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The Web’s Best Interface Design

The amount of new web applications, features, and companies sprouting up is just astounding, and while some like to characterize “Web 2.0″ design as involving lots of cliché diagonal lines and shadows it still takes a lot of skill to execute an attractive user interface. I’ve been checking out new sites and web applications for many months now and I’ve put together my list of the best interface design examples I’ve found. Some companies/sites on this list may not be as “Web 2.0″ as others (and I purposely chose not to includes sites based on design or design firms) but they still deserve the same recognition.

10. Wayfaring
Out of all the sites that use Google Maps, Wayfaring is by far my favorite. They’ve integrated Maps into the user interface very well, and the simple but usable layout is what many other startups should try to emulate. Very nice monochromatic color scheme as well, working with various hues of green to effectively block out sections of content — it also neatly keeps HTML/CSS weight down.

Wayfaring

9. Sharpcast
Synchronization startup Sharpcast has a simple website with expertly-crafted illustrations every place you turn, similar to a company further down on our list. Screenshots of their software are always nice to see, especially when (from what I can tell) the interface looks just as clean and elegant as their website. (Note: their site is currently switching from beta to public, so it’s not the same as it was when I originally made the list.)

8. Current TV
Current TV is a brand new concept where they combine user-generated content with actual TV airing to produce a type of on-demand network of great content. Visit their On-Air Preview page to get a taste of what is currently live on their TV channel. The site is dark but has some great coloring for each section to keep the visual interest alive, and their community area has a really creative way of showing the size and scope of their readers.

7. Plaxo
Regardless of what you think of Plaxo, it’s still one of the most beautifully designed corporate-type sites you’ll ever find. An extraordinary amount of time and effort was spent crafting every aspect of their site, from the glossy icons and glowing buttons, to the ever-present rounded corners and shadows everywhere. A lot of the site is done with ugly table code however, so that knocks the score down a bit.

Plaxo

6. Netvibes
Netvibes and Pageflakes are locked in the death throes of a one-upsmanship battle, which unfortunately for both companies is not the place to be in. Fortunately for Netvibes, I think their user interface trumps Pageflakes which adds at least one more feather to their cap. In case you are not familiar with Ajax portal homepages, they attempt to emulate the functionality that Lycos and Excite provided back in the late 90s, but without needing any page refreshes. And unlike Excite and Lycos, they’re nearly completely unprofitable because they allow so much user customization that no advertisements are shown at all. The subtle color themes are very well-executed, with beautifully rendered boxes that appear to have multiple layers of depth. Netvibes sets the Ajax portal standard, so if you ain’t putting it down better than Netvibes you better walk off the court right now.

Netvibes

5. LinkedIn
Similar to Plaxo’s look, LinkedIn also has a pleasing blue color scheme, but their layout is more reserved with their efforts spent more on the information architecture and layout rather than small graphical details like Plaxo. Most sections of the site have their own simple illustration nearby, which helps greatly in identifying the key information on the site. The Connections tab (need to be logged in) has great information graphics that immediately show how “connected” you are to any other person in your network. The small, information packed illustrations definitely go a long way into providing a better user experience.

4. ScienceBlogs
ScienceBlogs is a grouping of a few dozen great blogs on scientific topics like medicine, chemistry, psychology, and more. They are part of the larger whole of Seed Magazine, a fantastic new science magazine that has some of the best art direction of any printed periodical I’ve ever seen. Yet another great design from Mike Pick & Tim Murtaugh, 2 guys that need more exposure in the design community because they some incredible work.

3. Joyent
Joyent launched over a year ago (has it been that long!) and it’s still one of the best examples of design you can find gracing a startup’s site or application. Cameron Moll always produces astounding work, and this is no exception. Each section of the newly-redesigned site has its own illustration and color scheme.

Joyent

2. Threadless
What crazy t-shirt company has more fans than Threadless? The guys that run Threadless aren’t business or marketing geeks, they’re straight-up web designers and developers, so you can expect their company site’s user experience to be top notch. As with some of the other sites, they use Flash as a means of highlighting some sections of the site. Each page of Threadless.com is unique, just a great job all around.

1. Akamai
Akamai has been around longer than a lot of the companies on this list (put together!) and their new website is one of my favorite designs of all-time. Akamai provides many data-hosting services like streaming media and content delivery, and their website is as slick as their client list. They’ve effectively added interactive Flash animations to various parts of the site, and even their NOCC global control center is absolutely incredible.

Akamai

About Mike Rundle

Comments

  1. Josh Pigford says:

    Thanks Mike. Glad some of my design work could make it on the list. :)

  2. Andrey Sorochan says:

    Truly impressive list, amazing!

