10 Unfortunate Design Trends We All Wished We Could Forget

By on May 2, 2016 in Design Trends
10 Unfortunate Design Trends We All Wished We Could Forget

We all evolve as designers, and the things that we do when we start off aren't always good things years later. Trends come and go, right? And some of them not only need to go, but they need to die a horrible death complete with fire and maybe some kind of explosion. A big one.

Let's take a moment to look at some of the design trends that need to be sent upstate to the farm where overdone bevels and excessive drop shadows go to die. Are they the best? The worst? Heck, who knows, but they all deserve to be on this list.

Also, to die with fire.


Social Media Overload

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Look, we get it: you're online. You've got a Facebook page, you know what Reddit is and you've even got Pocket on your iPhone. Do I really care? Look, I'm all for sharing things online, but there does get to be a point where it's a bit of overload. I mean, can you share a webpage on Instagram? I'm sure you could, but does that make any sense? And does anyone use Google+ anymore? I don't think even Google does. So let's just keep the social media links to a few important ones, and then forget all the fluff. It's tacky and it looks horrible.


Autoplaying Videos

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My daughter is super little — she's not quite 3 yet — and the other day I popped in to check on her while she was taking a nap. I noticed that soon she'd be needing a big girl bed, and even though she wasn't ready yet, I decided to pop online to check out some mattresses. That's when I found the autoplaying video/GIF shown above.

Now I have a fast Internet connection, so it's all good. But a week or two ago I was at a hotel in Portland, and it took me minutes to watch a very brief video on YouTube. Dumping a clip like that into your website and autoplaying it is just annoying, and it's an easy way to get me to click away. Tuft & Needle isn't so bad in that respect, but were I to have checked out the site while I was in Portland, I might have gone somewhere else for my daughter's bedding needs.


Tiny Font Choices

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I'm all for being modern and hip, but sometimes the font size on a website is just too small for me to read, no matter what device I'm on. Case in point: Daring Fireball. I love Gruber's work, but I have to zoom in every time I open the page, otherwise I just can't read it — glasses or not. And that's frustrating, because it's so easy just to go up a point size or two and make things work for a wider audience.

Don't believe me? I found The Reading Edge Series and The Font Bureau while looking for websites with tiny fonts, and they have an interactive page that not only shows off good fonts for the web, but also displays them at various sizes.


Using Flash

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Remember back when designers had to work around Internet Explorer because it was the biggest web browser in the stable? Well I won't get into numbers, but you can bet that a lot of your website's visitors are doing so on an iOS device, and you know what won't work on those? Flash.

This isn't as much of a problem as it used to be, but there are still sites out there that run Flash videos (and autorun them, too — ick) and that means that any iOS user that's trying to check out the page is stuck. Oh, and let's not forget that it has some major security issues, and sometimes the only solution — per Adobe — is to remove Flash entirely. Get modern, folks, and move away from Flash for your videos.


Links — in Print

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As the former editor of a few different magazines, let me start by saying that I understand the problem. Print is a tough place to be right now, so magazines want to send you to their website so they can serve up more ads. Also, if they put a link in an article, they can just mark up that PDF for their online version, which makes the workflow go a bit smoother. Point is, I get it.

But COME ON.

First off, look at that page up there. Tell me, what's their Facebook page's address? Am I supposed to search for it? Do you suppose there's more than one Miracle Mile? Who the heck decided that was a good idea?

Ugh.

Image via The Future Buzz


Beveled and Embossed Everything

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Do you remember when you first got Photoshop how you loved to double click on a layer and see what kind of fun things you could do? No? Just me? Well back in the day, I was a beveling and embossing fool, and I never forgot the drop shadow/inner shadow/inner glow combos that we've seen, too. Yes, I had a problem.

Now yes, when done correctly — and a bit more light handed — all of those tools have their places. But most of the time new designers tend to get awfully liberal with their options, creating a mish-mash of horrible looks. And then when they bring those designs to the web? Forget about it. Fortunately, most of my poor examples of that are gone, but those that linger haunt me to this day.


Horrible Stock Photos

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We've all been in a position where we're forced to use stock photography because of budgets or one thing or another, and so you do the best you can with what you have. Here's a secret: not everybody does their best.

