Just like in any other year, there are some design fads that are just arising, and others that are definitively being put to rest. Just about the worst thing someone could say about a design is that it’s frumpy and outdated, so make sure that you’re not slipping back into old habits. Styles are cyclical, and we don’t mean to imply that any of these are inherently bad. But there are a few design trends that could do with some rest, at least for the coming year.
Ribbons are great in small doses; they add easy three-dimensionality to the continual struggle for dynamism in two-dimensional designs, and they’re a neutral illustrational element that mixes well with many styles and subjects. But the count of designs that have used ribbons (especially for navigation bars and banners) has of late expanded to a ridiculous number. They’re becoming a default addition to any kind of retro design, which makes too many websites look suspiciously similar to many others. Give ribbons a rest, and you’ll give yourself an edge by adding an interesting new element that hasn’t been so played out.
Speaking of retro, that’s yet another delightful thing in small quantities that is becoming boring by way of massive overuse. The problem is that it’s being used in sites for which it doesn’t really make intuitive sense to add a retro feel.
For example, it follows that a website made for an event in a Vanderbilt mansion, (which was built in the late 1880s) would have a few Victorian-era flourishes. But it makes less sense for the same to be found in a portfolio site for a marketing agency, especially when accompanied by music…
Of course, that doesn’t mean that designers should stay away from any of these elements; blocky slab-serif typefaces and spidery starbursts can still have their place in current design; they just need to be used with more conscious effort.
The reasoning behind a beveled, embossed and glossy 3D button is sound; it makes intuitive sense that a button on a screen that imitates the buttons we see in real life would be most effective in conveying the message that they’re meant to be clicked on.
The reasoning behind this button style, along with host of other design choices, is called skeuomorphism. This is the practice of imitating the look of something in another medium; the rationale is that users will immediately grasp the purpose and feel comfortable with the look of something that’s skeuomorphically designed. However, it’s a limited way to think about design, and focuses far more on the form rather than the function. Things in the digital world don’t work the same as they do in the physical world, so a skeumorphic design is often less efficient than it could be.
However, designers need to keep in mind that the community of web users is getting increasingly sophisticated, and there is less and less need to bend over backwards to accommodate user confusion. Studies have shown that there’s little difference in effectiveness between a flat and a 3D button, as long as they’re both a bright color. And flat, crisp styles are definitely where design is heading at present, demonstrated in the cloud guide above. Happily,vector images are quite a bit simpler to make than their fiddly predecessors.
This category doesn’t even take into account the annoyance of musical or flash intros; mere splash pages are problem enough. Users don’t appreciate having a non-functional page they need to click-through, when the same information could be incorporated into the landing page. While some examples are more gratuitous than others, even the ones that make more sense are still aggravating.
Of course, there’s room for argument with all these trends; a retro website with ribbon banners and beveled buttons on its splash page could look great and function perfectly. But if you’re hoping to stay on the cutting edge, don’t bother recycling ideas that are getting a little frayed around the edges. Head into 2013 with these trends safely tucked away for a time when their revival will be appreciated.