  3. Speaking as a current Joyent user, their interface is like number one to me. The only thing that comes a close second to the design of the Connector is their corporate website, Joyent.com; The Connector is probably the most beautiful, yet functional interface that I’ve seen yet.

  4. James says:

    How can Netvibes set the standard if they (unlike Pageflakes) don’t have a sharing or publishing feature? Pageflakes offers both…

    James

  5. Brian says:

    Actually Cameron Moll had the same sort of reaction you had to the new website. In other words, he did NOT do the redesign. That was handled by Bryan Bell.

  6. Paul Tyma says:

    As far as I last knew, Nicci Gabriel (http://www.rawbasic.com) is responsible for all of Sharpcast’s web and UI design. Her style really is fantastic.

  7. Gibu Thomas says:

    Hi there,

    This is Gibu Thomas, CEO of Sharpcast. We are hard at work, sweating our first ever commercial launch and someone told me about this post.

    First, thanks for the mention. There is a constant battle between great, aesthetically pleasing design vs. features and we fight those battles internally every day, so it is nice when someone notices. It is even more gratifying when you consider the fact that we have no one full-time at Sharpcast to design our corporate website — it lives on borrowed time from a couple of individuals who have other full-time job responsibilities (or two!).

    So, suffice it to say, you brought a smile to my face on a stress-filled day. Thank you. Stay tuned for the new website, and more importantly our even more impressive first ever 1.0 product, Sharpcast Photos. We won’t disappoint.

    Cheers,

    Gibu

  8. PJ Hyett says:

    Thanks for the props Mike. We’ve toyed with the idea to redo it, because we thought we could make it even simpler to use, but we’re still really happy with it.

    Thanks to Mr. Pigford as well for redoing our front door, it one of my favorite parts of the site.

  9. Nice list of sites, thanks for sharing…

    Myself I still prefer the “Eye Candy” from the old days but I guess with all the new users getting online these days “Simpler Looking Sites” make it easier for them to get around and enjoy their online experience…

  10. Emanuel says:

    “A lot of the site is done with ugly table code however, so that knocks the score down a bit.”

    It renders correctly, and probably validates– what does it matter if they used tables to organize their page?

  11. Arup says:

    Nice compilation! Was expecting meebo.com in the list though. They too have a very neat and user friendly interface.

  12. hongkiat says:

    How about Apple.com? Its nice too!

  13. smart says:

    Nice tips. Thanks for the info.

  14. “Regardless of what you think of Plaxo, it’s still one of the most beautifully designed corporate-type sites you’ll ever find. An extraordinary amount of time and effort was spent crafting every aspect of their site…” except they forgot to add 2007 to the copyright notice.

  15. I’m not impressed by Akamai’s redesign at all, and wonder how can it be number one?

    Thanks for compiling the list though, I’ve taken a liking to some of those interfaces.

  16. ryan meyer says:

    I had never heard of a few of the sites. I checked out threadless, and I must say that I think we have very, very different eyes.

    Their frontpage is unbelievably cluttered. Very little whitespace.

    Product pages are much better – with men’s t-shirts just above the jump in 1024-768, but still cluttered on top (that menu MUST go) and on bottom (too much! use ajax slide menus or something if you must have so many links).

    And why is there a large image of the t-shirt graphic after the jump? use a lightbox or something!

    meh.

  17. TW says:

    though there could be some more sites which you might have missed, a nice article though.

  18. IndoDX says:

    The Interface is simple but usable.. I love it ;)

  19. Ivan Minic says:

    Plaxo looks very cool :)

  20. James Burke says:

    You forgot traineo.com! I’ve been using it for 2 monhts now, and the interface is kickass.

  21. Peter Parkes says:

    I think it’s important to distinguish between attractiveness and usability here – form and function, if you like.

    While it’s indisputable that these sites, are attractive, thoughtfully laid out and generally intuitive (and in my books Wayfaring wins the prize for this one), the question remains as to how usable some of them are.

    The Akamai site, for example, is slick, but why is it hiding valuable content in PDF files? Pageflakes is fun, but doesn’t work in Safari. And so on – they’re not bad, just nigglingly annoying, and so I’d hesitate before sticking them in a top ten list.

    On a more meta-note, I suspect that there’s an inherent problem in trying to compare sites which serve essentially as brochures (e.g. Akamai’s site) and those which are interactive tools (e.g. Wayfaring) — should we have a top ten for each?

