Tomorrow's design today
February 12, 2008 10:40 AM   Subscribe

Most of us are familiar with the web 2.0 look - bright colours, big fonts, rounded corners, gloss and reflection effects - but what sites are breaking free of the stereotypes and pushing design boundaries? Which are your favourite sites that boast a cutting edge, next-generation design aesthetic? Which sites are pioneering tomorrow's design, today?
posted by skylar to Media & Arts (32 answers total) 66 users marked this as a favorite
The Designers Republic
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:41 AM on February 12, 2008

I'm fairly serious.
posted by gyusan at 10:56 AM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

gyusan and Blazecock Pileon: But is this new version of the Internet ADA-compliant? It all looks a little seizure-inducing to me...
posted by limeonaire at 11:00 AM on February 12, 2008

Agreeing with limeonaire. Man I hope the future of web design isn't entirely flash and obnoxious animated gifs.

I recommend A List Apart. Their site itself, while awesome, isn't exactly 'next generation' (nor is it web-2.0-ey), but you should look at the homepages/blogs of the professional web designers who write the articles.

Also see [flash, necessarily so.]
posted by zazerr at 11:11 AM on February 12, 2008 [4 favorites],, and others that prioritize content with a bare-minimum design. How many "well designed" sites do you really use?
posted by aye at 11:12 AM on February 12, 2008

What is going on with that Designers Republic site? Am I not getting something here? Is it not rendering properly? It looks like a 2nd grader threw up in there.
posted by fusinski at 11:13 AM on February 12, 2008

wow, I hate to be a crank about this stuff, but I'm not sure DR or the MIA site are things I'd consider indicative of 'the next big design phase'.

designer's republic is a cool old classic, but i'm not sure their site is cutting edge anymore -- that's the same site and style they've had for at least 5 years, and they've been around long enough that they're getting bit on HARD by design school students. Their sort of style will be around for awhile, but it's been reduced to a archetype. I've had tons of conversations where someone will say "oh, yeah, it's sorta Designer's Republic-y". In my mind, if you're using something as shorthand for a look, it's lost its edge. The WARP site was their big and widely lauded project, and that happened in like .. 2000, if not earlier.

I'm not sure I'd place a nurave look (basically retro early 90s) as necessarily cutting edge either. We're in the midst of the whole nurave thing -- maybe just not so much in the US yet -- it's going to be played out pretty quickly. Heck, there was a backlash almost before it even started because people love to hate neon, and well, ravers. Beyond that, I don't think the mia site is done well as it is done 'ironically'. The olympic 2012 logo is a great example of nu-rave-style design done well, but even that has an already dated feel to it -- maybe by the time we get to 2012 it'll be nice and familiar to most people rather than inspiring strident hatred.

As for future of design? I think CSS3 is going to play a big part. I think we are going to see more and more javascript, and more and more flash. Look-wise, I think we're going to keep seeing large fonts and sparse clean design -- this sort of design plays better to a fluid monitor layout and to big screens in general, and I think as more people browse both on wide screen resolutions AND on things like iPhones, the biggest problem for designers will be to find a layout that is readable and usable in all formats.

Best sites that I know of for seeing cutting-edge work that people are launching right now are and, but it's been awhile since I've followed designer portfolio blogs and so those two may be dated. the thing with a lot of modern design work is you are only going to see bits and pieces of these sites trickle down to more mainstream usage. Do a survey of all the sites posted in those newsfeeds and pick out what they have in common and you'll probably have a good idea of what you'll be seeing more of in the next year or two.
posted by fishfucker at 11:29 AM on February 12, 2008

Not sure how pioneering or next-gen it is, but I love the site for a recent Peaches album Impeach My Bush.
posted by anthropoid at 11:33 AM on February 12, 2008

",, and others that prioritize content with a bare-minimum design. How many "well designed" sites do you really use?"

I feel like that is really representative of Web 1.0. At least for Craigslist, they don't put a premium on technological advances or any sort of graphic design and it shows.

I'd wait til the Webbys are announced soon and they should give you a pretty good idea as to where the front-end design is going.
posted by CAnneDC at 11:35 AM on February 12, 2008

Just about anything by Google (Gmail, Reader, Notebook, Search) is simplicity with perfection. Graphics that are all over the place, glossy, flashing or anything else considered "fancy" is a waste of surfing/loading time. I'll instead pick another site that is less intrusive. The new cutting edge is simple and fast, period.

Note: Blazecock Pileon and gyusan... that was no help at all. Sorry, but that's the way it is. I would never visit those sites, ever.
posted by magnoliasouth at 11:36 AM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Not sure how pioneering or next-gen it is, but I love the site for a recent Peaches album Impeach My Bush.

Any site that loads in my browser with a blank screen saying I need to download the latest Flash player -- and nothing else -- is neither pioneering or next-gen, or worth downloading Flash player for.
posted by davejay at 11:41 AM on February 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

Incidentally, if you really want to know what Web 3.0 is, it's this: using the browser as a portal through which the internet is accessed, rather than as an application. The browser becomes, essentially, a little desktop onto which typical OS-based interactions can take place, like dragging an excel document to an in-browser table and having that table populate with the data from the document.
posted by davejay at 11:44 AM on February 12, 2008

I like to check out these sites for recent stuff that has been designed out there:



The design is the sites themselves is pretty solid, and they lead to tons of other quality web work. Not sure if you could distill any specific style direction from them, but some inspiring stuff nonetheless. Enjoy.
posted by BorgLove at 11:56 AM on February 12, 2008

Web Creme is updated almost daily, and compiles some of the best new designs from across the web (and the world). It's a little heavy on designer portfolios and creative agencies, but it also includes commercial sites, social network applications, just about anything that looks nifty and cool. I don't know about it's predictive quality, but it's great for clean, beautiful, and appealing web design.
posted by junkbox at 12:07 PM on February 12, 2008

Web-2.0-the-design (as opposed to Web-2.0-the-philosophy) grew, IMO, out of the frustrations of web-literate designers in the early part of the decade. They were stuck doing corporate table layouts with 9pt fonts and javascript rollover menus in their day jobs, and the features that went into their own sites (well-sized sans-serif fonts, CSS, pastels, big buttons, etc) were a reaction against that ("see? this is how it should be done!").

Now the corporate world has well and truly done that style to death, I'd look to designer's blogs and personal projects for new style to emerge. Personally, I'd bet on very sophisticated use of alpha blending to get something close to print layouts, plus a few CSS3/Firefox-only features starting to creep in. Smashing Magazine seems to think it's gonna be colour-heavy grunge.
posted by Leon at 12:09 PM on February 12, 2008 [4 favorites]

Smashing Magazine seems to think it's gonna be colour-heavy grunge.

that would actually make a lot of sense, as a sort of stylistic counterpoint (without departing too far from the norm) to the uber-clean and shiny 2.0 stuff.

If I hear "how about we use those shiny button things?" one more time I'm probably going to drive to Cupertino and start burning shit down.
posted by fishfucker at 12:16 PM on February 12, 2008

I wouldn't be surprised if "Web 3.0" becomes more like Web 1.0, due to more and more people accessing the internet through non-computer means, such as the iPhone, RSS, and the various game consoles. The simplicity and success of Google points toward this.
posted by meowzilla at 1:09 PM on February 12, 2008

Now the corporate world has well and truly done that style to death,

Actually, as far as tools *for* corporations, it's still firmly stuck for the most part in the Dark Ages. Intranet-type applications are still largely stuck with old design methodologies, if my limited experience means anything.

I would think hope that true "next-generation design" means "easy to use, backed up by verifiable user testing data". We shall see.

ObAnswer: sites like TripIt come to mind, where your interaction with the site is reduced to a minimum (TripIt takes forwarded emails representing itinerary information and automagically parses it and makes a pretty, integrated source for this info that's accessible from anywhere. No initial signup is necessary).

Reducing the barriers to entry (minimum/no signup). Less decisions from the user, more intelligent guessing to determine user preferences.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 1:45 PM on February 12, 2008

No one seemed to like my suggestion, and it's not that I'm particularly keen on it myself ... but I posted it because it was listed among several others in a Graphic Design USA magazine article (april 07 i think) specifically on "next generation" web design that emphasized anti-2.0/retro-90s styling. Make of it what you will.
posted by gyusan at 1:47 PM on February 12, 2008

Meowzilla has a good point, but I think it will probably have a divisive effect on design: there will be minimalist websites intended to be accessed from phones (particularly news, email etc), and there will be less functional but prettier websites for less urgent things, such as blogs.
posted by indienial at 1:58 PM on February 12, 2008

I agree, Designers Republic is still basking in their mid-90s Warp Records glory. They need to step it up. I personally think the web will evolve into more organic, 'hand-drawn' style designs (such as Olofsdotter) and move away from the techie sleek slick look.
posted by afx114 at 2:36 PM on February 12, 2008

Thanks for the suggestions so far. I'm more interested in the visual aesthetic of a next-generation design than the user interface or technology behind it. Craigslist is functional but I don't think it will inspire the next generation of graphic designers.

In a way, the Smashing Magazine piece about grunge design is probably closest to what I'm seeking - opinions on what would be the next step on from the status quo of glossy logos and rounded corners - though I have a hunch the grunge look won't catch on as broadly as the web 2.0 look did.

Any more?
posted by skylar at 2:41 PM on February 12, 2008

I think functional degradation is going to be a large aspect of whatever next buzzword design. You go to the same site from an iphone on edge vs wifi vs OLPC vs mac pro, and each will display the same content, but it will be a push/pull interaction between the browser and the server to negotiate which content to display.

One implementation of this is if you use the youtube app on your iphone via edge you are actually served a lower bitrate video than if you load it over wifi. A lot of page design is already starting to swing in this direction, probably in part because a good portion of designers I've worked with were the first to pickup iphones, and also because 'disable images' isn't cutting it anymore for low broadband navigation.

I wouldn't be surprised if the info feed / rss attitude wont start pushing for site designs around a standard xml framework for content, and then a completely module design approach ontop of it. CSS accomplishes this alot. I guess most pages and sites really are doing this now, but swinging to the point of the browsers taking advantage of it and the designers really focusing on a beautiful degradation of their design as it is displayed in various lofi incarnations (because to be honest, I don't need to see a 400 pixel high welcome banner on your blog every time i visit from my iphone).
posted by mrzarquon at 2:56 PM on February 12, 2008

Just about anything by Google (Gmail, Reader, Notebook, Search) is simplicity with perfection.

you're joking, right? I'm not a designer, but a user. Google is navigation hell. From one page to the next, you may or may not be able to find a link to something that was available on the previous page.
posted by tdischino at 3:22 PM on February 12, 2008

I'd agree from a purely graphic design viewpoint that a David Carson/Grungy style will be a bit more popular in the months ahead. This makes sense as both a reaction to the clean shininess of current design (and overzealous use of istockphoto) and also as a reflection of a bit of a return to this style in the real world - late 80's/early 90's indie seems to be making a bit of a comeback, although maybe that's wishful thinking on my part. Everything in cycles.

I always saw the grunge style as being a reaction to the DTP revolution. Perhaps it will be reborn as a reaction to this whole social network/ultra smooth design we see now. The new generation always seems to react against the styles of the previous. These sorts of things are always short lived though.

As much as you might get bored of this glossy style, it is quite refined, legible, well constructed. It's good design. Deconstruction (or even that Designers Republic site) is simply a statement. More art than design. And you couldn't honestly call the miauk site good design. I like it, really do. When it comes to good Graphic design though I've always believed in function first with aesthetics to complement. Shiny design and everything that goes with it achieves this balance beautifully.
posted by twistedonion at 3:29 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

the cool hunter is a nicely designed site.
posted by ClanvidHorse at 3:49 PM on February 12, 2008

Their sort of style will be around for awhile, but it's been reduced to a archetype

I think some of tDR's design ideas (better displayed here, perhaps) are so ahead of their time that they will be cribbed for another 10-15 years, and incorporated here and there into various projects.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:57 PM on February 12, 2008

Red Interactive Agency totally kicks ass.
I'm a huge fan of TasteSpotting's layout. (especially on a widescreen)
Definitely PopUrls.
Interactive Alice (I know its just Flash, but its so well done. )
I apologize if you dont like any of these. :)
posted by jmnugent at 8:30 PM on February 12, 2008

FFFFound! is pretty awesome too
Visual Complexity is neat.
posted by jmnugent at 8:37 PM on February 12, 2008

I'm more interested in the visual aesthetic of a next-generation design than the user interface or technology behind it.

In this medium aesthetics are constrained by technology and usability. You can't really consider design alone.

Web 2.0 design gained ground at the same time as usability finally caught on, so when you try to tease apart "the Web 2.0 aesthetic" you find that a lot of things you thought were Web 2.0 are just good design full stop, and very unlikely to go away.

There are other elements that the underlying technology makes so easy (I'm thinking of rounded corners in CSS3, which I'm itching to be able to use) that they're part of the common toolkit all sites use.
posted by Leon at 7:02 AM on February 13, 2008

Red Interactive Agency totally kicks ass.
I had never seen such an awesome site. WOW.
posted by josue at 8:13 AM on February 16, 2008

you're joking, right?
Absolutely... NOT. Google is the only service that actually gets it right. MSN sucks, is in your face and wants to charge for most services. The load time for their pages takes eons and you have to use IE (an inferior browser and not my choice at all) to view most of their garbage. Yahoo... well the latest news about Yahoo kind of explains that problem.

Google is plain, but to the point. Try searching for Google reviews and you might be surprised. If you don't like it, hey it's no sweat off my back. Just amusing is all.
posted by magnoliasouth at 6:44 PM on February 17, 2008

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