Gradients: The Comeback Kid

Enjoy Digital
By Enjoy Digital
8 minutes to read

Hello gradients my old friend, I’ve come to work with you again. Much like the fashion and music industry, design has an interesting habit of repeating itself - improving upon the old and introducing a fresh twist on previous trends.

Like a Phoenix

Maybe it was the desktop background of a recent ski trip or a pair of goggles that caught my eye but I’m sure you’ve seen them too, bright neon colours fading from one to the other? That’s right; gradients are back, but why?

La Plagne 1800 & SunGod Goggles

The Year is 2015 and Spotify have just launched their Year in Music campaign. Featuring duotone photography with sweet 80s fades, it was a throwback to the MTV generation that would soon inspire a new wave of designers.

Fast-forward to May last year and you may remember Instagram shocking the Internet by unveiling their new logo mark. A stark contrast to their previous logo, the new mark hosted crisp white lines set over a new rainbow gradient. It certainly divided opinion and whilst some hated it, I loved it. It was bold, fresh and stood out amidst a sea of flat colour palettes we’ve been accustomed to over the last few years. And isn’t that part of our responsibility as designers, to make something memorable?

In the past year we’ve seen more and more brands embracing ombré and it’s not just limited to logo marks or iconography. It’s enveloping photography, brand statements and influencing UI elements, making our digital experience much more rich, varied and colourful.

Mirror Conf Website and InVision End Of Year Review

Feeling familiar

This is certainly not a new trend. Like drop shadows and marquees, many web pages were tricked out with some form of gradient, most notoriously, a word art style heading in rainbow. Though image titles started to fade, the use of gradients prevailed in the form of pseudo 3D elements, most commonly glass buttons (here’s looking at you Apple!)

Apple: Back in the day

Previously limited to creating gradients with jpeg/bmp images, thanks to modern web developments designers can finally dust off the gradient tool again and build in code instead. We’re seeing a new wave of creative uses from subtle backgrounds and buttons to hover-states and headers. Gradients can add visual cues, depth, movement and hierarchy to a webpage. But why the recent surge?

Hamish Smyth, a designer for New York City’s Fulton Transit Center commented: "I suspect the current trend has something to do with ’70s and ’80s nostalgia”. Similarly according to Wired, “nostalgia has always been a quick route into people’s hearts, with studies showing that feeling nostalgic provokes pleasant memories and makes people more willing to spend.”

Guardians of the Galaxy VOL 2 IMAX Poster example

Whilst I tend to agree, I think there are other factors that have contributed to its popularity. Flat colours and material design have been chronically overused and as a result, designers are questioning their limitations and exploring colour psychology to the fullest.

Colour can portray a huge range of emotions and it seems odd that we condense this to a web friendly few. Gradients appear all around us. Take what I mentioned earlier about the picture of the Alps. That baby blue to ultramarine vista prompts intrigue, excitement and adventure - something that blue alone would have trouble conveying.

The use of gradients also has a significant part in shaping a unique brand identity. How many logos do we find sporting the same blues and oranges these days? How many websites use the same blue button to ‘login’ or ‘learn more’? Remember that website with the blue background – which one?

Learn More

With a wider colour spectrum available and the addition of subtle colour changes, designers can explore new territories, entice and sway, add impulse, create a memorable experience, provide direction and, for lack of a better term, make it ‘pop’.

It can be the difference between a new customer and a missed opportunity. To don a particular quoting hat: ‘Success comes from standing out, not fitting in’.

Spotify Out Of Office Campaign | En Viens La Agency


If you’re looking for inspiration on your next digital project you may want to check out these two very excellent websites Gradient Animator and UI Gradients. Better yet, if you’re looking to give your website a fresh lick of paint - get in touch!

We love all that networking and connection making, but let’s face it, you can’t beat a good old-fashioned chat over a cuppa. Just give us a call, we’ll put the kettle on.

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