/temple/baptistery walls? Then after while, Lorenzo will find his own type, method, whatever to express his very own style. The same is novadays. Its ALWAYS the same reaction.

  123. 175

    I’m confused… Circular Script Logo != SCL, shouldn’t the acronym be CSL?

  124. 176

    being a newbie in the pro web design biz (under 3 years), I couldn’t help but notice, and have described the web design biz in general, as a high following of trends in visual design not unlike the music biz I left behind. Personally, I have no use for ribbons and leather (even freebies from media loot) but I still have to “watch and learn”.
    y’know – monkey see, monkey do.
    want to see what a monkey does? click here

    I got a good laff outta this one! Thx!

  125. 177

    good article!

  126. 178

    Well said!

  127. 179

    I think responsive design is going to be the future of web. It’s really silly that people still try to get iphone apps for their small business. This is what my company focuses on. Please check out my blog post on the benefits of responsive design.

  128. 180

    I don’t understand the revulsion to following trends in the graphic design world. Especially in advertising and marketing.

    When I design something for my company or client, my number one goal, and sometimes only goal, is to fulfill their marketing/advertising/communications need. If they’re looking for a design that attracts prospects or converts prospects to customers, I do whatever it takes. If it sometimes means following a trend, and I think following that trend will have the most impact, I follow that trend.

    I also say that when both time and money is scarce (like it is in an in-house design department like mine where the out-of-pocket design budget is under $50 and you only have a few hours to produce) you gotta sacrifice innovation for just getting the damned thing done.

    Course, this mostly applies to design for standard advertising and marketing. Of course, if it’s something less direct-response-y, I do aim to be innovative. Such as an annual report or something like a museum book.

  129. 181

    I loved your article, Espen. So well written and clear. Coming in late to web design, I bypassed using most of those techniques. It’s not easy convincing others to do something they haven’t seen. Like fashion trends, We like what’s already out there and presenting something new often leaves us open to criticism and even ridicule because we’re different than the rest. When Dali painted those clocks, I’m sure he was blasted by his peers. I’m all for not following the crowd. It’s a lonely road though. Plus, for me, with my limited resources, I find it difficult to have the online presence I imagine. Keep writing great articles. This newsletter is great. Thanks Smashing!


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