The amount of options, directions, and aesthetic approaches you can choose from simply deciding which textures to use in your web design is mind boggling. Texture is one of the most versatile elements of web design being used currently, and there’s no reason you shouldn’t be experimenting with texture in your designs. Sure, not every design benefits from even the most subtle texture, but you might be surprised how much texture can bring a design to life.
What Is Texture?
Texture is an interesting element of web design in that most texture is created as an illusion. Texture as most people recognize is a tactile sense, determined by the touch and feel of a 3D surface. In design, we refer to texture as visual texture, which gives a 2D surface the appearance of tactile, 3D texture. This is why some of the most interesting, immersive texture on the web results from images and renderings of 3D texture you would see in real life (like crumpled paper).
It’s also important to note the relationship between patterns and texture. Texture is usually the result of some type of repeating pattern – be it in nature or in design. Think about any type of carpet pattern, particularly the ones with slightly different shades that appear “random.” In actuality, this is a repeating pattern that collectively results as the texture you see when you look at it. From close up, it looks more like a pattern. From further away, it looks like a texture. Remember, even something as simple and symmetrical as a checkered pattern, if zoomed out far enough, can appear to be a texture.
Some of the best uses of texture in web design simply add the tiniest layer of complexity to a shade or gradient. They usually appear as a solid shade or smooth gradient from a distance until you move your eyes a little closer to the screen and start to discern the pattern of the texture. Subtle textures are most commonly used in the backgrounds of web pages although they can be used elsewhere just as “loud” textures can have a place in backgrounds.
Take, for example, LogoGala’s very simple but effective use of subtle texture in their web design. The design in this site uses various shades of blue. The top navigation bar is a dark blue while the rest of the page is a just a tad lighter. Notice that a misty texture is only used at the top of the page (right below the dark blue navigation bar). This helps set a distinction between the two shades of blue; a very subtle but highly effective distinction at that:
Another subtle but awesome use of texture lies in the design of W+K Studio website. In this site, the background has a smooth gradient from a peachy pink color to more beige tone. Throughout this gradient transition of color, the texture appears to be made up of a very delicate, tiny checkered-like pattern. This texture adds a rich depth to the gradient and gives the soft colors a little more edge:
As wonderful as subtle textures can be, some pages really thrive on loud, in-your-face textures that appear to burst from the page. These are typically used to bolster headers or heighten the contrast between different columns of content. Do be aware that too many loud textures can distract from the content or even collapse the design of the page itself, when considered cohesively.
One great design with very loud textures is the Church on the Rock website. It used wood, weathered wallpapers, and old and crinkled papers to segment different areas of the page. While it almost verges on being too loud, the texture tends to fade from marbled to just a plain solid color as you scroll down the main content area of the page. Of course, it also helps that colors become more neutral as you go down the page as well:
Another great example of a loud and effective design can be found on the Narfstuff website. This design has an abundance of textured elements. The main content area rests on a clipboard which appears to cover several photos, torn ticket stubs, torn pieces of paper, cigarette papers, and even a cartoonish vine. This described all at once sounds like it would be too much for one website design, but fortunately the textures gradually fade to white as you scroll down, so the majority of the content remains unaffected by the extremely loud texture:
Knowing when to use a texture and which texture to use all boils down to the flow of the design and the priority of information on the page. It is a good idea to keep some textures in mind while you’re designing, but I wouldn’t finalize them into the design until you’ve seen the design as a whole. Textures are easy to add in to a design, but often times it is challenging to tell whether a design should get rid of a texture.
While it is true that you can use very subtle, unobtrusive textures, you should also keep in mind that most textures draw the eye more than just a solid color. This means that it’s best to use textures to create contrast and highlight areas of the page that are important. Textures that have specific purposes in a design are undoubtedly the best textures you could use.