Web design trend cycles come in waves. And in 2022, we’re still riding the swell of nostalgia and emerging technologies that gained prominence during the early days of the pandemic, when everyone was searching for something new and familiar at the same time.
Youth culture from the ‘90s and early aughts collided with AI and virtual worlds in the metaverse, creating spaces for visual experimentation in color and form that would never exist outside of the digital realm.
In borrowing visual cues of the early web and merging them with new tech and new experiences, designers spent the year navigating an in-between moment. What evolved from that push and pull of aesthetics was less of a cohesive style and more of an attitude shift; web designers seemed unafraid to be brash and abrasive, yet beckoning and inviting, and all in all just a little more messy. That’s not going away anytime soon. Here are the top web design trends from this past year, and the tech and cultural influences that shaped them.
2022’s biggest web design trends
2. Acid green
4. Nonstop '90s
10. Candy-like color
1. AI-powered branding
Text-to-image generators like DALL-E 2 and Midjourney took the internet by storm this year, and it wasn’t long before we saw brands starting to experiment with the new technology in their own campaigns and web applications.
Heinz used DALL-E 2 to imagine how AI sees ketchup, &Walsh utilized the technology to generate a series of branding icons that promote the use of clean nuclear energy “Isodope,” and designer David Rudnick created a genre-defying identity for Web3 conference FWB Fest.
Web and digital designers wondered if this new tech trend might be coming for their jobs. But so far, the tools simply have become part of the creative process. “Whenever there is a need to explore visual concepts, designers have always looked for new ways to express their ideas,” says Zachary Bautista, creative director and partner of Rethink agency, which worked on the Heinz campaign. “As A.I. becomes more available to designers we think it'll be yet another tool in our creative arsenal, similar to Photoshop or 3D-printing.”
Images 1-3 courtesy &Walsh. 4-7 courtesy Rethink. Images 8-9 courtesy FWB Fest.
2. Acid green
From Buck's vibrant rebrand of Amazon’s Freevee to sustainable food brands like LOKOL, designed by brand designer Carla Palette, and Graza, designed by New York-based Gander studios, fluorescent green seemed to appear everywhere online this year—and we expect to see more of this web design trend in 2023. That’s because these vibrational, neon hues create an immediate visceral charge among consumers, says Camille Chu, group creative director at Buck. It cues energy, excitement, electricity, and high volume—all at once.
“Aside from being attention-grabbing, the color is supported extremely well on digital surfaces, where the majority of marketing and communications and media buys now live,” she explains. Acid green treatments are also becoming synonymous with Gen Z audiences, a digitally-native target group that’s embraced 90’s culture trends like neon clothing, sporty bags, and rave culture.
But the color treatment is also being revived in new ways. In the past, neon was largely used to inject compositions with a sense of happiness and a pop of color, according to Editor X research and development designer Amit Asulin. “Today, use of fluorescent color has become more sophisticated, restrained and mature: appearing next to cold color, black and white, and moving on a tightrope of contrast and balance with other colors in the frame.”
Images, clockwise: 1 and 3 courtesy Buck. Images 2 and 4 courtesy Carla Palette.
3. Dynamic identities and logomarks
Animated and three-dimensional identity design has been around for decades, but we’ve seen an increase in the trend over the past two years on the web, as the need to create more dynamic virtual experiences during the pandemic increased.
Though there has been some societal return to “normalcy,” there is permanence to the hybrid way in which we live between our physical and virtual worlds—so it makes sense that there’s increasing interest in dynamic systems. “The ability to accept dynamic logomarks and identities is becoming more readily available because they can potentially provide a far more detailed, distinct, and often unique look at any scale,” says Eddie Opara, a partner at Pentagram, of their increased use.
Video courtesy Under Consideration.
Ultimately, the inherent flexibility of dynamic identities creates highly innovative and versatile systems that a static logomark just can’t replicate. A few such examples: Opara and his team’s dynamic system (and 3D animated logo) for their rebrand of the Mellon foundation, Under Consideration's Brand New Conference dynamic brand system, the campaign for Hoop Cities by Saatchi & Saatchi, and GSK’s identity by Wolf Ollins.
Images 1-3 courtesy Pentagram. Images 4-5 courtesy Brand New.
4. Nonstop ‘90s
Nostalgia remained a dominant theme in all aspects of design this year, and among web design trends, it’s probably the biggest. We first identified the takeover as a major 2021 design trend, and have continued to see countless brands reference Y2K-inspired retrofuturism, like this shiny chrome identity for Snipfeed by Studio Nari. COLLINS’ colorful Girl Scouts rebrand felt like a summer camp version of ‘90s teen catalogs and clothing brands like dELiA*s and the Limited Too, but reimagined for a digital Gen Z audience.
These and other innovative uses of the aesthetic captured the messiness and experimentation that existed in early internet culture, which in itself is something we reminisce about in our hyper-curated online lives today (consider portfolios like this one, by Ryan Haskins, or D&AD’s New Blood Awards branding by Digital Fairy, which caters toward emerging designers).
Motion elements of the Girl Scouts brand by Collins. Video courtesy Collins.
There was a sense of freedom and naivety in the fact that nobody really knew how to behave online in the noughties, which may be why the aesthetic is so popular today, according to Jane MacFarlane, brand creative director at the Digital Fairy. It was a time when people didn’t have a perfectly curated online presence.
“I think that brands can learn from the throwaway playfulness of the noughties aesthetic,” says Macfarlane. “Like rejecting good content, creating instinctively and abolishing the brand preciousness that followed the earlier more messy internet boom.”
Digital graphics for the D&AD New Blood Awards. Image courtesy The Digital Fairy.
5. Subversive navigational hierarchy
This year, web designers are subverting the typical focal points of a website away from core content to auxiliary elements like a top nav menu or a footer. Consider the once humble footer, typically used as an obligatory container for legalese at the bottom left corner of the screen.
Now footers are appearing front and center. High Tide’s identity for Symbol and Studio Kiln’s site for booking agency Pure Represents both showcase how the big website footer made a big splash in 2022. But the use of large text on the web is also subversive in its inspiration: it draws from conventions of print and editorial design. As Elizabeth Goodspeed wrote of the trend, “What is a big footer if not a kind of masthead?”
The web design trend correlates with an increase in expressive logos, like Alright Studio’s work for ice cream company Marco or Élise Rigollet’s identity for mycology-based skincare brand Herbar. “I chose to feature the logo at this size purely because so much work went into it,” Rigollet explained. “Using it at this scale allows the details and beautiful curves to really shine, especially since it is used at smaller sizes on other mediums.”
Image 1: An oversize footer by Anita Goldstein. Image 2 courtesy Élise Rigollet for Herbar.
6. Friendly fonts
Typography took a softer turn this year, as referenced in the expressive identities for Herbar and Marco, as well as RoAndCo’s identity for suncare brand Bask, or any number of independently produced consumer packaged goods, like chocolate brand Kyoot, plant-based jello company Oddball, or kombucha and hard smoothie brands Slug Club and Smooj.
“Squishy sans” fonts feel retro but contemporary, containing rounded terminals, small counters, and thick strokes that are designed to stand out in algorithmic social feeds, and make good use of web designer’s fave new, aforementioned real estate: big footers.
As Elizabeth Goodspeed explains in her article on bulbous, squishy sans serifs, they’re “unselfconsciously voluptuous and revel in their softness. All sugar, no spice. They’re the opposite of blanding—a welcome and friendly foil to the overt seriousness of the buttoned up branding from the past decade.”
Images clockwise from top-left courtesy: Oddball; RoAndCo.; The Collected Works; Dakota Light-Smith.
7. Soft, tactile 3D elements
Softness also extended beyond typography and into tactile 3D brand elements. Digital agency Active Theory created a variety of soft and fuzzy interactive animations for Spotify’s ‘GetReadyWithMusic’ in-app experience, as did Buck’s campaign for Microsoft’s Surface Laptop, Rabbit Hole's Leeds International Festival of Ideas identity, and Burn and Broad's Never Done Playing for Nike incorporated tactile, amorphous shapes and playdough-like doodles, respectively, while the branding for baking powder company Loosey Goosey was on display and nestled into voluminous 3D rendered balloon bubbles.
There is an important technical element guiding the web trend: those big, bright areas of color look great on-screen, the subtle motion often applied to them is a natural fit within web environments, and they clearly communicate messaging in the context of a social media feed.
