The expressive web (or lack thereof)

over 8 years ago from , Designer & Web Developer

It occurs to me that websites these days are all becoming homogenized… Perhaps as a result of everyone using the same few frameworks or prototyping with the same pre-defined UI kits and themes. They are all (all is obviously an exaggeration) adding up to a rather dull web experience.

Whatever you say about Flash it was a very expressive medium. So I ask you… what are the best and most expressive sites you've seen. Let's post some experimental websites here… (and building stuff out of CSS doesn't count). Where's the Joshua Davis' of this era?


  • Pedro Ivo HudsonPedro Ivo Hudson, over 8 years ago

    Here's a link about this: https://twitter.com/timcaynes/status/554593526034731008

    One of many Joshua Davis of this era: http://soulwire.co.uk/

    Something to think about: http://frankchimero.com/writing/the-webs-grain/

    12 points
  • Pedro Pimenta, over 8 years ago

    I know what you're saying, but I don't (fully) agree. I think it's a good thing that most websites are similar. We're building patterns and standards. You know where to look for most of the stuff. You know where to login. You know where to find most functionality. And what you, as a user, want is to find Information and Content as quickly as you can.

    Now, I too miss some of these websites that made you go "oh!". I think those should be limited to specialized environments. For example, a dull comedy movie website is just sad. But a crazy navigation and animation site for a restaurant is equally sad. And infuriating :)

    10 points
    • Ian Clarke, over 8 years ago

      I totally agree that most sites need to be fairly consistent and based on patterns. Most user want information. What I'm referring to are websites designed specifically to intrigue / challenge / mystify the user or simply push technology to it's limits.

      A great example from years back was the Donnie Darko website – which captured the emotional feeling from the movie as oppose to just showing you trailers etc. Was it easy to use, no. Did you want to see this weird indie movie afterwards, yes.

      1 point
      • Ethan BondEthan Bond, over 8 years ago

        That seems like the difference between design and art, no? There are some truly gorgeous and artistic sites out there that push the limit, but 99% of websites are designed for a purpose that is far more explicit than "relating the feeling" of something.

        2 points
        • Ian Clarke, over 8 years ago (edited over 8 years ago )

          Really the "feeling" of something could be argued as being the most important aspect of a business. It's a client's/customer's belief about a company, and what convinces them to part with their money. The type of websites I'm talking about neglect this fact almost entirely.

          0 points
      • n keylen keyle, over 8 years ago

        I remember that site. That was dope. Today's version would be a black page with a youtube frame for the trailer, a bunch of logos at the bottom, mostly awards, and then whoever the makers were in bed with.

        0 points
    • Jacob TaylorJacob Taylor, over 8 years ago (edited over 8 years ago )

      You wouldn't say the same thing about a magazine though, would you? And in the same way as someone reading say...The Verge, when you read a magazine you are having to navigate information. You read the content, the page numbers, the article titles etc.

      And yet, magazines all look fairly different. Yes, the contents sits towards the front, as with the letter from the editor, and features tend to sit toward the middle. But visually, magazines each have their own specific look and feel; their own brand.

      I don't see why websites need be any different. Sure, it's good to have a standard place for a nav or what goes in a footer. But that doesn't mean the styling of these elements needs to similar across all sites. In doing so, each site loses personality and brand equity; as well as simply being boring.

      Obviously print and digital are different beasts. But don't let the idea of "UX" stand in the way of an compelling user experience.

      1 point
  • Mackenzie DavidsonMackenzie Davidson, over 8 years ago

    Expressive web isn't dead - I think tech sites, and the kind of site that the DN community seems to post / share / discuss, are not v expressive - but elsewhere it's thriving

    stuff like



    web is ripe rn

    6 points
  • Ryan GloverRyan Glover, over 8 years ago

    It may be trite, but: be the change you want to see (this applies to anyone who reads this, not just the OP).

    Sometimes that means pushing back or arguing for a specific way of doing things, or, just flat out doing them a certain way and not worrying about the consequences (i.e. ask for forgiveness, not permission).

