Design & UX
By Patrick Del Rosario

Top Design Trends Business Websites Should Avoid

By Patrick Del Rosario

Web designers always want to stay on the cutting edge of trends and sell those ideas to their clients to show that they can handle the latest and greatest technical and artistic advances, but that doesn’t mean that they are right for all businesses.

In fact, there are a number of supposedly up-and-coming trends this year that many companies would do well to avoid. Here are just a few of the most popular ones out there.

Variable typography

Recent innovations have made it a lot easier for designers to not only craft their own unique typography, but also use that typography in incredibly interesting ways. But unless you actually own a web design business and want to show the world how artistic your typographic designs can be, this is one to stay away from.

For years, experts have warned businesses off trying multiple font combinations, or typography that strays so far from the norm that it becomes a distraction, and that lesson applies here as well. Companies should strive for sites that are clear, functional, and as easy as possible to use and navigate. Typography that’s too strange will just confuse your audience, and if they can’t read it, how does that help your overall message?

Buttons that are large and in charge

This one is going to be tough for businesses to decide against, because there are good reasons to do it – but it also has the potential to hurt your site in other ways. There’s a school of thought that says that more and more web businesses are going to need to start using huge buttons because of the increasing number of people surfing the web on their phones and using touchscreens. Simply put, bigger buttons are easier for them to touch, which means that it makes navigation easier.

Obviously, improving navigation is something that every business wants, but there’s a big downside to this trend. Increasing the size and number of buttons on a site means that it will be more graphics-intensive and operate much more slowly – you can see how that would be an issue for just about anyone. Until designers find a way to avoid this problem, many businesses should probably skip this design change.


Taking it to the third dimension

With-it designers aren’t calling them 3D websites, but that’s essentially what they are. The technique is actually a retro one that video games used a lot before they actually became 3D – parallax scrolling. With parallax scrolling, designers can make a site look 3D by placing elements on different planes and having those planes move at different speeds to create the illusion of three dimensions.

Why should your site stay away from something that probably sounds cool and interesting? Because for most businesses, there probably just isn’t much of a point to the effect. Sure, it looks good, but why should your organic baby clothes company spend the extra money just to make moms feel like they’re shopping in three dimensions? “Cool” and “interesting” by themselves don’t sell anything. Unless you can see a specific way in which the 3D is going to improve the experience of your users, this one isn’t worth it.

Future view

Experts are predicting that sites in 2013 will move towards more “futuristic design elements” that fit the “futuristic devices” people are using, but for many companies, this feels like a mistake. Why would you want your plumbing business to look like modern art, or your t-shirt site to make customers feel like they’re in a spaceship? Bright varied colors and icons might be all the rage for mobile devices, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll make your site better or easier for people to use.

What you might want to do, however, is scale back on retro, real-world design elements such as framing your pictures with a Polaroid camera shell or having that text box look like a spiral notebook. Those things did a good job of bridging the divide between the real and digital worlds for people who weren’t as comfortable, but today so many people have become used to doing things digitally that many of them don’t even recognize those analogue references.

While all of these trends will probably play some part in shaping the future web, they are not very likely to help your business website increase traffic, sales and profitability. Keep your feet on the ground, and when a designer suggests implementing one or more of these trends, make sure there’s a clear business-related reason or reject the suggestion.

  • Jeff Seager

    Well said, Patrick.

    I think the essence of what you’re saying is that a website should emulate the qualities of the business it represents.

    Ever see an old man or woman all pimped out in the latest teen or young adult fashion? Same thing. Awkward! I think a lot of less experienced designers are confused about that, imagining that their design represents themselves instead of their client.

  • on the subject of larger buttons – if they are pure css buttons, no matter what the size, are they still considered graphic-intensive and prone to avoiding. A responsive website can use css to grow the size of the button depending upon viewport – again, with no images needed.

  • Ando

    Disagree about the large buttons taking up more bandwidth/affecting performance. Surely you’ve heard of CSS???? Even on IE you can get buttons looking pretty decent without using images.

    • Jack Walsh

      ditto … ;-)

  • Claire Webber

    Totally in agreement with the parallax scrolling/overly retro or analogue, and crazy typography scale backs, but big buttons? I don’t think I’ve come across a site that’s caused me to go, ‘dang, that’s too many buttons’ but I have almost thrown my phone across the room trying to navigate a tiny-buttoned website. We’ve all experienced the impossible-on-the-phone micro-button problem. I’m all for big buttons; long live big buttons.

  • I’d like to add something else to the list of things Web designers should avoid: ultra-low-contrast text and links. I had a user, who also happened to be the president of the company, ask me where the bottom links were when she looked at the site on her laptop. They were completely invisible, because her laptop display was mediocre at best. Likewise I’ve had trouble myself reading some of the light gray on white on text that seems to be popular these days. Haven’t you heard that the population is aging? One of the things that happens when we age is that our eyesight deteriorates. Unless you are certain that your audience is young, affluent enough to afford top-quality equipment, and more concerned with fashion than function, make your text legible, please.

  • I dont think that the part of Large Button is right. Maybe you should focus it to dont use to much graphic intensive page. But large button, as all the comments here says, sticking to CSS we can make beautifull buttons without the need of images, and if we needed images, i think that CSS sprites can leverage all the problems here.But really the problem isnt big buttons, the problem is packing a web with heavy images.

    But you make a good point in Parallax. Its look visually wonderfull, like a lot of Flash Pages, but they don’t sell your products an can make older people be confused by that navigation. Wonder what Nielsen would have to said to parallax web pages.

  • I don’t think you can make sweeping statements like this, any more than you can make a list of 5 “must-have” design trends. A good design will serve the goals of the website; a bad design won’t. Maybe being cool, edgy, radical is a key business objective.

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