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Web Design: Trends vs. Movements


Trends and movements are constantly working in the field of design, whether it’s a new design technique or styling practice.  From web 2.0 to the use of CSS grid systems, to the movement away from table based layouts to DIV and semantic based code.

The Web’s designers and developers have created an open environment where sharing knowledge with each other is encouraged. While excellent resources can spur from this environment, rampant copycat-ism and faddish repetition can flourish just as easily. This article will examine some of the major movements in web design and the trends that, for better or worse, came from each.

So what exactly constitutes a movement, and what differentiates it from a trend?

From the Wikipedia article Art Movements:

“each movement was seen corresponding to a somewhat grandiose rethinking of all that came before it […] Generally there was a commonality of visual style linking the works and artists included in an art movement.”

From the Wikipedia article Fad:

“a trend, meme or a craze, is any form of behavior that develops among a large population and is collectively followed with enthusiasm for some period, generally as a result of the behavior’s being perceived as novel in some way. A fad is said to “catch on” when the number of people adopting it begins to increase rapidly. The behavior will normally fade quickly once the perception of novelty is gone.”

The key factor that differentiates a movement from a trend is that movements share a common goal and a sense of purpose. For example, the punk rock movement of the late 1970’s and 80’s was never deemed the “leather jacket movement” or the “mohawk movement”, simply because leather jackets and mohawks were just the items associated with the core group (the punk rockers). These items were then picked up by the masses, and at that point, became “trendy”.

Trends are most often executed with little thought of the actual principles from which they may have originated.

web design, and although most designers cringe at the thought (“tables = bad!”), tables truly did set the stage for the graphically intense web we know today. Additionally, the table based layout helped convince the business world to invest time and resources in deveopling their online presence. Without these investments, it’s unlikely web designers and developers would hold the jobs they currently have.

The use of tables offered “easy” multi-column layouts for the first time, and also made possible the “image slicing” that most designers still do a form of today. Design from this period had the tendency to appear extremely boxy, since anything that wasn’t a hard edge had to be faked with images.

Some of the trends that stemmed from this movement:

  • Blocky header graphics
  • Horrible “splash pages”
  • Kitchen sink navigation on the left side
  • A lot of flat colors/an overall lack of texture.

CSS & Standards

The next major movement in web design, and the movement that most resembled a traditional/cultural movement in respect to its focus and evangelicism, was the web standards movement and the push for the adoption of CSS as a layout tool. This period even led to the term “standardista” being thrown around. This movement helped establish the standards that now serve as the foundation for everything we know today.

Some trends that came from the CSS & Standards movement were:

  • The ubiquitous w3c validation buttons,
  • Putting absolutely everything into a list whether it was semantic or not
  • Using tiny fonts (which have grown even tinier as the sites age and monitor resolution increases)

Web 2.0

The Next Major Movement in Web Design was Web 2.0 or the Interactive Web.

Web designers have long called themselves “interactive designers”, “user experience designers”, “User Interaction Designers”, and pretty much anything EXCEPT “web designers”, but it’s only become more than posturing within the last 5 years or so. Today’s developers and designers are working on sites that are incredibly interactive and often built mostly or entirely on user generated content. Flickr was one of the first sites to use Ajax and user generated content to create a truly immerse experience. For the first time, the a user was an active participant instead of a mere content consumer. Flickr, Myspace, Blogger and other sites like them kicked off the “Web 2.0” movement.

Trends from this period include:

  • The desire to “glossify” everything,
  • Large text and big buttons
  • Starburst style “stickers” declaring that the site was “Web 2.0” or version “2.0”
  • The much maligned “shiny floor effect”.

However the largest trend to come from the movement is probably the name of the movement itself. “Web 2.0” is a clear example of a legitimate movement being adopted beyond the audience that had the education to properly understand its meaning, leading to the experience that we’ve all had where a potential client calls and demands a “Web 2.0 Flash Site”.

Current Movements and Trends

As previously stated, it can often be difficult to differentiate a trend from a movement until time has passed. Currently there is a push for more and more interactivity, using the canvas element, real fonts on the web, and an overall shift to mobile. Only time will tell whether all of these will prove to turn into individual movements, fizzle out into trends that we shake our heads at in 5 years, or coalesce into the next incarnation of web design.

Where do you see it all going? What are some current trends that you can’t wait to see pass?

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