Why Grunge Design Is Significant

Usability Post offered a cognitive argument for curved corners that boils down to:

  • If you have to squares of equal width on top of each other, with a line dividing them the eye could perceive it it as two separate parts, instead of two sections of a whole.
  • However, if you add curves to all four corners, it appears as an unmistakably whole.

They offer proof of this principle with the worst magic eye poster ever. I don't mock the example because its an obvious principle (its not obvious until someone points it out), but because curved corners are so 2003. If web designs are houses, then curved corners are now mostly used like a sort of spackle; sometimes, they're good artistic flourishes too. On the otherhand, this grunge design movement offers a more ambitious example of the principle. It bellylaughs at these crude boxes with rounded corners.

What makes the movement special isn't the design cliches that most people associate with it: muted earth tones, blogs set against imitation spiral notebooks, or fancy western type faces. That style is not much different from bellbottoms, and leisure suits in the 70s, an interesting fashion that I guess we all need to get out of our system before we move on. What makes it special is its use of irregular shapes, textures, colors, lighting: its an important step to creating web sites that are build for the way our brain works. We're hardwired to notice small details, and subtle shapes in the real world, its what helps us see a snake camouflaged in the grass, or certain type of plant from great distances. These abilities are quite amazing, and very underutilized by the web design community as a whole. Grunge design, whether on purpose or not, has been successful BECAUSE its design cliches happened to look more worldly on the screen. The design trends at the moment are moving away from traditional "grungy" style, but they're keeping the texture, depth, and irregularities of grunge. That excites me, but admittedly, I'm a strange little man.