Stock photography may be a necessary evil in some situations, but sometimes they're spectactularly bad. Take the terrifying image above, for example. Is he trying to eat her face? Is he a vampire? Is she a dentist and he needs dental work? Who cares, there's no reason why this photo should exist, and yet it does.


Modal Popups

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Nothing is worse than going to read an article when you find some modal popup blocking your path. And if it's horrible on your desktop, it's even worse on mobile, where often you can't turn it off. I can't tell you how many times that's happened to me on this particular website shown above, and no matter how often I tell it to go pound sand, I'm still stuck reloading it using Ghostery in the background.

Does this have its place? Sure, some people love getting an extra 5% off their next purchase when they fill out one of these boxes. But me? I hate it. HATE IT.


Clickbait Slideshows

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This conversation happened, I'm sure of it.

"Hey web guy, we need to get more people to see our ads. How can we do that?"
"Maybe if we force them to click a bunch of times on a gallery to advance it forward, that'd work."
"Excellent idea, employee. Now what about getting them there in the first place?"
"Oh, we just need a cool title that will either tick them off or appeal to their emotions."
"Like?"
"Off the top of my head? '5 Reasons Your Child will Grow Up Dead,' or something like that."
"Excellent! You deserve a raise!"
"I do?"
"No. Now go back to making shiny buttons with lots of bevels."

Image via The Onion


Skeumorphic Design

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Ah yes, the concept of making virtual objects look like objects in the real world. If you ever held an iPhone pre-2013, you know what I'm talking about; iOS was all about skeumorphic design for a while, and it wasn't awesome. That same concept started to creep its way into the web, and, well, ick.

Now admittedly, the veer away from skeumorphism to flat design tended to go a bit to extremes, and that's got its fair share of problems, too. And when done well, skeumorphic designs look nice. But let's admit it, most aren't done well, and don't even come close to looking real. So stop it. Stop it right now.


Kevin Whipps is a writer and editor based in Phoenix, Arizona. When he's not working on one of the many writing projects in his queue, he's designing stickers with his wife at Whipps Sticker Co.

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30 Comments

  1. randall.whitted

    Bad design trend or just bad technology - web pages that shift up and down as you're trying to read because they're loading videos or more content at the top of the page.

  2. rixturey

    Huge photos and sliders that make you scroll endlessly to get to the info while you try to find where the menu is.

  3. tomodachi

    part of the evolution, what else could we do? love the part of Links-in prints was my favorite ajajajajajja nice post

  4. PaulaSpagnuolo

    I could add a few 'current trends' to this list including Parallax scrolling. It's already overused and nausea inducing.

  5. creativenauts

    star bursts, worked at auto advertising agency for 9 years, as much as we tried, we could never stop getting the dealers to wanting to use star bursts in their ads.

  6. natfee

    Amen to the popups and slideshows! Nothing will make me leave a website faster. I'm a heavy mobile browser, and those two things make it basically impossible to read an article.

  7. VintageTypeCo

    Ahahaha... makes me shudder thinking of when I worked at a marketing firm. Was forced to do most of this.

  8. bloodycnidaria

    Daring Fireball has a Display Preferences page that lets you adjust the font size, though I don't know how long it'll save your preference (haven't tried it out yet).

    Also, ick to autoplay. LET IT DIE, PEOPLE.

  9. amypepper

    Also, seasonal effects: like snow falling down the page at Christmas, pumpkins that bob across the page at Halloween, little bunnies in spring... because little bouncing things are exactly what we need to help us concentrate on whatever it was we wanted to do.

  10. cursedun

    Horrible Stock Photos: LOL. Great article. As for autoplay perpetrators, I've a right mind to set the dogs on 'em, I have.

  11. grumble

    Pages that reload as you are trying to read them (Australian news sites). Namecheap's pages that find what you want then immediately reload to the search page. Wordpress sites - all samey-samey. AND - all of the above!

  12. Mickrock

    What you're talking about here is two things:
    No. 1 is Bandwagonitis; Designers following looks developed by other designers to look modern, cool and trendy.
    No. 2; Lackofagoodideaitis; Copy, copy, copy. As in; if it works for them it's gonna work for me.