    The right people will support you.

    6 points
  • Duncan ReganDuncan Regan, over 8 years ago (edited over 8 years ago )

    Isn't it entirely possible that the websites you're talking about (I immediately pictured homogenized landing sites with big images, a little paralax, Open Sans, etc. etc.) are actually the expressive version of that site? (Fair warning, I'm feeling a little cynical)

    So many of the products I come across are so... boring, that if the site were to be more straightforward it'd probably just be a single sentence:

    "This is a ( pedometer | todo | hour tracking ) app. Download it from the app store."


    Often the site design doesn't really match the products, and a lot of the current trends are putting more than lipstick on a pig, they're dressing pigs up in fancy tuxedos and gowns.

    Maybe all the developers who would rather be making fun experimental sites are just too busy coding the next cat GIF sharing app for tweens.

    6 points
  • Csongor BartusCsongor Bartus, over 8 years ago (edited over 8 years ago )


    It uses asymetric layout based on Flexbox. It has a no-fluff out-of-the-box design with components like hero slider rethinked from scratch and handcrafted.

    No plugins at all except for touch events. The rest is pure Javascript.

    Instead going mainstream I put the energy in creating a living styleguide for it.

    I know it's against the trends. Even here at Designer News was not upvoted / reviewed at all.

    But I take this risk. With premium approach comes premium clients. And continuous innovation.

    5 points
    • Mackenzie DavidsonMackenzie Davidson, over 8 years ago (edited over 8 years ago )

      Agree w this 100%

      My firm has posted a couple sites that we've made / been excited to share - stuff like this: www.d-a-m-p.com & ambiguousardor.gallery - on DN - was not received well / upvoted

      Posted our firms' site, got teased for approach from WP devs

      But I take this risk. With premium approach comes premium clients. And continuous innovation.

      Agree w this 100% ^

      If you're out here not taking any risks - not pushing anyone towards "new" - then the lack of "expressive web" is exactly what you'll get.

      Metamn.io is hard

      2 points
  • Diana Lopez, over 8 years ago
    1. "The best way to complain is to make things."
    2. There are tons of expressive websites. http://webcreme.com/ Imo if you can't find them, that's on you not UI kits.
    3. It's not appropriate for every website to be experimental and not every person with an idea has the resources or TIME to make an experimental website. And yet they can & do make websites, often using patterns they've seen work. That's a good thing to me.
    4. It would be sooo weird if a majority of organizations decided they wanted their website design to be about the designer's personal expression.
    5. You can design a website experience without thinking about color or type. http://uxdesign.cc/ux-methods-deliverables/ Maybe get into this kind of design so you can appreciate it more?
    6. Is it safe to say in every medium there are GREAT works and then the rest? Why would the web be different? I think it speaks to how democratic the web is if not every site has high production value.


    4 points
    • Ian Clarke, over 8 years ago

      I'll respond to each point here:

      1. Yes of course, but this is a community discussion about a larger issue than a single designer / developer.

      2. That was the original request here, but this post bloomed into a bigger discourse.

      3. Agreed, but shouldn't we aim for more?

      4. I never argued for this. I was arguing for expressing the clients brand/personality/ethos more in a design, rather than presenting a homogenized / standard / predicable web experience.

      5. Of course, but the ultimate end-user experiences those strategies through colour and type. You can't ignore the aesthetic.

      6. I would agree, but greatness inspires no?

      0 points
  • Eva WongEva Wong, over 8 years ago

    After seeing what must be the 10th "Material Design Revamp" for an app, I am thinking the same thing- this is more than just pattern repetition (which is not necessarily a bad thing) or following a new design philosophy, it's now approaching identical look and feel across many interfaces.

    4 points
  • Julian LloydJulian Lloyd, over 8 years ago (edited over 8 years ago )

    I’ve had a similar bad taste in my mouth for almost 2 years, and it’s hard to distinguish between effective design patterns built on emerging web standards… and lack of originality.

