Categories / Trends

10 Unfortunate Design Trends We All Wished We Could Forget

Kevin Whipps March 31, 2021 · 7 min read
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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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About the Author
Kevin Whipps

Hi! My name is Kevin Whipps, and I'm a writer and editor based in Phoenix, Arizona. When I'm not working taking pictures of old cars and trucks, I'm either writing articles for Creative Market or hawking stickers at Whipps Sticker Co.

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