Terrible Web Design Trends

Feb 5 2014 by Rick Debus | 15 Comments

From puka shell necklaces to planking, the power of trends is undeniable. In a digital age dominated by social media, memes, and an audience with an ever-shortening attention span, trends have become a part of Internet life.

And as the Web continues to adolesce, web design is subjected to rapidly changing trends as well.

Continuously developing design and development technologies mean that trends in our industry quickly come and go.

I’ll discuss some of the worst web design trends we have seen throughout the Internet’s history, many of which are — thankfully — not that common anymore.

Splash Pages

We’ve all seen a site that loads with sliding photography, illuminating status bars, and a cacophony of visual excess. The thought behind a splash page is "Watch this long ‘short intro’ video to discover how wickedly-awesome our website is!"

Hoping for a strong first impression, sites that adopt this practice of showing a splash page definitely make an impact. Unfortunately, it’s usually an overly negative one.

Splash pages waste time and delay people from accessing the content of the website. Site users just flock to the "click to skip" link, or, in some cases, can’t even find it and decide to bounce instead of waiting.

Conclusion: A good homepage, information architecture and content strategy are all you need. Don’t waste precious time by showing users pointless filler content.

Web 2.0 Design

Rounded corners, reflections, drop shadows and gradients say one thing: 2005.

As the Web moves toward a flatter, harder-edged aesthetic, don’t let your site get stuck with an outdated look.

These days, dimensionality and drop-shadowing look soft and tentative. Skeuomorphism for skeuomorphism’s sake doesn’t really accomplish anything, other than potentially confusing your viewer with an overcomplicated design.

You can do better. Simplify your designs to make your interfaces more user-friendly and to improve UX.

Conclusion: Though some argue that flat is not the right direction, with major tech companies like Apple, Microsoft, Google and others going flat, the reality is that this is what Web users will come to expect.

Stock Photos

Good stock photos don’t actually look like a stock photo, but they can be astronomically expensive.

So, instead, we’re often shown cold, lifeless photos of people who are smiling on the outside, but crying on the inside.

(Visit Awkward Stock Photos if you’d like to explore to dark, twisted world of stock photography.)

Conclusion: If photos are needed on your site, try and produce them yourself. If this is not an option, be selective with your stock photography. Use a critical eye to determine if adding the photo is actually going to improve the look of your site or make it look like a joke.

MySpace-ification

In the mid-2000s, the average Web-savvy user was defined by the amount of personalization on their MySpace profile.

Some designers picked up on this trend, over-designing their sites to the point of complete chaos, whether the site was designed by a team of 10 different people, or 1 eager-beaver designer wanting to prove their worth by adding every kind of design element/texture/animation/etc. into one page.

Source: theworldsworstwebsiteever.com

Conclusion: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Less is more.

Flash Sites

The strength of Flash is also its weakness. Though animations and movement enhance the look of your site and definitely get attention, they are also incompatible with many Web devices (such as those that use, ahem, iOS).

What good is a large amount of visually-stimulating content if many of your users can’t even see it?

Who doesn’t hate seeing web pages like this?:

With the maturation of CSS3 transitions and HTML5 standards, we can create impressive animated sites without the use of proprietary, closed-source software.

Even the company that owns Flash agrees that it’s an outdated technology and that HTML5/CSS3 is the future.

If you’re still in the Flash bandwagon and are wanting to jump off, these posts might inspire you to take the plunge:

Conclusion: It’s time to stop relying on Flash and get on board HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript which accomplish many of the same things as Flash with less compatibility and performance issues.

Background Music

Some web designers want to engage their viewers’ senses, so they add some tunes to help build a connection.

If you’re considering this, keep in mind two things: 1) some of your viewers have their sound muted and will thus miss out on your awesome jams, and 2) those that do have the sound on are likely listening to something else or looking to hear something specific.

Not to mention the potential issues with site loading speed, licensing, user experience, etc.

Conclusion: Unless you’re a DJ company or a radio station, skip the music.

Popup Windows

We’ve all experienced the frustration of loading a webpage and immediately being bombarded with a gazillion un-closable pop-up windows. It truly harms our experience on the site and makes us wary of coming back.

Unfortunately, today, popup windows are being reincarnated in the form of modal window overlays that open automatically and interrupt our reading experience. Check out Tab Closed; Didn’t Read to see a showcase of disruptive window overlays.

Source: tabcloseddidntread.com

Conclusion: Ads are a part of life, and they’re an important way for many sites to generate revenue. That being said, no one likes an ad that’s overly disruptive.

Wrapping Up

Like any trend, what’s popular in web design comes and goes with the times. If you have a robust development and design team, incorporating current trends can make your site look fresh and relevant.

