Web Design Trends: Don’t be a sheep. Do your job right.

Trends are everywhere, especially in the design world:
fashion, web design, interior design, even type design – we can’t avoid them. But are they actually a good thing? In many ways I think possibly not…

People don’t buy websites based purely on how they look

The Web Design industry is a little different from other creative industries who may be, for example, purely focussed on creating visual impact. We have many other variables to consider in order to create websites that benefit the users by having a good user experience, and that also benefit the client by increasing conversion and/or awareness of their brand – which both go hand in hand with it having a quality design. My feeling is that some people get so hooked on design trends that they forget what they are actually supposed to be doing as web designers / developers.

We aren’t paid to simply create pretty pictures and seek the approval of our clients second to our peers, we are paid to create usable systems that benefit the users of the Internet.

There are new trends coming through all the time. Most recently it’s been the use of texture and shadows to add depth to designs, and everyone wants / wanted to do it – we even did a two part tutorial on it. And it was great for a while… until it got boring. Now I see the beginnings of a new trend with designers using muted colour pallets / old photography and illustrations / blending modes to create a more retro feel. Which again is great. It’s original, it looks nice, but how long will it be before everyone is jumping on the bandwaggon just because it’s ‘cool’.

The fact that a design technique is ‘cool’ is absolutely not a reason to use it

Sites like Dribbble, and the many hundreds of inspiration galleries out there are in some ways great. They provide us with a hub of quality design work to spark our ideas and get our creative juices flowing, and they give deserved recognition to some designers out there who have been truly original and created something special. But I fear that some people spend so long staring at these sites and aspiring to be the next ‘famous designer’ (I use the word famous loosely because they are only really famous within our little community) by producing work that they think will make them popular, that the same stuff just gets repeated over and over again. This isn’t being inspired, it’s just plain copying.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that I too have fallen into the trap on the odd occasion, I mean, texture can be so damn cool! But what we should be doing is deciding on what best suits our clients and the goals of their business, not just slapping a ‘worn’ texture over every logo we produce, or sticking a checked background on our websites because that’s what every one else is doing…

N.B. I’m not suggesting Mailchimp have been copying anyone here – this is just an example!

But what is ‘best for our clients’?

Well that’s for you to find out my friend. But don’t just search CSS galleries for what you like the look of. Research, plan, structure, and orgainise your content. Follow user journeys and study the brand at hand. If you’re repositioning them then great! Give them a new look, don’t give them the same look.

But that’s not to say that all this stuff is bad…

By all means take inspiration, but try to see how you could do it better. Always try to see how you could do it better. The designers that (inadvertently) start these trends do so because they’ve created successful designs time and time again – and we know they’re successful because everyone wants to copy. (I say ‘inadvertently’ because they aren’t out there to set the new trend for 2011, they are just being very good at their job). They provide new ways of thinking which engage and capture users’ attention… which is exactly the reason why they are ‘famous’ in the first place.

Some people give these designers stick because they’re part of the ‘cool crowd’. They get all the free stuff, they get all the ‘likes’ on Dribbble, they get all the comments on their blog, and they get to go to all the conferences. But the fact is that they’re in that position because they haven’t followed trends. They have thought deeply about the task at hand and been truly creative as a result.

Don’t be a sheep. Do your job right.

By Chris Skelton

  • Brian


    There is a flip side to this as well. While you don’t want to blindly follow trends and fads, you also don’t want to go out of your way to be original just for the sake of being original. You wind up with a solution that’s just as ineffective.

    If you are a professional designer, then you are paid to find solutions to your clients’ problems. Period. Every design, content, and layout decision should be derived from this one simple fact. Gather a complete and accurate set of goals from your client, learn about the site’s audience, and everything else will take care of itself.