Rich surfaces

Almost all 2.0-style sites make use of subtle 3D effects, in moderation, to improve the qualitative feel of the design.

Everyone knows that these little touches feels good but no one knows the reason for this.

Realistic surface affects such as drop-shadows, reflections and gradients facilitate in making a visual interface look more factual, solid and "finished".

These may also remind us of some tactile or visual qualities of real-world items, like water droplets, marble floors and shiny plastic buttons.


When & how to use rich surfaces

The golden rule here is to use with care, and not to overdo it. That is, these effects should not be applied to everything.

Similar to these techniques, a rich surface might just add value to your design when it is utilized understandingly and properly

If your navigation/icon/logo/layout sucks fundamentally, you can't polish your way out. You must get the basics right first.

It is also vital that you maintain a reliable light-source. Even though this may become more complicated with the delusion of back-lit diffusion in buttons etc, you will still realize if a design, on the whole, feels consistent.

3D effects may make the elements appear to be prominent from the page but this will happen only if the remaining of the page is relatively flat.

Avoid trying to make your entire design 3D-realistic because:

  • It's more work
  • It will increase the overall size of the page assets
  • And you don't need to. 3D effects use lots of different pixels, and different pixels should be used deliberately to draw the visitor's attention to key content elements, or to enhance "soft" informational aspects.


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