When we talk about web design, we tend to discuss the things that visitors directly focus on: color palettes, images, typography, and well-placed branding, just to name a few.
However, here I want to discuss a more understated technique for your website design tool belt, one that gives context to your content and personality to your pages without stealing the user’s attention. Let’s talk about texture.
Web textures are a great design choice if you want to elevate your website’s pages beyond plain solid colors while conveying personality and engaging more visitors.
So, in this guide, I’ll explain what web textures are and why they’re effective. I’ll also share tips for adding them to your website and provide you with some of the best web texture resources to get started for free.
Web textures are a unique web design method because they aim to replicate one of our physical sensations, touch with, another, sight. By presenting a 3D backdrop for your page elements, they induce something of a haptic sensation through the visual medium of our computer screens.
This all has an interesting effect on our brains — it evokes emotions that we associate with the real world. Think of lying in the grass on a summer afternoon, or the tiny craters on a piece of construction paper. Web textures try to replicate that life-like feeling in the digital world.
Types of Textures Used in Web Design
Web textures come in many varieties to evoke a range of feelings and experiences. It’s useful to classify web textures in terms of two factors: realism and prominence.
Realism refers to how closely a texture resembles a real-world texture. This can range from abstract designs, like a color gradient or geometric pattern, to real-world tangibles like grass, carpet, or linen. This is similar to the concept of skeuomorphism — the more realistic a texture appears, the more we associate it with our real-life experiences, which makes the page more immersive.
Prominence refers to how much a texture stands out against its fellow elements. On one end, subtle textures are hardly visible, but still present enough to lend a sense of personality and warmth. On the other end, loud textures immediately bring attention to that region of the page and firmly establish the personality of a website.
I know I’ve talked a lot about textures without examples, so let’s look at some now.
First, here’s an abstract, subtle web texture. You’ve seen gradients like this all over, since they’re a great way to engage visually with minimal distraction.
Here’s an abstract and loud web texture. The sharp corners certainly stand out more than a smooth gradient. This polygonal design in particular might be associated with the digital space, making it suitable for, say, a tech startup.
Here’s a realistic and subtle texture. If you look closely, you can make out a linen-like or paper-like surface. When simply browning a website, however, you may not notice this on a conscious level. These types of textures are very common on websites because they can convey emotions related to real-life without users’ realizing.
Finally, here’s a loud, realistic texture — you don’t need to squint to know this is concrete. Bold and lifelike designs like this leave no ambiguity as to the purpose of your website. Use these textures with caution, as they have high potential to clash with accompanying two-dimensional elements.
Web Textures vs. Patterns
You might have noticed that I’ve been avoiding using the word “pattern” to describe web textures. That’s because “texture” and “pattern” mean slightly different things in web design, even though you might see these terms used interchangeably in your research.
Patterns are small and repeating images. When you see a pattern on a web page, you can probably make out the “tile” which constitutes the pattern. For example:
With textures, on the other hand, it’s more difficult to discern a repeating image, often because entire background textures are composed of a single detailed and complex image with no exact repeats. See the difference?
Why Do We Use Textures in Web Design?
As with just about any other design element, effective web textures go beyond making a page look interesting. Web textures can serve two primary functions on your site: conjuring feelings and drawing attention.
Great design accounts not just for what users see, but also for what they don’t see. I’m talking about visual elements that most users don’t consciously register but affect their browsing experience nonetheless.
Web textures are great at doing this — they can make viewers feel positive emotions and associate them with your brand. For example, an outdoors company could implement a grass, night sky, or snowy texture. A tech company can opt for a geometric abstract texture. A bakery texture might add a sprinkle of, well, sprinkles to their texture. It all depends on the personality you want to communicate and the real-world associations you want to make for visitors.
For example, this quirky spin-off site for a Vancouver-based digital agency capitalizes on the power of texture perfectly. The entire site, including its buttons, is overlain with a felt-like texture, invoking a cozy feeling associated with returning home for the holidays.
When used correctly, a web texture helps visitors feel immersed in your website experience, like walking through a store, rather than just peering through a browser window.
Guide the Eye
Web textures can also influence our browsing experience on a subconscious level by directing our gaze to certain areas of a web page. When applied to a page region, element, image, or text, web textures pull our attention toward these things by contrasting with the surrounding page.
This French design agency accents the featured image on their homepage with a basic green marble texture. Many of us associate marble with art displays, museums, luxury, and prestige, making it a fitting texture choice in this instance.
Farther down the page, additional images are set against the same marble … Read the rest