Most Used and Abused Web Design Trends of All Time

By / Oct 5, 2009 / Tips
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The year is 1999. You’ve just watched the Matrix, and it’s blown your mind. You sit down in front of your computer to work on a web design and then create or download an animated Matrix background for your Geocities website. You’re so cool. Fast forward 10 years, and you say to yourself, yikes, what was I thinking?! We’ve all been there. As a matter of fact, I’m personally guilty of copying many of following trends.

Trend isn’t a bad word in web design. In fact, the items on this list inspired an entire generation of web designers. All of these ideas were so huge that they created a mass following. That’s a good thing. The problem comes when we’re happy to create a clone of a great design and let it rest at that. Great designers push themselves to be ahead of the trends, or they twist the trend into something uniquely their own. The problem isn’t that you were inspired by the Matrix, it is that you didn’t re-imagine your inspiration into something different. As you look through this list, remember the reasons why you may have once loved these web design trends. It will help you understand why they were so popular, and what you can learn from them.

Reflective Text or Objects

web design trend

Mirrored objects are one of those web design trends that seem to constantly resurface. We love it for the sense of realism and dimension it brings to a static 2D image, but most of the time it’s done incorrectly. It takes more than simply flipping an object upside down to make a mirrored image.

Aqua Buttons

web design trend

There’s no way this list could exist without the prominent mentioning of aqua buttons. These shiny, glassy, light blue buttons gave the impression of 3D even though they took less than 10 minutes to make in Photoshop. Amazingly simple, aqua buttons were a ubiquitous trend that finally died down around 2005.

Flourishes

web design trend

Unfortunately this web design trend is still in its 14th minute of fame. These embellishments are often created to emphasize an artsy site, and can be done very well, especially if the designer is particularly gifted in graphic art. The problem is that this look has been seen in an obscene amount of sites, and is no longer fresh or unexpected. The flowers are dying.

Desktop Design with Coffee Cup

web design trend

Don’t forget the coffee stains somewhere in the design. I’ve never quite understood the perspective on this design. Is the viewer supposed to be standing up and looking directly down at the desk? That’s the only way this view makes sense. This trend must be stopped.

Animated Globe

web design trend

Fortunately, this web design trend has come to an end for most websites, but it died a long death. This popular “rotating” earth was usually attached to the site’s logo. Most businesses which displayed it weren’t even international. It was your local mom and pop shop showing they could have a fancy animated gif, too.

Comic Sans Font

web design trend

There was a time when Comic Sans was everywhere and, despite its name, it wasn’t funny. Comic Sans was the font many misguided designers used to convey a sense of playfulness on their websites. Comic Sans has stirred an unholy amount of hatred over the years, and yet it continues to exist as a font. Fortunately, every designer knows to steer clear of this font like the plague.

Overused Stock Images

web design trend

How many business sites have we visited where there’s one of these images on the front page? Of course, clients request these types of stock images all the time, but as designers, we have to show them what else is possible.

Torn Notebook Paper

web design trend

It’s nice to see realistic elements on websites, but the paper look lacks originality. The overwhelming amount of paper textures and tutorials make this a definite trend to avoid for a trend-setter.

Polaroids

web design trend

There was a time when everyone incorporated Polaroid-type objects into their design. This retro trend has outlived its usefulness. Polaroids may be a fun throwback, but it’s doubtful that anyone born after 1990 has ever seen one in person.

Oversized RSS or Twitter Icons

web design trend

We get it. You want us to subscribe and follow your random thoughts. We want to, but putting up a huge RSS icon that’s half the size of your web page is just obnoxious and insults your visitors. The same goes for Twitter. Keep these icons classy and non-obtrusive.

Auto-played Music

web design trend

Music is awesome, but it’s wrong to impose your music selection on your visitors. What if they’re listening to their own music? Unfortunately, there was a time on the internet when bored office workers had to surf on mute for fear that they may enter the wrong website. Fortunately, most designers have dropped this trend, but it still seems hot in Eastern Europe.

Counters

web design trend

Here we have the sad web design phenomenon of visitor counters. In the early days of the internet, web designers used counters as a way to (sadly) collect visitor data, but more often to impress visitors with an impossibly large amount of web traffic. These counters were notoriously inaccurate and everyone knew it, because no one believed you had over a million visitors into your Homestead account. Fortunately, the web counter trend is dead, and happily so.

Marquees

web design trend

Scrolling text across any part of a website is considered a marquee. Marquees were so cool in the late 90s, but soon lost its seem once designers realized that websites are not headline news networks. We all seen way too many marquees in Comic Sans font.

