The Return of the Beautiful Web

Where have all the gradients gone?

Design trends come and go, and the “utilitarian” look of websites has persisted for the past several years.

  • Flat design brought large blocks of solid color instead of gradients and textures.
  • Full-page photo backgrounds showing on either side of white content areas were replaced by full-width layouts and “bands” of desaturated photos.
  • Rounded corners became sharp, straight lines.
  • Animated elements (other than video) all but disappeared.

The arguments for this simplicity are good:  faster load time, easier understanding, quicker navigation.

Does the “simple web” make us happy?

As described in Web Designer Depot’s article, opens in a new window 7 Predictions for 2017 That Might Actually Happen, “As human beings we’re attracted to beauty. If a product is beautiful, the experience of using it is more enjoyable. A product that is enjoyable will be used more.” In their fantastic article, “ opens in a new windowEmotion and website design,” the Interaction Design Foundation breaks it down to the super-geek level with research on hedonic website elements (e.g., color, images, shapes, and use of photographs); human computer interaction tradition (HCI); and the role of affect and emotion in the examination of information and communication.

While it is well known that emotion is important to the interpretation of experience, it is only in recent years that research has begun to transcend utilitarian aspects of website design to consider empirically affective elements of design. Therefore, not only is it important that websites are useful and easy to use, but also that they entice the user to experience emotions such as enjoyment, involvement, trust, or satisfaction.

Why is beauty on the web important?

In a nutshell, humans like pretty things that make us happy. There will always be a place for utilitarian design, and the mobile web demands that we design more simply. But that doesn’t mean that websites have to be boring or all look the same.

Here are some recent examples of how we’ve used the human desire for beauty and delight to create website designs that are engaging and effective:

opens in a new windowPLIA (the Pollution Liability Insurance Agency for the State of Washington)

Clean, simple design and intuitive calls to action help users quickly find what they need on this government website. Subtle photography and logo-inspired design elements keep it beautiful and engaging.




opens in a new windowHealthy Aging NC

Bright colors, curves, “leaf” icons, and hover animations help make staying healthy exciting and attractive.



opens in a new windowCarteret Community College

Carteret’s website showcases their beautiful waterfront location.

Click on the slider button and hover over a Featured Section to see animation touches that delight. Alex likes to add these to designs because, “They make people happy!” He convinced me of that back when I was stuck on “take-out-anything-extraneous.” I’ve since evolved, and Carteret’s users are convinced as well.


Usability helpers like reliable video playbackbig buttons, and proper plugins are important. On top of those, we’re all in to make the web a more beautiful place.