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. Kat
    October 27, 2009

    What about tiled background images… Yuk! Made it so difficult to read the vital text.

    Reply
  2. Jack
    October 28, 2009

    Great article!

    I have to say I am guilty. I currently have a huge RSS button on my blog :)

    Reply
  3. Impulse
    October 29, 2009

    I had a website once…actually 2…I realise I’ve did 2 or 3 of these…had a black background with comic sans text…still do it on some of my personal pages on certain websites.

    Reply
  4. nzhul
    October 30, 2009

    Nice article except one!
    Don’t touch the darkness – i love it :)

    Reply
  5. Architela
    October 30, 2009

    Very amusing. I used that same handshake image a few years ago.

    And just noticed the bit of torn paper at the top of this site.

    I’m also getting tired of grunge and goth designs. A little goes a long way.

    Reply
  6. Griffin
    November 1, 2009

    The “Mac Look” is completely played-out. I still get requests for it all the time (by name!) from clients wanting a trendy design. I guess Battleship Grey is hip again ;-)

    Reply
  7. Akshay Ghate
    November 2, 2009

    Nice article and I am glad that I have managed to avoid most of the listed practices. lol
    @ link in the first reply <– OMG OMG !!

    Reply
  8. DI Web Packages
    November 2, 2009

    Great ! – Been there and worn the t-shirt… at the moment we have a ‘trend’ for the Pop-up auto size picture gallery with those awful NEXT/PREVIOUS/X buttons… no JavaScript skills necessary !!

    Reply
  9. KDzyne
    November 3, 2009

    This list makes me laugh, lol.

    Reply
  10. James Paden
    November 5, 2009

    This post is so true. Hilarious! Fortunately, I think we’ve come a long way since then.

    Reply
  11. Web Designer vs Web Template
    November 6, 2009

    Great stuff – gave me a good laugh (actually I’d better start removing some of the dodgy old graphics off my sites)…

    Reply
  12. Egg Web Design
    November 9, 2009

    Ha! Animated globes, gaaahhh!!

    Reply
  13. Crystal Walker
    November 10, 2009

    Wow this is a really great post! Great reading!
    You’ve identified sooo many of those annoying trends… that we’ve all fallen victim too :)
    Thanks!

    Reply
  14. Xcellence IT
    November 12, 2009

    Great stuff!!!

    thank you for sharing
    Xcellence IT

    Reply
  15. Juan Giordano
    November 12, 2009

    Great article…

    I’m guilty too… I still have a black background and frames in my website… but I’m about to change it to a full web-standard site (with polaroid theme)

    Reply
  16. woMooMow
    November 12, 2009

    Hahaha! Yes I’ve seen a lot of those things!

    I know a great art trend; “Lowbrow”. I think it shall be used in future web design.

    Reply
  17. Ben
    November 13, 2009

    How about lists of fifty+ things?

    Reply
  18. Claudiu
    November 14, 2009

    I agree with the majority of these web trends but then again we have to remember that these are just opinions.

    Some people might do just fine with the “reflective” effect for instance if it ties in well with the rest of the design. I am not saying that everyone should use it or that it’s not a trend that lots of designers are fond of it.

    Also – I slightly disagree with the black background (maybe because I am using it in some of my designs :) ). If it’s done right, the design certainly can look nice.

    On the same idea, dark blue is also over-used.

    Reply
  19. Kasia Ciesla
    November 15, 2009

    I enjoyed reading your opinions, but I must say black is definitely NOT out.

    Black is a lot better for saving energy.
    Black is the new green.

    Reply
  20. AestheticSeun
    November 20, 2009

    Under ‘Splash Pages That Make You Choose’, you wrote, “no one likes full screen.” Why? What are you basing this assumption on?

    I think it depends on the content. Some contents look good in normal screen (e.g. Standard Definition Video) while others look great in full screen (e.g. High Definition Video)

    Looking forward to your explanation.

    Reply
  21. Bruno
    November 24, 2009

    I will have to disagree about black being OUT… sorry…

    Reply
  22. Web Design Maidstone
    November 25, 2009

    So many bad designs out there, but like Bruno I still think black has a place, not over used but in the right hands!

    Reply
  23. Andy
    November 25, 2009

    This post seems a little lazy to be honest, with more than a hint of design snobbery.
    All of the things listed are popular for a reason and if done well, can still be a valid part of good web design.

