The influence of art history on web design

Discover how past eras can enrich the aesthetics of the digital world, giving it depth and meaning.

Sara Kowal

Web Designer

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In a digital world where first impressions often depend on the design of websites, it is important to remember that art history significantly influences web design. In this post, we will look at how different artistic eras inspire modern web design, combining aesthetics with functionality.

The Renaissance: Harmony and Proportion

Characteristics:
The Renaissance, a time of revival of Greco-Roman ideas and aesthetics, focuses on harmony, proportion and symmetry. More importantly, in this era, art placed the human being at the centre of the universe, thus emphasising the importance of individual expression and scientific discovery.

Impact on Web Design:

  1. Symmetry: Web designers often use symmetry. They create a feeling of balance and coherence. Symmetry can be applied to many aspects of design. This includes layout, typography, right through to graphics. Symmetry is not just limited to exact mirror images. It also includes axial, radial or even irregular symmetry. This contributes to an organised and thoughtful design appearance.

    Examples of use:
    • Page layout: A symmetrical layout can help users to orient themselves on the page, through intuitive placement of elements such as navigation menus, content and footers.
    • Graphic elements: Symmetrical placement of graphic elements can draw the eye to the centre of the page or emphasise an important marketing message.

  2. Golden division, also known as the Divine ratio, dates back to antiquity. It is based on the ratio 1:1.618 and is considered aesthetically pleasing. It is often used in art and architecture. Now it is also being applied in web design. It helps to create naturally attractive and easy-to-navigate websites.

    Examples of use:
    • Content distribution: Using the golden ratio can help to determine where key elements, such as text and images, should be placed on the page so that they are immediately noticeable and attract attention.
    • Page breakdown: Dividing a page according to the golden ratio can improve its readability and aesthetics, creating eye-pleasing spaces and white margins.

Useful Tools in Web Design:

Figma as a design tool, offers a number of features that facilitate the creation of aesthetically consistent and functional web designs. One of the key features that supports designers in their quest to maintain symmetry and proportion in their designs is the use of grid systems.

Source: https://help.figma.com/hc/en-us/articles/360040450513-Create-layout-grids-with-grids-columns-and-rows

Baroque: Drama and Movement

Characteristics:
The Baroque, being an era imbued with splendour, draws attention above all to drama, dynamism and a wealth of decorative detail. In addition, Baroque art is characterised by a strong contrast of light and shadow.

Impact on Web Design:

  1. Rich backgrounds and textures: The baroque aesthetic is characterised by depth, richness of colour and complexity of detail. In web design, these qualities can be reinterpreted through the use of rich textures and backgrounds. They add a sense of luxury, depth and three-dimensionality to the page.

    Examples of use:
    • Luxury Brands pages: Premium brand websites can use baroque inspiration to emphasise their exclusivity and the high quality of the products or services they offer.
    • Cultural and Artistic Sites: Cultural institutions, such as museums or theatres, can use rich backgrounds and textures to visually convey the richness and complexity of their collections or performances.

  2. Animations and transitions: The baroque fascination with movement is reflected in modern web design through the use of animations and transitions. These are used to attract attention and enrich the interactivity of the site.

    Examples of use:
    • Navigation elements: Subtle animations can indicate to users how interaction changes elements of the page, such as buttons that change colour or size when the cursor is hovered over.
    • Page Loading and Section Transitions: Animations can be used to make a page more dynamic. For example, through smooth transitions between sections or interesting loading effects.

Useful Tools in Web Design:

Midjourney is an advanced programme based on artificial intelligence technology. It is designed to create unique visualisations, including images, graphics, backgrounds and other graphical elements. Midjourney interprets textual descriptions, called prompts. Based on these, it creates high-quality images that can be tailored to specific design needs.

Source: https://docs.midjourney.com/docs/variations

Impressionism: Light and Colour

Characteristics:
Impressionism, which is a direction in art, focuses on capturing the effects of light and colour, as opposed to an accurate representation of reality. For Impressionist artists, capturing momentary impressions and emotions was key.

Impact on Web Design:

  1. Colour palettes: The Impressionists revolutionised the use of colour. They emphasised vibrant, saturated colours rather than mixing black with other colours. Web designers often adopt this approach. They create bold and energetic colour palettes that attract attention and evoke positive emotions.

    Examples of use:
    • Brand Pages: Bright and distinctive colours can help a brand stand out in the online space, attracting attention and creating a positive first impression.
    • User Interface: Using vibrant colours to highlight important interface elements, such as buttons or links, can improve navigation and user interaction.

  2. Gradients and textures: Impressionism explored the effects of light and shadow by painting with patches of colour. In web design, this can be replicated through the use of gradients and subtle textures. These techniques add depth and dynamism, mimicking the impressionist play of light.