Frames

web design trend

Frames. Frames are probably the saddest trend on this list. The only thing that saved us from frames was the supreme importance of the search engine. Designers started realizing that it was no longer optimal to have five or six pages to incorporate one home page. Frames were ugly, difficult to deal with, and had way too many moving parts.

Splash Pages That Make You Choose

web design trend

Flash or HTML? Old site or new site? Full screen or normal screen? Your visitor does not need to face these crucial choices before entering into your website. This trend is still popular amongst designers who don’t realize how to effectively manage both old and new, html and Flash. By the way, no one likes full screen. Keep it simple. Don’t give your audience these types of choices or they may choose to leave.

Intro with No Skipping Option

web design trend

This design trend forced visitors to sit through an impossibly long (no matter the length) introduction to your site with no means of escape. The trend supposed that every visitor to your site was a first-time one, and never took into account the possibly of repeat visitors.

Black Backgrounds

web design trend

This is a delicate subject, but black backgrounds are an overused trend. Dark is nice, especially if you find surprising new colors to re-interpret a mood such as a deep blue or a hazy gray, but black is out.

What do you think this list is missing? We’d like to hear from you.

About the Author

Jacqueline is an artist and a writer who spends an inordinate amount of time playing Super Nintendo and watching Star Trek. You can find out more about Jacqueline on her website, and follow her updates on Twitter.

210 Comments

  1. Sarah
    October 5, 2009

    Great article, the marquee is especially annoying.
    However, as for the polaroids…I’m born in 1993 and I basically grew up with them. And I dare to say that most people have already seen one in actuality, they’re still around.
    Just wanted to mention it. :D

    Reply
  2. Ellen S.
    October 5, 2009

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I am so sick of coffee cups everywhere!

    We get it! People like coffee! Why does that make me want to hire you?

    Same thing with the flourishes… time to go!

    Reply
  3. Keiron
    October 5, 2009

    Great list, I do disagree with the desktop design with coffee cup thought. I really like that style and if used correctly can really add a personal feel to a site.

    Reply
  4. yoyo
    October 5, 2009

    I really got a kick out of the stock images example. I’ve seen that one all over the place! :-D

    Reply
  5. Jad Graphics
    October 5, 2009

    I disagree with the Black Backgrounds. What is the basis for that?

    Reply
  6. Cassandra
    October 5, 2009

    So wait…you’re telling me the scrolling animated gifs at the top of my web page should go? Shoot.

    This was a fun read :D

    Reply
  7. Jason
    October 5, 2009

    I would have to say the mac looking trend, soft gradients, letter press effect.

    Coincidentally, there is such a thing as too many advertisements on one page. That’s another one, I counted nearly 20 ads on this page alone…

    Reply
  8. jason
    October 5, 2009

    Many of these are certainly bad taste, but all of them are certainly opinion. Giant footers? I love them, but putting all that information in the footer of a page is probably bad usability.

    Woodgrains? I don’t mind them, but definitely a big trend, and some people probably find them over used and abused.

    Any type of sidebar ad – huge annoyance, everybody hates them, nobody clicks them. Which brings me to my last one.

    Since no one clicks on said banner ads in the sidebar, they’ve gone from pay per click, to pay per a thousand impressions. Now we’ve got sites breaking up content into multiple pages in order to generate multiple impressions per visitor. I’d rather scroll then click next 5 times to read an article.

    Reply
  9. Jeroen
    October 5, 2009

    Where are the animated gifs! ;-)
    I mean, that rotating @ on every page!

    Sometimes… really really sometimes… I miss the good old times! :P

    Reply
  10. phh
    October 5, 2009

    I’m getting awfully tired of seeing cork bulletin boards with sticky notes, Polaroids, scotch tape and push pins.

    Reply
  11. Anna [crinkle]
    October 5, 2009

    Back in my day, we WISHED we had frames! When they arrived they were groundbreaking and amazing and, for a few months there, completely changed the way we thought about web design.

    Thank goodness they’re gone.

    18-24 months from now, lists like this one will be very interesting indeed. Large text, textures, serif fonts..?

    Reply
  12. APM Solutions
    October 5, 2009

    Fantastic List. The overused stock photos made me laugh out loud because I see this done so many times….probably have myself.

    Do people still really use counters???

    Reply
  13. ShustOne
    October 5, 2009

    How about a recent trend? I think the worse offender are ads being placed on the top or bottom of the page like a toolbar. You know, sort of like the one I’m seeing on this page right now. I hope developers knock that off.

    Reply
  14. Signazon.com
    October 5, 2009

    I’m So happy our website don’t have any of those!!

    Reply
  15. jarrito
    October 5, 2009

    another thing i’ve never liked are repeating (tiled) backgrounds, as well as hard to read text over background images. you have both of these on your site, Jacqueline.