  22. Shine says:
  23. Dustin LindenSmith says:

    FYI: The underlying HTML link for “Threadless” is actually pointing to Joyent.

  24. Tom says:

    Interesting. I find the list to be of subjective preference, of which if I really wanted to, I could point out flaws in every single one of these based on design and experience design constructs.

  25. Brian H. says:

    LinkedIn? Haha. That site is an absolute joke in regards to usability and information architecture. Just because LinkedIn makes a humongous gradient button for everything doesn’t mean the design is good.

    It’s entirely laughable that the first thing you mention about LinkedIn is the “pleasing blue color scheme.” The LinkedIn color scheme is among the most inconsistent on the web. In fact, the entire LinkedIn design is just that – inconsistent. Without explanation, there are virtually no consistent design elements from page to page, aside from the global navigation and the existence of giant gradient buttons.

    Perhaps you meant to say Facebook instead of LinkedIn. In fact, if you replace the two names, your post would actually make sense.

  26. Brandt says:

    Wonderful examples. Also have to mention that the link between Wayfaring and Sharpcast is a bit odd.

  27. TB says:

    Thanks for the links! I love to bookmark pages like these for inspiration when I design sites in the future!

  28. Scott says:

    Interesting list of sites displaying well thought-out design and interesting use of technology. On a bit of a different tangent, and with fear of inciting others, I feel compelled to suggest that the concept of “Web 2.0″ is overused and unattractive. It seems as if by providing a reflection under your logo, rounded corners on boxes, and lists at the bottom of pages (no offense businesslogs.com) you presence is hip and forward-thinking. This approach seems too ubiquitous, and in some cases lacks of inspiration and originality.

    Just 2 cents.

    Regards,
    Scott

  29. KAL says:
  30. Scott says:

    LinkedIn? Seriously? I’ve been a member of that site for a few years, and I still don’t understand the UI. Personally, I don’t get much out of the website, and I believe a lot of that has to do with a convoluted UI/IA.

  31. You should change your post title from “Best Interface” to “Most Beautiful”. Few of the mentioned interfaces are really usable. The worst of them is Plaxo. I’m a user, but I don’t upgrade to a pro account because their interface is really unresponsive. The search sunddenlly stops to work. The desired info about someone is always some clicks away. They have lot of problems.

  32. Dan says:

    I’m not sure if this is your intent, but the hyperlink attached to the “9. Sharpcast” entry above actually goes to Wayfaring.com, the site you mention as #10. Same hyperlink action for the first few words of the text for #9, “Synchronization startup”, it also goes to wayfaring.com. I don’t see the connection between these two sites where one should be directed to wayfaring.com if s/he is interested in sharpcast.com, but maybe I’m missing that connection?

  33. Sarah says:

    Awesome list! dugg

  34. Ryan says:

    I like the list. And the sites have some nice functionality. By far those sites are not some the best interfaces out there as far as looks go. And the way that the user interacts with those sites is nothing new as far as terms of usability. They just fit standards while looking kind of bland which doesn’t really say much for there level of creativity. Just an opinion of course.

  35. On behalf of ScienceBlogs…AWESOME.

  36. Tim Murtaugh says:

    Thanks for the SB props! This is a great list, well done.

  37. Mike Rundle says:

    Hey guys, links fixed, thanks :)

    I’ve always found the Linkedin design to be very well-executed, but to each his own. Facebook is nice but it’s too plain, and not “plain as in simple and easy to use” but plain as in “we ran out of designers that could use Photoshop”.

  38. Brian H. says:

    “I’ve always found the Linkedin design to be very well-executed, but to each his own. Facebook is nice but it’s too plain, and not “plain as in simple and easy to use” but plain as in “we ran out of designers that could use Photoshop”.”

    That’s the distinction I also intended making. LinkedIn looks like it’s designed by someone who knows how to use Photoshop but doesn’t understand design in terms of usability and IA. Facebook looks like it’s designed by someone who may or may not know Photoshop, but has a strong understanding of usability and IA.

    So there’s certainly a trade off and each person determines what the right balance is. For a social networking site, I am willing to sacrifice flashy-ness for usability any day. I’m not trying to make this about LinkedIn vs. Facebook, I just think it’s a good example.

  39. Justin says:

    You HAVE to add Netflix to the list, it’s got some of the greatest UI implimentation I’ve seen in a long while, and it’s been like that since before the web 2.0 craze went wild.

  40. I like the list, i tend to prefer sites that are non cluttered and have a web 2.0 look to them. Simplicity is a virtue!

  41. Jason says:

    I would like to nominate FadMashion.com… gotta have a fashion site!

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