Trends in Web Design: Gradients

September 1st, 2017

Like trends in fashion, music, and other creative fields, trends in design are known to go in and out of style and can never be expected to stick around for too long. Due to the continuous advancements in technology and how we view the web, digital design has seen a broad spectrum of trends in only a few decades. What feels current and in-style now will likely fade in the years to come. Still, being aware of these trends and how to use them properly will ensure that your designs don’t feel too cliché or outdated.

A Brief History of Web Design Trends

During the early years of websites, there was not much focus on the visual design or layout. Sites were very bland and mainly driven by text, including blue hyperlinks, bulleted lists, and very few images. Then, as the internet grew, web design evolved and developed trends of its own (although not good ones). Landing pages, bright colors and drop shadows, flash animations, and tiled backgrounds flooded the internet. Because the design of web pages was limited at the start of the internet, web design seemed to add more and more detail as technology evolved. Then, by the start of the 2010’s, designers began to strip back the detail of websites by creating minimalistic websites with “flat designs.” But is the “flat” trend here to stay? The emergence of gradients used in web design suggests that design is evolving once again.

(full page flat color vs. full page gradient)


Gradients are Making a Comeback

Based on the increasing number of blended colors used on websites, it’s clear that gradients are a current web design trend. But what makes these gradients different than gradients used throughout digital design in the early 2000’s? These gradients are subtle. Rather than trying to fit an entire rainbow in the hero text of your website, designers are blending bright similar colors into the background to add just the slightest bit of depth and visual interest that flat design had been lacking. With the right combinations, viewers will be drawn across the page, from one color to the next.

(gradients used in smaller amounts, alongside white space)


Why Gradients Make Sense

  • Gradients add more depth and visual interest than a solid, flat color would
  • Gradients do not require photography or illustration to look stunning
  • If you do want to include photography or illustration, gradients can be used as an overlay on top.
  • In terms of development, creating gradients is easy and can be done completely in CSS. (The only things you will need are the colors you are blending and direction they are fading.)
  • The possibilities are endless! By blending colors together in a gradient, it is almost as if designers are creating new colors entirely. The near-infinite amount of colors leaves a lot of room for creativity when blending them. (Check out coolhue for some really awesome gradient inspiration.)

(gradients used as overlay on photos)

My Thoughts

Although the minimalistic/flat design trend eliminates unnecessary distractions from the actual web content, some designs nearly cross the line of being too minimal and I often find myself uninterested in them. With online content always evolving, designers are faced with the task of grabbing the attention of viewers without going over-the-top, and I believe that gradients are a great solution. As long as the color blending is subtle and that the gradients themselves are not overused, web designs will not appear cliché or tacky. You’ll find that blending analogous colors as well as monochromatic colors will create the most subtle gradients. (Blending colors opposite on the color wheel will create muddy, brown colors in the middle.)

While we are never sure of what the next trend will be, design is always changing and adapting to avoid becoming stale. Subtle gradients that use bright, saturated colors are trendy and cool and just interesting enough to catch our attention for now. But will this trend last? It’s unlikely. Trends will come and go as web design evolves. It may be subtle and unnoticeable at first, but like the colors of a gradient, this trend will eventually fade into something new.


Stefanie Osmond

Stefanie is Springboard's graphic designer and creative problem solver. Beyond her desk, she spends her time crafting, trying out new dinner recipes, watching competitive baking competitions, and sipping on tea.

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