Lose the Shoulder Pads on Your Web Sites

shoulder pads on flight attendant uniformsIf you look around in any office that requires business attire, it is obvious that fashions change over time. Sometimes the changes are subtle -- cuffs/no cuffs, pleats/no pleats -- and sometimes, they are obvious. Neither men nor women would consider entering a business environment these days with big shoulder pads. Not even flight attendants wear those anymore.

The same is true for the fashion of web design. There are conventions of design that change over time, and so your working web site from 2003 is unlikely to look stylish according to today's standards. Keeping the visual identity of your site updated is almost as important as keeping the software updated, and your customers will notice the way it looks first. Here are some design elements that make your digital shoulders look a little too padded.

 Dark Backgrounds

There are still some sites that do a good job of including a dark background, but very few. As a full-page background, usability studies tell us that dark backgrounds with light text can be harder to read, but in this context, what we're looking at is whether the most-read sites on the web tend to use it right now, in 2014. Here's how that breaks down:

  • Google - white background, dark grey text
  • Facebook - white background, very dark grey text
  • YouTube - white background, dark grey text
  • Yahoo - white background, dark grey text
  • Wikipedia - white background, dark grey text

That should tell you something. In contrast, here is a web site from 1996:

space jam movie web site

This web site for the movie Space Jam still functions. The links work. However, this site is using red and yellow text on a starry black background. You don't need to know that Space Jam was a movie from the 1990s to know that this site was not developed in the last few years. The design is a dead giveaway. How much faith do you have that the web developer for this site is still taking care of it? How current do you think this information might be?

 Tables with Borders

Back when I was an internet youngster, when dinosaurs freely roamed the web, we used to use tables to organize information on a page. Before WordPress and other visual tools for creating web content, we wrote HTML code to make information line up in columns. It was positively primitive!

Now, we have better tools for these kinds of layouts, and a sure sign that your web site might be stuck in another decade is something that looks like this:

bordered HTML table

The lines that separate each table cell aren't the only clue. It's the quality of those lines that really gives it away -- they are three-dimensional, looking almost like window frames. This isn't how table borders look with more recent iterations of web layout tools, and between that and the textual layout items I'll describe below, this little table is the web design equivalent of getting the same haircut as Rachel on the TV show Friends.

Blue, Underlined Links

Notice that all the links in that image above are bright blue and underlined? That used to be the default setting for a link on a web page. After you visited the link, it would appear in dark purple from then on. This is no longer a requirement, and you are free to choose whatever link colors are meaningful to your aesthetic and match or complement other aspects of your site's design. That said, even if your logo is that standard bright blue, it's still out of fashion to use this default style nowadays.

The reasons for this come from a better understanding of usability. As writers, we are more accustomed to underlining text we want to emphasize. How can we do that online if, whenever we underline something we think is important, someone becomes annoyed that it's not clickable? In fact, this habit is really hard to break, so underlining is still very seldom done online. Even Google agreed.  You still see the underlining, but not nearly as often.

In the end, there are no longer hard and fast rules about link text styling, but Sitepoint gathers some currently acceptable options in this article.

Flashing NEW Buttons

(Many thanks to PicGifs.com for these relics.)

If these are on your site, the word "new" doesn't apply to your design. These were very popular in the early days of the graphical web, but now, we tend to use textual cues and date stamps to denote updated content. Animated images are now more associated with Buzzfeed and other intentionally ironic humor sites.

Flash Splash Pages

Do you have a Flash movie that plays before your users can see the rest of your site? Then, here's what you're saying to them if they are using an iPad or iPhone to try to get into your web site.flash is bad error message

We don't need to be slaves to fashion, but make some of these glaring outdated choices, and you're telling your users that you're not keeping up with the times. That's not a message that inspires a lot of confidence in your work or your products. Lose the shoulder pads, find a personal shopper to help you, and show the web that you're paying attention.

Need a hand updating your site's look? Get in touch with us! You can reach us via This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , Facebook, or Twitter.

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