  13. Keith_Wilsion

    When I was at design school 20 years ago my lecturer told us "forget font of the month, its about great typography." Never a truer word said!

  14. dorrian

    Lol. This is hilarious. I am a new designer and well on my way to making just about every one of these mistakes:)

  15. beelissa

    I remember when Flash was new and exciting. Same for the beveled and embossed look, which is now old with all of the "flat" and "material design" we have nowadays. Everything new gets old, and you Parallax haters will have your day, too. Great post. Popups are always evil, though I have a plugin now that waits till you're about to leave the page and then comes up with an option to join the mailing list. I don't think that's as bad, but I haven't installed it yet.

  16. GypseeArt

    I feel like these day there can be too much of anything really. Blogs have so many widgets and so many plugins it's not even funny.
    Too much ads is the whole another story. It's tiring and exhausting.

  17. grisha219

    I feel like you were sitting next to me taking notes yesterday. I got frustrated at almost every one of these things! As our world revolves around viewing things on mobile devices and being oversaturated by ads, designs really need to push for ease of use and functionality. Great article!

  18. jennylens

    My pet peeve: light colored type. Worse if also small font. WHO decided very light grey is a great font color? Esp against a light grey background. Like here. Urgh. There's a reason we use BLACK ink on white paper. Contrast.

    Plus those sites for whom a LOT of bright colors (including type) on busy backgrounds.

    Or the designer is so clever he/she hides the menu. Or stashes vital info (like Contact) so you have to Google to find it.

    Wanna know how many phone users know what is the "hamburger" icon? FEW. I've helped so many to find the menus on their phones. Real dumb. Designers, not the public.

    As for WordPress sites looking alike: actually, a lot of sites look like WP but are not. And so what if they look alike? How many ways can you design interactive 2D for a phone and large monitor?

    I care MORE about HOW the info is organized. Like menus, search buttons, organized into categories, tags, etc. Content.

    Websites are not works of art. Mainly cos most designers and those who make their own site haven't the foggiest idea of actual design. That's the BIG WP programmers and other programmers/designers out there.

    But sites can be great resources. IF the info is organized and if the type is readable. No autoplay of ANY sound (omg, go to wedding and lifestyle photographers: they are the worst!), and everything written here. Thanks. Oh well ... preaching to the choir.

  19. BootstrapCreative

    Skeumorphic Design gets a bad rap but I think it helped teach usability of the iphone and show how applications could function. If the iphone was released with the flat UI there would be a demand for guides, tutorials, and manuals because it would be so different.

    The swipe behavior made sense because it was used on pages that looked like "paper pages". This association helped people "get it" faster. Buttons looked like buttons. Switches looked like switches. Now that people understand the basic behaviors (swipes, taps, dragging, pinching) they can remove visual embellishments. Remember the apple pill design http://cliparts101.com/files/61/8A292A8717248AFD6A15C2713943304D/Timmys_Aqua_Style_Button.png This looked clickable so people clicked it. Since people recognize the shape of buttons we can now remove the gradients and have flat design.

    Removing ornamentation can seem so profound and revolutionary but really it is dependent on the first step of visual communication - giving the viewer all the information they need to understand.

  20. jennylens

    Assuming ppl "understand basic functions" is making a HUGE assumption. There's always ppl who still NEED buttons which look like buttons. You'd be SURPRISED but that include recent college grads who otherwise are pretty savvy about a lot of things. Of course one can design only to the elites who "understand" and leave out other vast populations. Not everyone buys from Nordstrom or Anthropologie. They buy from Target and Walmart. Pick your market. I prefer casting a WIDE net. You never know whom you are gonna catch.

  21. Jackie0719

    Along with the hated autoplay video, does anyone remember the autoplay music? I cannot remember a thing I loathe more than autoplay music!

  22. jsperl

    @Jackie Leavitte Autoplay music is unfortunately alive and well in some sectors, such as wedding photography sites.

  23. port2

    I would have to say of all of them listed here, I don't so much mind Skeumorphic Design. The rest of them not so much.

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