    Most people huddle around the idea that users need to know how to perform common actions, breeding a "let’s not rock the boat" mentality—especially for more corporate projects.

    Plus, it’s difficult to quantify the benefit of more unique experiences, which I believe naturally gives way to more generic solutions focused on business/client objectives, e.g. lead capture, conversion, etc. Factor in project constraints (deadline, budget, technical, etc.) and its typically the nail in the "expressive" coffin.

    We struggled with browser inconsistencies (and other pains) for years as the web matured, so it tickles me a little bit that now uniformity has become a problem.

    For me personally, it’s been a 15 year evolution from artist to designer. I’m fighting uniformity by massaging art back into my work, to develop more taste, style and intrigue in my designs.

    3 points
  • Olivier FOlivier F, over 8 years ago

    I feel the same. Typical websites have become terribly repetitive. I don't have a list of cool sites to share but I think it'd be interesting to ask ourselves "why" the web has become so dull. I think there are a few reasons for this:

    1. Making a site responsive is essentially mandatory nowadays, but making sites responsive is hard. Or, put another way, responsive design is easy if you stick to known patterns or frameworks but once you try to do something newish you are in untested waters and you have to do a lot of work to make sure it works everywhere. So people stick to frameworks with predictable outcomes.

    2. We are lacking proper tools. I don't mean we need more frameworks. I mean photographers have photoshop / lightroom, print people have inDesign, and programmers have very powerful IDEs. Web site/page/content people are kind of stuck in the middle and don't have anything that works as well for them as the aforementioned applications. This means making anything is harder than it should be, so the fallback is to take the easy way out.

    3. Web standards aren't all there. We're going to need things like element queries. Browsers don't all support the same things in the same way which means it's better to take the safe predictable way out. And CSS is baffling at times even when implemented according to spec. This all contributes to more risk and labor than is worthwhile, so let's just use a friggin framework and be done with it.

    For all these reasons it's no surprise to me that people choose to stick to boring and obvious.

    2 points
    • Ian Clarke, over 8 years ago

      I'll add my comment to each of your points.

      1. Frameworks - in my opinion not necessarily to blame. I think laziness of the part of the designer is the culprit here. Print designers can design an infinite number of beautiful books based on similar grid patterns. What has happened with web frameworks is that people rarely go outside the provided setup. A lot of bootstrap sites look like bootstrap sites, because little or no effort has gone into using it as a starting point to build from… rather as the final structure designers force their content into.

      2. Tools - Yes we badly need tools that bring designers and coders closer. It will happen. If I was a solely a website front end (not web software) developer I would be worried. In the next few years you'll see tools that largely marginalize front end developers much like lead typesetting was. Designers are usually closer to clients and will exert control over this arena in the coming years as tools become easier and more performant.

      3. Web Standards - Agree!

      0 points
      • Olivier FOlivier F, over 8 years ago

        You're probably right about Frameworks and laziness. I was actually going to put laziness as #4. I probably should have put it there because it's probably a big factor. Although it's also lack of ability to judge and value design from decision makers which results in hiring lazy "designers".

        0 points
    • Csongor BartusCsongor Bartus, over 8 years ago

      Last couple of years it was an explosion in demand for web designers. There is no time to learn the basics it's easier to jump in a bandwagon like Bootstrap and Material design.

      It's the market. And there is a huge demand for uniform looking websites. Project owners don't risk. Neither the designers nor developers.

      It's like back in the times of Oracle and SAP. Decision makers were afraid of going with the competition. They all choose the same solution.

      Nobody to blame. It's up to the individual if it takes the risk of innovation or not.

      0 points
    • Account deleted over 8 years ago (edited over 8 years ago )

      I would like to play devil's and say that an excuse is still an excuse. It's too easy to say we don't have the tools, or that web standards aren't up to par and therefore we cant innovate! I guess i'm struggling to understand why not having the proper tools or websites being to complex to code can't force experimentation and change. Were problem solvers here right? Its the only way change happens.

      OP is right tho, shit is really homogenized but the web now still looks way different and sophisticated than 4 years ago. Its practically caught up to the level of print.