    Reply
  16. dieter glasses
    October 5, 2009

    okay, how about having comments on every article? That surely is the biggest trend you missed, starting when web designers switched to being blog engine skinners. Coders won!

    Frames are useful, and super easy to use. Lazyness and the seo excuse (really?!) gave to sloppier, big headed banner design. Immediately after i started reading this i had no idea of where i am (what is this site called again?) or what else it had to offer (category links?) I could scroll to the top, but there are other places to go.

    Reply
  17. AR
    October 5, 2009

    enjoyed they list and laugh.
    The black bg’s to me are ugly so i agree with this one… sorry dudes!

    Reply
  18. dp
    October 5, 2009

    Everything you said is right on except for black backgrounds. Black is beautiful. should not be included in this roundup.

    Reply
  19. miguel
    October 5, 2009

    Oh, this huge bar on the bottom of your website looks a lot like a frame.

    Reply
  20. Webguy
    October 5, 2009

    so true thank you for the tips.

    Reply
  21. John
    October 5, 2009

    You ought to implement some of the items on your own list. Nobody gives a damn about how many subscribers you have, and that background color is horrible (meaning worse than black).

    Reply
  22. softwarecandy
    October 5, 2009

    Nice article. Your feedback about our website would be appreciated. Thanks.

    Reply
  23. Cute Cursors
    October 5, 2009

    I 100% agree especially with the black designs. Black designs are just a waste of space IMO. The counter is still in it’s 13th minute of fame though. Atleast the visible ones are. The invisibles are on the rise though.

    One other thing…aqua buttons are just dumb. I have no idea why so many site incorporated them.

    Reply
  24. kemp
    October 5, 2009

    I was so scared that I was using one or some of these, but alas I am safe. Woo Hoo! Totally agree with the list though.

    Reply
  25. Michael Garmahis
    October 5, 2009

    To add more: Top 10 Web Design Elements: Current Trends vs. Past

    Reply
  26. nx604
    October 5, 2009

    great article :)
    some of the stuff on this list has to end now and I really mean it – especially XXXXL RSS icons!
    Weeee caan seee theeeeem!

    Reply
  27. Christopher Hennis
    October 5, 2009

    hahaha, counters. Good article.

    Reply
  28. mair
    October 5, 2009

    Oh this is hilarious! I’m definitely guilty of using 10 of those gawd aweful trends. You might have included some animated kao gifs, “gif dolls”, and graphic banners with quotes.

    Reply
  29. nx604
    October 5, 2009

    my add on + for the list, I expect this to go down in near future!!!

    ADVERTIZE HERE IMAGE?
    Placeholder images exactly like on many design/dev/inspire/tutorial/trends blogs – with link to you_know_where_ads.com
    Whats the point of that besides obvious one? It sucks from user experience point of view – OK Ads here move on nothing to see :)

    That kind of information is simply aimed towards people who want to buy ads on visited sites.
    I think that number of visitors like those is in minor numbers compared to regular blog visitor. Let’s ban those AD placeholders!!!

    Some blogs do it right way and some wrong way. Some decide to make them very different and as a part of site branding. Others simply found their ways of dealing with it which made their visitors and advertisers more happy!

    I don’t think that this is just a design issue – it’s a business issue far more.

    Reply
  30. pwall5000
    October 5, 2009

    i enjoyed and agreed with the list, which is why i feel bad saying this, but wood panel backgrounds are definitely overused and abused.

    Reply
  31. Rich
    October 5, 2009

    A few I think will make this list in 2 years:

    - unecessary, overabundent flash. The only uses I can think of for flash still relevant today are video, games, and artsy/demo sites. *Any* font can be used (sparingly) via cufon or similar libraries; dhtml navigation via jquery or other js api’s works a lot better; even animated vector graphics can be done well with raphaeljs. The video and game thing will become irrelevant in a couple of years with html5 video, canvas, and later webgl or similar.

    - overuse of css flyout/suckerfish menus. They are unfriendly for sites with small type; I understand they can work, but please provide an alternate way to reach secondary links

    - Lightbox, or any box, used for everything. This is going to get old. I already stuff a lightbox on all of the sites I do currently because the clients love it, but all of the excellent alternatives are never used or preferred.

    In 7 years time:

    - fixed width!?! px – based fonts and layout?!? 960 pixels takes 1/6 of the width of my monitor, and the fonts are microscopic.
    - div tags everywhere!?! Not as bad as tables, but still. Why not use some html5?
    - flash!!!?! Wasn’t that used for video or something?

