While it might feel like web design is constantly evolving, there are some trends which cycle between being incredibly influential and entirely unfashionable. Riding these peaks and troughs of popularity is important, whatever the scale of your online presence.
Here are just some of the retro styles that are rearing their heads again and taking web design in a different direction.
Ironic 90s Nostalgia
People who grew up during the dawn of the internet age in the 1990s will have fond memories of dancing hamsters, visitor counters, alarming multi-coloured backgrounds and charmingly ill-chosen fonts.
While most of these trends were eliminated as technology improved and new tools appeared, some businesses have deliberately chosen to embrace this ethos in a tongue-in-cheek way today.
Think that the original website for the 1996 movie Space Jam is not just a fun artefact of old web design, but a template that modern sites should follow? Believe that Geocities was the pinnacle of the entire industry? Then you might want to turn back time and build your entire site around this 90s aesthetic, just like hip American eatery Salazar.
Impactful 80s Styling
As entertaining as ironic 90s nostalgia can be in small doses, it’s not something that most sites will ever consider adopting as a core web design ethos. But there are some fashion trends of the past which are changing expectations within the industry at the moment.
Everyone remembers when Apple rolled out the ‘flat’ interface with iOS back in 2013. This signalled the end of an era for 3D-style icons and also ushered in a return to prominence of pastel colours not seen in such significant volumes since the 1980s.
Flat design remains important to web site creation today, no doubt spurred on by the rise in mobile browsing and the fact that this approach is effective when viewed on a smartphone.
It also works well for sites that want to express personality without suffering from a cluttered layout. Cartoon Network Studios is a good example of this, with its responsive site looking excellent on mobiles and desktops alike while combining flat design with retro colours and iconography to great effect.
The casumocareers website follows this trend as well, although takes things a little further with engaging images, parallax scrolling and animated elements which mix the vintage with the modern.
Artistic Use of Asymmetry
Websites were not always symmetrical, especially in years gone by when a lot more amateurs were involved in their creation and getting everything to look perfect was fairly difficult. But today the use of asymmetry is coming back into fashion, albeit in a much more deliberate way.
This is a kind of rebellion against the rigid, grid-based layouts that many mainstream sites have adopted. Sprinkling a bit of asymmetry into the design can make a site stand out from the crowd, rather than ending up like just another cookie-cutter copy-paste job, or feeling too much like a generic template.
Of course an asymmetrical site will work best when there is a lot of eye-catching imagery to showcase. So e-commerce and fashion sites, or those that exist solely to build a brand’s identity, turn out best.
Overloading each page of a site with animated GIFs used to be all the rage back in the day. Over time they were gradually phased out, if only to save on bandwidth. But animation is having a bit of a resurgence in popularity at the moment, at least for sites that can stretch their budgets far enough to get a custom concept created for them.
These animations do not have to serve any specific purpose, or encourage direct interaction from visitors. As with other retro touches, they just act as a means of getting across a site’s personality.
The animations can be cartoony and child-like, or more advanced and professional-looking. But the key aim is to fill what might otherwise be empty space with something entertaining and attention-grabbing which is not just a static image or a bland video which requires an embedded player.
When it comes to web design, it’s worth looking to the past while paying attention to the present. Blending old and new usually delivers the results you need.