    Reply
  24. Allyzen
    November 25, 2009

    Black backgrounds may be old skool but are still kool.

    Reply
  25. Ashely Adams : Sticker Printing
    November 26, 2009

    I personally am very thankful for this post ….hope designers would now avoid using stock images…and i don’t want to see anymore coffee cup desktops….and a skip intro is a must for busy personalities (like me)…

    Reply
  26. Nicolas
    November 26, 2009

    Nice list Jacqueline, but I disagree about the black background. The great advantage of screen design is that there is no technological limit to the color palette – Use that freedom! The Print CSS should take care of any ink wasting issues and revert the page’s background to white.

    Reply
  27. Lyons Solutions Web Design
    November 29, 2009

    It’s all about personal choices isn’t it? What someone classes as “abuse” may be someone elses dream design ;)

    Reply
  28. Sir Jog A Lot
    December 1, 2009

    Great article containing a lot of design trends that I’m very guilty of! Thanks for showing me the error of my ways!

    Reply
  29. Length McGirth
    December 8, 2009

    Black is totally worthless. Well said!

    Reply
  30. vijay
    December 9, 2009

    it helps to make a good web designing.
    thanks

    Reply
  31. div
    December 11, 2009

    Very very useful info…………. Overall a different article in web design trends.

    Reply
  32. Jesus Estrada
    January 3, 2010

    Good article! I enjoyed it =)

    Reply
  33. Micheil Smith
    January 3, 2010

    I think the only trends I only jumped on with was the rounded corners and that sorta thing. Although, I did come late into the web scene, or around 2005/2006.

    Reply
  34. The Most Popular Articles of 2009 | Web Design Ledger
    January 3, 2010

    [...] Most Used and Abused Web Design Trends of All Time [...]

    Reply
  35. LB
    January 4, 2010

    @Kat:

    The author didn’t mention tiled backgrounds because she uses them on her site!

    Reply
  36. wabash Studio
    January 4, 2010

    This article brings back so many sad and funny memories. I remember going through almost all of those trends at one point in web design. My biggest ones were Frames, Counters, Splash pages, and Reflective images.

    Oh what would we do without advances in the web?

    Reply
  37. estevan
    January 5, 2010

    I’m shocked that some of those are still “trends”.

    Reply
  38. Caroline
    January 18, 2010

    I agree with the flourishes….BOOORRIINGGG! And auto-played music…so annoying! But I do still like black blackgrounds…great article!

    Reply
  39. madmak
    January 18, 2010

    How about smashing magazine style blogs….heheheh

    Reply
  40. David
    January 18, 2010

    Full stops. Short sentences. Everywhere. Ugh.

    In the author’s defence, the article says “Trend isn’t a bad word in web design” – so even though she mentions black as a trend I don’t think she’s knocking it.

    Reply
  41. Alexandra db
    January 20, 2010

    Reality bites, and this article is certainly presenting a reality!

    Reply
  42. Udgang99
    January 21, 2010

    What I hate more than anything, is when you scroll a page, and the text is scrolling but the background is static. :-(

    Reply
  43. Carlos
    January 25, 2010

    Related to the animated globe are all those animated gif!!!! They were terrible!!!! Like the the email envelope opening and closing!! :D
    Nice article, thanks

    Reply
  44. Software Developer’s
    February 1, 2010

    Thanks for providing this information.

    Reply
  45. Phil
    February 15, 2010

    How about with cpa ads ?? or pop up?

    Reply
  46. Terramel
    February 18, 2010

    Hiho

    Congratulations for this awesome post. I just think you forgot one thing: those annoying buggy and slow all-flash sites.

    []s from Brazil

    Terramel

    Reply
  47. Crystal Jones
    March 26, 2010

    Many of you are missing the REAL point of the argument..

    “The problem comes when we’re happy to create a clone of a great design and let it rest at that.”

    She didn’t say that black DONE WELL is out of style, but black done like EVERY OTHER black site since black became the hot trend in web design is pedestrian..

    “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”

    Reply
  48. Xerox Phaser Ink
    March 27, 2010

    Nice article, thank you for putting this together.

    Mike

    Reply
  49. IDS
    July 20, 2010

    Got us a good laugh. You also need to add a rotating logo as an abused feature next to the rotating globe.

    Reply
  50. website design montreal
    August 23, 2010

    Nice and catchy posting but funny though. I believe Black background can never be old skool, It’s kinda evergreen

    Reply

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