Just remember that trends have a shelf-life, and be prepared when it’s time to make a change. What’s hot right now could soon go the way of sparkly mouse pointers and site visitor counters.

For those who are more risk-averse (or strapped for time), it’s best to focus on more evergreen design ideas that will always look professional and be effective.

[Some images courtesy of Picjumbo.]

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About the Author

Rick Debus is the founder and CEO of Signazon.com, a national e-commerce printing company based in Dallas, Texas. With over 15 years of web design and development experience, he’s passionate about bringing unique and innovative solutions to the Internet. Connect with him on Google+.

15 Comments

Kerrigan

February 5th, 2014

Are most of these still around? I hope not, because that would mean I’ve been fighting this kind of design for my entire career.

Bryan Lewis

February 5th, 2014

While these observations are true, I don’t think it’s very timely advice. This advice would apply to the industry in 2008, but on the whole, are not a recent “trend”. If we are going to just beat already pummeled horses, why not include advice about avoiding font tags in HTML?

Mike

February 5th, 2014

Flat works for some things and apple took it too far. Many things just look plain and simply bad. I think I combo of web 2.0 and flat is a good way to go.

Karma

February 5th, 2014

I’d say most of these are former trends, as you note they’re very 2005.
For current trends, I was hoping to see auto-scrolling on this list. It seems to be a still-growing fad, and I expect it to continue to grow because it probably increases post views. But it also frequently breaks, and makes it impossible to figure out how many pages you’ve looked at so far. If I close my browser and want to return, suddenly I’m back at page one.

I’d also add over-use of slideshow presentations to the list. I was tempted to add one to my site, because they’re so hip now. But statistics show that people seldom click on slideshows and, worse, they’re often confused for banner ads.

Brandon

February 5th, 2014

I think it’s hilarious that the author complains about intrusive popup ads, but his own site uses one on the homepage. FAIL.

TestShoot

February 6th, 2014

Parallax scrolling needs to go away. This is the trend we will look back on in the not-so-distant future and scratch our heads. Or “single page apps”, the version 2.0 of the microsite.

But I agree with Mike, flat is now bordering on dull and lazy.

Dave

February 8th, 2014

Great article, lots of popular trends that still go on today and people that are just learning web design are utilizing these past trends which doesn’t help the Internet. Though that’s why we have a job to make sure it doesn’t happen. Great post!

Lisa Hastie

February 9th, 2014

Hi Rick. Enjoyed reading your article and had to laugh at your comment “just becuase you can, doesnt mean you should” – so many websites need to take this on-board. These websites remind me of’shouty’man ads.

Gerri @ Ninetynine Ways

February 10th, 2014

Nice list! One of my pet peeves is sites that are plastered with stock photos that you have seen all over the show. Even if you have excellent content and maybe even that bit of information that I’m looking for, certain stock photos will see me leaving a site very quickly!

Peter Macinkovic

February 12th, 2014

We choose the moon is probably the WORST example of not to use Flash, considering that it is an experience designed for Desktop browsing.

It is one of the most immersing and engaging pieces of content on the internet and it’s target audience for these experiences are all in a Desktop learning environment.

To build a DOM-oriented product as an alternative to the original stand alone product would contradict the original intent of the product as how it is utilized in real world situations within the Education sector.

A better solution instead of “Don’t use Flash” would have been to suggest to provide a download to a native app to simulate the experience of a View, which is essentially what “We Choose The Moon” is.

There’s a million reasons not to use Flash: auto-playing media content, isolated plug-in, accessibility etc.

But creating an immerse stand alone multi-media experience that takes advantage of the dynamic AVM2 runtime to simulate an interactive Museum exhibit is not one of them.

Matthew

February 17th, 2014

If anyone is using these standards they should not be in the web industry at all and should hire a professional. Every once in a while I do see a splash page but mainly for multimedia sites like gaming.

Imtiaz Ali

February 21st, 2014

Background music in web design is the most disturbing thing, it totally confuses you when you’re searching something important… that’s why it should be avoided :)

laughs

February 27th, 2014

You left out the worst trend I’ve seen in web design in years – flat design.

Within a few years flat design will be at top of this list as the most boring trend in web design possibly ever.

Tim

March 5th, 2014

Splash pages, or simply loading animations, have become popular once again mostly because of another annoying trend – parallax scrolling one-page websites. It takes so long to load one of those sites that they need to have a loading graphic. Ridiculous. If you build a one-page site that takes that long to load, then you shouldn’t be building websites.
Parallax websites need to go away in general, too.

Tim

March 5th, 2014

“I think it’s hilarious that the author complains about intrusive popup ads, but his own site uses one on the homepage. FAIL.”

That is hilarious. Yeah, Rick, you might want to change that on your Signazon site. LOL

Another disturbing trend… poorly written and poorly researched content.

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