      So, I would argue that it solely rests on creative skill level of the designer/developer backed by a willing client or company who wants to take a risk on making something cool.

      0 points
  • Taulant SulkoTaulant Sulko, over 8 years ago

    These guys are pretty expressive http://okfoc.us/

    1 point
  • Anastasiia Stefanuk, over 5 years ago

    Meanwhile, it’s very useful and “timesaving”. Similar web standards work for most companies/restaurants/cinema, etc. as we have generic solutions which have worked for a long time. I think that all “innovation” should be based on today’s foundation. I don’t tell you to close the door for something new, but today we have one most important factor - usability. And for a long time developers have refined this.

    P.S. If you're looking maybe for new openings and Angular developer jobs, feel free to contact me. More info here.

    0 points
  • A B, over 8 years ago


    0 points
  • Daniel PuglisiDaniel Puglisi, over 8 years ago

    Friend of mine wrote a good article about this called The Death of Individuality online.

    0 points
  • Duke CavinskiDuke Cavinski, over 8 years ago

    It would be nice to see more "lab" projects from big brands and such, where designers and developers can just mess around. But I mostly agree with the comments here that we don't need a restaurant site to be an interactive art project.

    Expressive for many seems to be synonymous with impossible to navigate.

    0 points
  • Tine Karlsen, over 8 years ago

    We are currently working on a design tool for HTML5 publications - where some beta testers have made some cool websites. The design and publishing tool was meant for web-magazines, but some designers found new use for it. We don't use any templates or coding, so you can make some unique things as a designer.

    This is not launched yet - but I will give you a preview: http://dev.layup.io/mag/arctic-kulde

    We are still on beta level, so it is not perfect, yet.

    Let me know what you think.

    0 points
  • Wil NicholsWil Nichols, over 8 years ago

    Honestly it's nice to see this sentiment from folks other than Eli.

    We've had a trend for a while now — the more we see commercial magnates impose design guidelines (think HIG on steroids: Material, etc), the less we see truly original work. And, with our modern definition of "progress" everything that's not commercially-fitting / not "trendy" / is considered outdated and bad design.

    0 points
  • Serge GinzoSerge Ginzo, over 8 years ago (edited over 8 years ago )

    totally true! check the sites on www.awwwards.com

    that's how I start every day.

    live creatively!!

    0 points
    • Wil NicholsWil Nichols, over 8 years ago

      And how many of these open with a hero image with overlayed text? They may be "expressive" but are far from original.

      2 points
  • Kurt JarchowKurt Jarchow, over 8 years ago

    In my opinion, it's in everyone interest to develop and use standards. I don't think we are losing expressiveness.

    It would be interesting to compare with trends of design in other media.

    0 points
    • Ian Clarke, over 8 years ago (edited over 8 years ago )

      Bear with my here… I'm going to try an analogy!

      Let's take the medium of packaging. An old and mature medium, which essentially has been around since people were putting flour in sacks.

      Now when you walk through a grocery store, all the boxes aren't the same. There is a certain uniformity, but by and large they are pretty unique designs. They have to be. They try an sell an experience to the user – the ingredients aren't listed on the front. They sell emotion.

      Websites really have gone the other direction. If they were a shop full of products, each box would be very similar - with the ingredients listed on the front. Easy to understand, easy to find a certain type of product, but lacking any real personality.

      I just think that today very little value is placed on the "emotional connection" that a website can offer. Coca-Colas brand is worth more than anything else they own and that brand is made of consumers emotional contact they associate with that brand.

      I guess what I'm getting at is that a website can be a brand experience, which is extremely valuable, just today most of them are dull experiences.

      2 points
      • Olivier FOlivier F, over 8 years ago

        I totally agree with that. I come across so many Bootstrap sites when looking for things these days that I can no longer tell them apart. They all just blend together and I couldn't tell you which is which from memory. Also, they are very forgettable. Whatever message/product they were trying to pass on gets lost soon after the tab closes.

        1 point