Cameron Chapman April 28th, 2010

Multi-Layered Design: Guidelines and Examples

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.


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 The Web Design Blog Piipe 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

Cameron Chapman

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.


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

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

  4. 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

  5. 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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *