June 23, 2014

Cutting Edge Web Design – How Much Grunge Is Too Much

Cutting Edge Web Design – How Much Grunge Is Too Much

Alright, your brand is edgy, subversive — you swim against the stream and aren’t afraid to let people know it. Naturally, you want your website to convey this exact mentality through bold designs with tons of street-cred (if there can ever be such a thing with regard to Web design; Web designers tend to suck street-cred from any room we’re in). However, when you start your design scheme with the question: “How much grunge is too much?” we’re willing to bet that, for your purposes, any grunge elements will be too much. Grunge as a Web design scheme has to come organically from the company culture and brand identity. If your instinct is to test the grunginess with focus groups to see if your design is too scary, we’d advise you to think of another concept.

When it comes to any design strategy — be it grunge, sleek and professional or Hello Kitty — it is always a graphic design mistake if that strategy is arbitrary and/or dictated solely by the desire to suffuse life into a dying brand. There is nothing wrong with incorporating interesting elements into your Web design aesthetic in order to make your image culturally appropriate to the market that is already loyal to you. However, you have to know when to stop.

Do people really like cutting edge Web design? Really?

Web designers love cutting edge Web design. So do artists. So do graphic designers. Claims adjusters from Akron? Not necessarily.

Everyone wants a website that gives us the information we want in as little time as possible. If the website is aesthetically pleasing, great! But if it isn’t exactly the most fascinating and innovatively designed website from an aesthetic point of view, well… no one really cares, as long as we can access your hours of operation and dinner menu easily.

Like we said before, if your brand identity is already firmly in the youth-oriented, edgy category, then adding subtle and unobtrusive elements to your website will give your customers an accurate portrait of the sort of organization you are. Cramming your website with unearned funkiness with the hope that it will appeal to a younger crowd will not right your sinking ship.

Don’t change your brand image to an image you don’t entirely comprehend.

There is a difference in marketing to specific demographics and actually changing your brand image. If you are in desperate need of a marketing overhaul and/or blitzkrieg in order to boost sales, that’s one thing. Going so far as to change your entire brand image is something else altogether, particularly when you are trying to appeal to a niche group.

First of all, any youth-oriented culture that considers itself an “outsider” culture — be it gothic, grunge, punk or whatever — prides itself on being difficult to wholly understand and, indeed, infiltrate. If a brand dares to try to insinuate itself into that particular arena, it should be prepared for a pretty savage social media backlash, because if there’s one thing young people living on the edge know how to do, it’s how to go online and bring huge amounts of pain.

Style Versus Desperation

So, how to suffuse elements of grunge, street credibility and swag into a middle-aged website? Depends upon the website and the brand, honestly. If we were to give you a blind suggestion, we’d say to start with the background texture. Rugged, muted and roughly textured backgrounds can bring a subtle element of urban decay without compromising the coherence of your website. If you’d like to add additional touches to the title header, that could be fine, too. Just try to lean away from clichéd and illegible graffiti fonts for menu bars or anything critical. Once again, maybe a few hints of graffiti art as a part of your nuanced background texture, but you want your site to be navigable first, hip second.

In the end, you will only know if you’ve shoved too much grunge into your website when you’ve gone well beyond the acceptable amount of grunge. The expression, “less is more” is pretty much spot on, when it comes to niche design elements, but if you are a financial institution, dental office or neonatal center, the correct amount of Web design grunge is: None.


by Kevin Smith
SmashBrand helps brands create, optimize, and launch successful products, services, and customer experiences. Our data-driven process is the key to accelerating sales and minimizing risks.

We use a strategic combination of market research, design, and consumer testing to solve complex brand problems more effectively, create differentiation, and forge more meaningful connections with customers.

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