Apr 28 2010

Multi-Layered Design: Guidelines and Examples

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There have been tons of posts about minimalist and simple web design. It’s something every designer should consider and study, as minimalist and simple design principles are important in a lot of website designs. But there’s been such a focus on clean and minimalist design in recent years that many designers shy away from more visually-complex designs.

That’s a mistake. Just as there’s a time and place for minimalist designs, there’s a time and place for more complicated designs, too. Below are some guidelines to help you create more multi-layered website designs. They tend to require more graphics-savvy than minimalist sites, as well as a bit more advance planning. But they’re really no more difficult to create than a minimalist site (and in many cases are more forgiving).

Guidelines for Creating Multi-Layered Designs

We’ve already established that multi-layered designs are more visually-complex than minimalist sites. But that doesn’t tell us a whole lot about how to create them. They can be intimidating to many designers, especially those who started out with minimalist designs.

After all, there seem to be so many places you can go wrong with this kind of design.

Use Some Kind of Theme

The best designs like this have an overall theme or aesthetic they follow. They’re not just throwing together random elements. Sometimes this is something obvious like a particular type of image. Other times it’s a bit more subtle, such as grunge elements throughout.

A site with a very obvious grunge/antique theme throughout.

In either case, a common theme or element helps tie everything in the site’s design together and make it visually cohesive. If you just start throwing all sorts of stuff into the design, you’ll probably just end up with a mess.

Take Something Away

Coco Chanel recommended that when a woman got dressed in the morning that she remove one accessory before leaving the house. The idea behind this is that we often tend of overdo things and by removing something we give more importance to the things that remain.

anna-pawelczyk

A great example of a site with lots of visual interest that doesn’t feel cluttered at all.

The same idea can be applied to your website designs. When you think you’ve finished this kind of design, see if there’s something you can take away. There almost always will be, and your design will likely be stronger because of it. This is related to the minimalist principle of perfecting a site when nothing else can be taken away (just in a much less extreme version).

Remember, the goal here is to create a design that has a lot of visual interest, not to create a design that’s cluttered and messy.

Don’t Overlook the Details

Details are what generally set excellent versions of this design aesthetic apart from the less-than-stellar examples. Pay attention to areas where an extra detail can really make your design stand out. Things like typography, narrow borders, etc. are all areas where small details can make a big impact.

A great example of how small details add a lot of interest and a much more polished and put-together look.

Examples

Here are thirty great examples of sites that are much more visually-complex than the current surge of minimalist sites that are flooding the Internet.

Harmony Republic

Margarita Shack

Jeremy Bayone

MoonBeam Illustrations

Eastpoint

Vegas Uncork’d

Pixlogix

Kidd81.com

The Web Design Blog

Piipe

KevAdamson.com

Website Bakery

Al Brown

SieteDeFebrero

Brown Blog Films

RCIUK

The Bright Agency

Cool Tshirt Design

Circa The Prince

Mplusz

Electricurrent

Studio7Designs

Bidsketch

Intuitive Designs

Varmland of Scandinavia

Panelfly

Synch Media

Sky’s Guide Service

Digiti

Larva Labs

About the Author

Cameron Chapman is a professional Web and graphic designer with many years of experience. She writes for a number of blogs, including her own, Cameron Chapman On Writing. She’s also the author of Internet Famous: A Practical Guide to Becoming an Online Celebrity.

Comments and Discussions
  • Jordan Walker, 28 April 2010

    I really like the multi layered design, adds some pizazz!

  • Rachel, 28 April 2010

    Appreciate your efforts in putting this together. What a great talent you have presented here.

  • Armin C., 28 April 2010

    Nice article and examples… but next time maybe a bit more tips and a few less examples ;)

  • Naomi Niles, 28 April 2010

    Thanks for the kind mention!

  • Webanddesigners, 28 April 2010

    Huge list of inspiration for multi layered design and nicely written article much appreciated.

  • Unirea Santana, 29 April 2010

    Great list! Thanks

  • Design Dazzling, 29 April 2010

    These layered designs are really cool .. thanks for sharing this

  • Vector Graphics Design, 29 April 2010

    thanks for this share. lastly have a look out on grid on other blog and now multi-layered design, you guys make my day.

  • Matthew Heidenreich, 29 April 2010

    interesting read, thanks for this!

  • magazine online free, 29 April 2010

    That was a fantastic read,You discover new things every day.

  • Ramsey, 29 April 2010

    I actually went FROM a minimal design TO a more image rich, layered design when I redesigned my personal website in 2009. I really think this style is too often over looked! If done correctly, it can be very beautiful, as are many of your example sites!

  • Roger, 30 April 2010

    Love the http://digiti.be/ design, only because I’ve got VW bus myself :-)

  • kim, 30 April 2010

    Wow! I am very lucky to be included in this list of designs! Thanks for the mention.

  • Sunny Kumar, 02 May 2010

    Very Useful and Interesting Post !

  • Brad Durham, 03 May 2010

    Great collection and tips!

    I was curious though. How long do you guys take when designing a site, on average. Because my boss gives me about an hour or two and it has made me feel like I am slow/stupid or something.

    • Shaun, 06 May 2010

      An hour or two? Your boss clearly has no understanding of design itself, nevermind web design. Good designs can take days. Great designs can take weeks. Your boss (or his/her clients) fall into the category of people who “just want a web site”, not in the category of “need a web site for a reason”. Web sites designed for the sake of having a web site and without purpose simply can’t evolve to become great “web” designs.

      • Brad Durham, 06 May 2010

        Thank you! I was starting to think I was crazy as this is my first salary position in graphic design. Started to think I took too long.

        Thought, it fits in with the whole agencies view “quantity over quality” to quote my 90 day review in which I was told I need to spend less time designing. “Just do exactly what the client wants”.

        I have become a pixel pusher :(

        The best was yesterday when I finished an email design and my boss asks why I used so much space between sections (40px or 50px). I told him. Then 15 min later he comes to me and asks me to look at his changes. He pushed everything right next to each other, added random lines for separation and made the logo take up the whole header. And sent it to the client.

  • Jeremy Bayone, 14 May 2010

    Thanks for the mention. Nice list.

  • Hunter Beef, 30 May 2010

    Another Fish recipe, for you, for those who like curry. So then can have fish with curry. Try this great recipe at home and you will like it very much

  • Lagoine, 18 November 2010

    Nice list :) I especially like Vegas Uncork’d.
    Here’s annother one: http://www.plentywish.com
    a subtile wish list/gift ideas site with loads of details if one looks carefully.

  • Brett Widmann, 18 November 2010

    This is a great set of tips and resources. Thanks for sharing.

  • facebook pagerage layouts, 13 January 2011

    Attention-grabbing learn! I also found one thing related you could wish to take a look, its a site all about the most effective pagerage facebook layouts on the web!

    Test it out on the link here and let me know what you think!

    - All the very best

  • bybe, 20 February 2012

    Awesome links, and Love your website design its amazing.

  • mamaia, 05 July 2011

    It very hard to deliver a full layout in just two hours, it’s almost impossible if you want your work to be appreciated.

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