The Rise of DESIGN on the Web

1. Letterpress

One of the most unexpected trends in Web design observed over the last months was the emergence of letterpress (actually pressed letters). Probably the most important reason for this trend is the simple fact that this technique has been rarely used until now. Letterpress is used in various styles, on various websites, and for various topics; in particular, it is often used in product designs and on websites for online services.

2. Rich User Interfaces

Happily, user interfaces in modern websites and Web applications are becoming more beautiful and more usable. Over the last year, the user experience for these applications has dramatically improved, resulting in rich and responsive user interfaces that have tremendous similarities with classic desktop applications. AJAX and Flash are widely used to offer users the dynamic interaction that they have come to expect from advanced, sophisticated, professional solutions.

In particular, we’ve seen much more white space over the last year, much more padding and much more space for various design elements. We also observed that many modern user interfaces display intuitive visual clues to communicate the status of a user’s interaction with the system. For instance, upon being clicked, event buttons often change their appearance from a “normal” to a “pressed” look (as on Newspond.com and Quicksnapper.com), confirming and providing immediate feedback on the user’s interaction with the system. Aside from this, more and more services are now able to be personalized by the user: for us, it’s a clear sign that adaptive user interfaces are coming in 2009.

Both examples are evidence that designers of Web applications are paying significantly more attention to the way in which functionality is presented and are trying to improve the user experience with more interactive and responsive solutions.

3. PNG transparency

PNG transparency, although unsupported by Internet Explorer 6, seems to have gained popularity on the scene over the last year. Apparently, designers are trying to better integrate background images into the actual content and are aiming for a style that is often seen in printed media, magazines for instance. In most cases, semi-transparent backgrounds stand out in the overall background of a page and are intended to highlight an important design element, such as a headline or announcement. Sometimes PNG transparency is used for the background of modal boxes as well.

Last year, we described a variety of ways in which can get creative with transparency in Web design, and many designers seemed to experiment with these techniques in their work. Interestingly enough, transparency is often used either in the header or footer of designs, but some designs go beyond that.

4. HUGE Typography

We presented some outstanding examples of BIG typography in previous posts. In 2009, big typography remains popular. In particular, design agencies, portfolios, product websites and online services will use big typography to communicate the most important messages of their websites.

The font size of these design elements often goes beyond 36 pixels, and in many cases quite expansive typefaces are used to reach an audience. Overall, designers are paying closer attention to typographic details such as leading, line height and choice of font. The consequence: websites are more beautiful and more consistent and look solid and trustworthy.

5. Font Replacement

As designers pay more attention to typography, they also pay more attention to the fonts that are used for the copy in the body of websites. Although classics such as Helvetica, Arial, Georgia and Verdana undoubtedly dominate, we observed a slight trend towards font replacement.

What is interesting is that these fonts are often seamlessly integrated in the design of websites; they are almost never used for their own sake or simply to “upgrade” the typography of a website. Designers are trying to blend beautiful typography and arresting visual design to improve the appearance of websites and improve the user experience.

6. Modal Boxes (Lightboxes)

Modal boxes (dialog windows) are, essentially, the second generation of pop-ups. They serve as a user-friendly alternative to classic JavaScript windows and support users by focusing their attention on the most important area of the website. Modal windows are always triggered by a user action (e.g. signing up or logging in) and appear on top of the main content, like a window in a regular desktop application. Modal windows are often presented in a very subtle way: they are often semi-transparent and have a “Close” button.

7. Media Blocks

With more broadband Internet access, users can now afford to browse more than they did a couple of years ago, and designers can use this opportunity to present content in a more attractive and memorable way. Hence, it’s no wonder that many product websites use media blocks (for videos and screencasts) for this very purpose. The main advantage of such elements is that they can communicate content quickly and effectively and make it easier for users to consume information.

Users just lean back and enjoy the show; they get everything explained to them step by step, without having to click, search for descriptions or learn the navigation. The movies are usually pretty short and get directly to the point; they are mostly formal but can be entertaining, too.

But please make sure that videos are an alternative presentation of, and not the main or only, content on your website. Not every user has broadband access to the Web, not every user is willing to watch a video (e.g. because he or she may have a radio or music playing in the background), and not every user has Flash and JavaScript installed on his or her machine.

8. The Magazine Look

An interesting development in the design of blogs is the adaptation of various techniques usually found in traditional (print) media. The arrangement of posts on the page, the use of typography, illustrations and even text alignment often resemble traditional techniques from print. Grid-based designs are gaining popularity as well but are used mostly in portfolios, product pages and big blogs; they almost never appear on corporate websites or in online shops.

9. Carousels (Slideshows)

Carousels are essentially slide-show navigations. The content rotates vertically or horizontally (hence the name “carousel”). To rotate the navigation, users need to click on one of two toggle elements (usually a left/right or up/down arrow). Depending on the toggle element selected, the content is rotated in the desired direction.

Instead of clicking through various sections of the website for their favorite stories, users can quickly skim through the available stories without vertical scrolling or unnecessary mouse movements. The result: users save time, and the carousel focuses their attention sharply on the content, instead of on interacting with the browser. Such slide-show navigation is often used on entertainment websites and big blogs, but designers also make use of it in their portfolios to showcase their work in a more interactive way.

10. Introduction Blocks

The upper-left area of a website is the most important block on the page, because it grabs the most attention from visitors. Therefore, it makes perfect sense to place the most important message of the website right there and thus make sure that readers get the message as quickly as possible.

In fact, this is exactly what many designers are doing. Whether for a Web application, corporate design, online service or portfolio, designers are pushing their slogans and brief introductions to the top of the page and are using strong, vivid typography to make a good first impression. Some introductions are short, others are quite lengthy; in either case, they usually take a lot of space; the full width of the layout and between 250 and 400 pixels in height are common dimensions for these introduction blocks. Notice, though, that introduction blocks almost never appear in blogs and rarely in online shops.

For all the trends visit smashingmagazine.

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