“In terms of brand communication, I think there is an acknowledgement that life is becoming more difficult and dangerous, and a squishy 3D shape presents an antidote to that,” says Julian Glander, an independent 3D artist, adding that the application “speaks to the innocence and safety of youth.”
Images 1-2 courtesy Buck. Images 3-5 courtesy Rabbit Hole. Images 6-7 courtesy Burn and Broad.
8. Digital collage and handmade aesthetics
One of the themes that ran through several web trends this year was the desire to break away from convention, from the neat and orderly or expertly curated and controlled. Digital collage, DIY, and the continued popularization of handmade aesthetics were major signifiers of that, and it appeared in personalized, animated loops across social media for everything from We Are Playground's Art Department Festival by Buck to mega brands like Virgin Voyages, Nike, and Twitter.
Collage represents a physicality that’s missing from web experiences, so seeing those textures in digital environments feels fresh, explain designers Christina Huang and Emma Berliner, aka BECH. “The grunge/diy/collage aesthetic historically appealed to youth generations, and now brands are using it in order to appeal to a Gen Z audience,” BECH explained via email.
“Gen Z is the latest youth generation to adopt this aesthetic, not only because it is highly expressive, approachable and irreverent, but also because it looks like it was made by a person, rather than the soulless algorithms of digital design.”
Images 1-3 via Buck. Images 4-5: global branding for Nike's Move to Zero campaign, via Cordova Canillas. Images 6-7: Branding for cryptocurrency startup Metaphor, created from a 100+ asset library of collaged public domain images, via Wildish & Co.
9. Scroll-based animations and triggers
With an influx of excitement over the metaverse and immersive web experiences, digital spaces became a playground for experimentation in interactive design this year. Scrollytelling techniques, engaging hover effects and microinteractions were utilized in nearly every brand sector, from agency sites like Fix Studio to furniture company Moooi to Mailchimp’s initiative Bloom Season (even the Utah Jazz got in on the trend). Gucci’s Vault art space utilized a z-axis scroll effect in its cryptoart gallery collaboration with SuperRare, giving the illusion of depth as users browsed and bid on NFTs in the stylized 3D environment.
“It's exciting to see scroll-based animations and triggers used more frequently,” says Masato Nakada of The Happening Studio. “Many websites are no longer relying on just a simple vertical scroll, but enabling users to explore diagonally and via the z-axis as well.” This is happening, in part, because designers themselves are always looking to innovate, says Editor X lead designer Vered Bloch. “It’s really challenging to design a website in this style,” she explains. “There’s a lot of thought behind it. So if this type of scrolling serves the concept of the website, it can really be mind blowing.”
Designers are attempting to humanize the screen space with microinteractions that provide feedback and foster a sense of wonder through subtle uses of animation, according to designer and CalArts instructor Lisa Armstrong. Armstrong attributes the use of microinteractions to a response to both years of brutalist web design trends, which default to bare-bones functionality in terms of navigation, and the isolation of the global pandemic. "At any rate, users seem to want to feel more connected to the tech they engage with,” she explains.
Video courtesy Fix Studio.
10. Candy-like colors
With all the turmoil we’ve collectively lived through in 2020 and 2021, it’s no wonder that many of the web design trends seen online this year pointed to a yearning for playfulness and joy. There was a clear departure from the restrained neutral backgrounds that have always been the default, and were instead replaced with an infusion of dopamine-filled color palettes.
Cultural organizations like The Eames Institute and the personal site of Jade Purple Brown brought a kaleidoscope of colors to the screen, as did the vermillion-filled branding for cocktail bar Seed Library by Magpie Studio. “We’re seeing more vibrant color online because designers are feeling more confident in spec’ing brighter, bolder colors that look great in RBG, ” says Ben Christie, co-founder and creative partner of Magpie Studio.
Vibrancy and color also saturated branding for prebiotic drink Poppi, noodle brand Goodles, and playful energy drink Juvee, all designed by Zero Studios. Mark Goldwell, founding partner and executive creative director of Zero Studio says that at the end of the day, “folks are bored with minimalism, and see the power of vibrant colors and maximalism to invoke a sense of fun and welcomeness to their brand worlds.”
Images 1-3 courtesy Poppi. Images 4-5 courtesy Goodles.