    Examples of use in design:
    • Page backgrounds: Gradients can be used to create subtle but dynamic backgrounds. They add visual interest to a page without overwhelming the content.
    • Graphic Elements: Delicate textures that mimic brushstrokes can be used in graphics to add layering and visual depth.

Useful Tools in Web Design:

Magic Pattern is an innovative online tool designed to automatically generate textures, patterns and gradients. They can be used in a wide range of graphic and web design projects. Magic Pattern allows users to quickly create high quality, unique graphic patterns.

Source: https://www.magicpattern.design/tools

Adobe Color is an advanced online tool created by Adobe for generating colour palettes. With its intuitive interface, users can easily create consistent colour combinations. These can then be used in a variety of graphic designs, websites and other visual materials.

Source: https://color.adobe.com/pl/create/color-wheel

Modernism: Functionalism and Minimalism

Characteristics:
Modernism, which promotes the principle of 'form follows function', strongly encourages the adoption of minimalism, legibility and simplicity in design. This approach, while emphasising the importance of functionality, also encourages the elimination of any unnecessary elements. As a result, modernist designs are often characterised by clean lines and a lack of superfluous ornamentation.

Impact on Web Design:

  1. Purity and simplicity: Modernist web design focuses on minimalism and maximum clarity of message. It is characterised by the use of large spaces, clean lines and a limited colour palette. This eliminates any elements that could be distracting, focusing the user on the key content of the site. Minimalism is one of the most popular styles in graphic design. What it mentions Karolina Grusza in its entry Graphic Design Inspirations and Trends for 2024

    Examples of use:
    • Minimalist Company Websites: Sites that showcase companies and brands can benefit from minimalist design to focus attention on their products, services and values.
    • Education Blogs and Portals: A clean and structured design promotes better readability and assimilation of content, which is crucial for sites with an educational focus.|.

  2. Geometric forms and typography: Modernism values geometry and functionality in design. This translates into the use of geometric shapes and clear, simple typography in web design. This approach not only adds structure and order to design, but also emphasises the modernist principle of functionality.

    Examples of use:
    • User Interfaces (UI): Simple, geometric forms can be used to create intuitive user interfaces where each element has a clearly defined function.
    • Visual Identity Systems: The consistent use of geometric forms and typography can help build a recognisable and professional brand identity online.

Useful Tools in Web Design:

Google Fonts is an extremely useful and widely used online tool that allows you to select suitable fonts for your web and graphic design projects. The platform offers a rich library of free fonts. They are available for use in both commercial and personal projects, promoting better accessibility and typographic consistency on the web.

Source: https://fonts.google.com/

Postmodernism: Irony and Eclecticism

Characteristics: Postmodernism rejects the idea of universal truths in art, celebrating diversity, irony and eclecticism. Postmodern art often mixes styles, genres and eras.

Impact on Web Design:

  1. Mixing styles: Postmodernism values variety and complexity, promoting the combination of different styles, fonts and colours. In web design, this approach allows for the creation of pages with a unique character that stand out in the web space thanks to their originality and creativity.

    Examples of use:
    • Portfolios of Artists and Designers: These pages can benefit from mixing styles to showcase a variety of work and creative skills in an engaging way.
    • Brands with Strong Personality: Companies that want to emphasise their uniqueness and creativity can use bold style combinations to build a strong brand identity.

  2. Unusual Arrangements and Elements: Postmodernism encourages breaking conventions and exploring new forms. In web design, this means creating non-traditional layouts, and introducing innovative animations that attract attention and create surprising experiences.

    Examples of use:
    • Innovative Product Pages: Presenting products in a non-traditional way can increase user interest and engagement.
    • Advertising campaigns: Unusual layouts and elements can be used to create memorable online campaigns that are emotionally and visually engaging.

Useful Tools in Web Design:

Khroma is an innovative tool using advanced artificial intelligence technologies. Designed to help users discover, search and save colour combinations and palettes that best suit their individual preferences and design needs. Khroma uses machine learning algorithms to analyse a user's colour preferences. It provides them with personalised and tailored colour palette suggestions, which can then be used in a variety of visual and graphic design projects.

Source: https://www.khroma.co/generator

Spline is a 3D design tool. It enables creatives and graphic designers to easily create complex 3D objects and scenes directly in a web browser. With its real-time collaboration capabilities, Spline becomes the ideal platform for design teams to work on 3D projects simultaneously.

Source: https://app.spline.design/

Summary

Understanding and drawing inspiration from art history can enrich the web design process, adding depth, emotion and context. Each artistic era offers unique tools, techniques and perspectives that can be reinterpreted in modern digital design. Using contemporary design tools and platforms allows these inspirations to be explored with greater freedom. This enables the creation of sites that not only meet the latest technological standards, but are also visually and culturally rich.

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Sara Kowal

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