Spotting a Trend

There are tons of smokin’ hot websites out there, with an equal or greater number of talented designers and developers who make them. The web is awesome like that and encourages that sort of creativity.

Even so, it amazes me that certain traits find their way into things. I mean, it makes sense. Many of us use the same UI frameworks and take cues from sites we admire. But every once in a while, my eye starts catching wind of the zeitgeist and commonalities that come with it.

The latest one? Blobby shapes. It’s a fun flourish that adds a little panache, especially for flat designs that need a splash of color or an interesting focal point that leads the eye from one place to anther. I’m sure you’ve seen it. I spent one week collecting screenshots of websites I came across that use it. I certainly wan’t looking for examples; they just sort of popped up in my normal browsing.

I’m sorry if it seems like I’m calling out people because that’s my intention. I actually love the concept — so much, in fact, that I’m considering it on a project! Some of the examples in that gallery are flat-out gorgeous.

After spotting these blobby shapes a number of times, I’ve started to notice some considerations to take into account when use them. Things like:

  • Watch for contrast when text sits on top of a blob. There are plenty of cases where the document background is white and the blob is dark. If text runs through them, it’s going to be tough to find a font color that satisfies WCAG’s 2.1 AA standard for legibility.
  • Tread lightly when mixing and matching colors. One hot pink blob behind a card component ain’t a big deal, but throw in yellow, orange, and other bright colors that sit alongside it… the design starts to distract from the content. Plus, a vibrant rainbow of blobby shapes can raise accessibility concerns. A flourish is just that: a nice touch that’s subtle but impactful.
  • Blobs are good for more than color. Some of the most interesting instances I’ve seen cut images into interesting shapes. It’s cool that we can embed an image directly in SVG and then mask it with a path.
  • Blobs are also good for more than backgrounds. Did you catch that screenshot from Topcoder’s site? They’re using it for tabs which is super funky and cool.

All of this has me thinking about how the websites of today will be looked at by the developers of tomorrow. Remember way back, like 15 years ago, when many sites adopted Apple’s use of reflective imagery? I probably still have some Photoshop muscle memory from replicating that effect so many times.

Photo of three iPhone 3 models next to one another. The first shows the home screen, the other two show the back, one in black and one in white. All three phones sport a reflection beneath them.
Notice the skeuomorphic icons — that was popular too!

Skeuomorphism, bevels, animated GIF backgrounds, long shadows, heroes, gradients, bokeh backgrounds… all of these and many other visual treatments have had their day in the sun. Perhaps blobs will join that club at some point. Perhaps they’ll come back in style after that. Who knows! I just find it interesting to reflect on the things that have inspired us over the last three decades and imagine how the things we do today will be seen through the long lens of time.

It’d be awesome to see other instances of blobby shapes — share ’em if you’ve got ’em!