    Reply
  32. Sean
    October 5, 2009

    You forgot the big wanky headline that says…

    My name is blah blah and I design websites

    Reply
  33. yoda
    October 6, 2009

    You forgot to mention lens flare as something that hopefully has now died a miserable death and of course the recent over use of a burst of rays as background for anything that thinks its young and trendy!

    Reply
  34. Mike Mariano
    October 6, 2009

    Don’t forget em’ blinkies and animated gif madness! haha

    Reply
  35. Rick
    October 6, 2009

    I had a sudden wave of nostalgia when you mentioned Homestead. That was my first venture into any type of personal web page! It didn’t last long–ultimately they went bankrupt, I think–but it definitely whetted my appetite for wanting to learn how to do my own.

    Reply
  36. shiyon
    October 6, 2009

    I too disagree with your opinion about the coffeecup design. There are many sites which use this trend effectively.

    Please check the links below:
    http://www.productivedreams.com/trend-review-coffee-stains-webdesign/
    http://www.productivedreams.com/coffeecups/

    “Is the viewer supposed to be standing up and looking directly down at the desk?” -I think this statement is childish. How can you watch even a movie then?
    Please don’t challenge the imagination of others.

    Reply
  37. Jeep
    October 6, 2009

    I love how you go on about stock images, and then for the polaroid section, you use a stock image from SXC :)

    Great post, all true!

    Reply
  38. salva
    October 6, 2009

    Great post ;)

    Reply
  39. mojitopl
    October 6, 2009

    For me this is all bullshit. First of all – who are You to tell people what is trendy or what is not? PierreCardin of webdesign? Did You make a poll. And lots of You are reading it thoughtless and take it all for granted, without any second thought. Probably writer had no better idea for an article. Second, this is totaly useless, cause good website is about functionality, it’s a “tool” to achieve specific goals. Better think about and write what makes a website good for ceirtain purposes. Than – some of theese may be trendy again because people think they are not trendy – just use them wisely and in a creative way. Any of theese things mentioned here are used through out the Net, because they fit where thay are, they do its job. Splash screens? Watch some movie websites – almost every has a splash screen. Are all the webdesigners wrong?

    You know what is not trendy nowadays in blogging about design? Writing posts like: Most Used and Abused Web Design Trends of All Time

    thats my opinion.

    Reply
  40. Tom
    October 6, 2009

    Ah, the time when i was 14…

    Reply
  41. Sofialine
    October 6, 2009

    Haha ! Great list… I dislike coffee cups, aqua buttons, auto-playing music (makes me leave some websites ^^) and flash introductions without skip button :/

    But I don’t agree with the black background !

    I also think that a good webdesigner can deal with all that “trends” and make a beutiful website… It depends on his capacities =)

    (Sorry for my bad english xD)

    Reply
  42. thedp
    October 6, 2009

    Frames? Well yeah, when you can actually see it’s made of frames. But you need to understand that today’s web 2.0 apps are all made from iFrames!

    Reply
  43. BIOS Hazard
    October 6, 2009

    @ guy above me: cry more, this is a great list of things we thought were cool but wound up not cool. He is using his previous experience to write an interesting article.

    @ the author: Great article, I did every single one of these (minus the globe).

    Things you forgot:
    blink tag
    table layouts
    flash websites (these are acceptable for video game homepages and 2advanced.com ONLY)

    I’m sure I will think of like 3 more right when I submit this.

    Reply
  44. Joao Joaquim
    October 6, 2009

    I’ve got to say that having a static bar on the bottom of the page all the time also seems an annoying trend…

    Reply
  45. Two More Things
    October 6, 2009

    Two things she forgot…

    1.) Lists, like the one I just read.

    2.) Rectangles: because frames, tables, or CSS, it is still all rectangles.

    Reply
  46. Ted Rex
    October 6, 2009

    Nice wake-up call.

    I posted a link to this page on my daily design blog: http://designthoughtfortheday.blogspot.com/2009/10/abuse-and-then-more-abuse-by-tun.html

    Reply
  47. Rúben
    October 6, 2009

    What about inset fonts? I see them everywhere now! And every element seems to have some kind of inset effect. It has become a trend. I blame the iPhone! :)

    Reply
  48. Ian G. Lang
    October 6, 2009

    – how about lack of originality in layout? I know usability standards need to be looked at, but come on.. the same things in the same spots site after site after site?

    This was a great article to read. Thank you!

    Trends are a horrible mistress.

    Reply
  49. Shane
    October 6, 2009

    Nice, interesting post.
    Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  50. The FlyDuo
    October 6, 2009

    A lot of good points but, I have to disagree with the black backgrounds. They definitely have there place – if done right!

    Reply

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