Mega-Trends

Mega-Trend #1: Rectangles

Including 4 practical #rectanglehacks

A HOT design trend spotted by our resident trend spotter, Christian Beck.
A painting by the inventor of the rectangle, Piet Mondrian. After countless attempts to draw triangles, Mondrian submitted a whitepaper to The New York Times describing his new shape discovery.

We here at UX Power Tools have spent hours toiling over sites to find the best trends in the UI world. We’ve made up some pretty cool words as well (blockframe, bluegaloo, flogos…to name a few). But one major trend has been hiding beneath our unused MacBook TouchBar this whole time:

Rectangles.


You’ve probably seen them but don’t really notice them. Here is a pretty standard website. Notice anything?

Most people immediately see the circles.

I know, those circles are pretty eye-catching, but if you look closer there’s something else going on. Let’s zoom in the off-white areas by the larger text.

The 90-degree angle is a tell-tale sign that we have a rectangle on our hands. But according to ancient Euclidean geometry there needs to be FOUR sides that are all 90-degrees. From wikipedia:

I highlighted the salient point.

I didn’t want to go through the effort to uncover the other three corners manually so I decided to take a peek under the hood. As a designer, I don’t understand the “computer jargon” on the right side, but when you Inspect Element, you can see it highlights the aforementioned area — clearly showing a rectangle.

Inspect Element is like an x-ray scanner for web pages. Really cool stuff!!

Okay, so we’ve established that one of the most popular web pages on the Internet uses rectangles (that was Amazon.com, btw).

But is this something that you can do if you aren’t a monolithic Internet company with a billion dollar budget?

I admit, it’s tricky to pull rectangles off on a budget. But I’ll try to unpack some key rectanglehacks™ that you can synergize into your day-to-day UX workflow.

Let’s dive in!


1. Shadows

Shadows can take those flat rectangles and make them look as if they are lifting off of your screen. This gives the optical illusion that you aren’t looking at a digital screen in that windowless cubicle, but instead that you are poring over a fine piece of paper lightly laying on your grandmothers mahogany bureau.

from Tahir Yousaf

2. Rounded

Hold onto your trackpads because this is going to rock your Force Touch. In my earlier diagram, you saw how the corners must be 90-degrees. But we all know rules are meant to be broken! Try rounding the corners just a smidge to give your UI some polish.

from Anjo Cerdeña

3. Different sizes

Another cool trick you can do with rectangles is to make them various sizes. This can really look “artsy” if done well. The key is to think outside of the box (sorry, little rectangle humor there).

from Alexey Shkitenkov

4. Squares (expert)

This one is really cool but requires a bit of finesse. Squares are special rectangles where not only are all four corners 90-degrees, but each side has to be the same size!

One common mistake designers make is forgetting the innate qualities of a square and accidentally drawing a circle. As you can see below it’s not quite the same:

Yuck city.

Most design apps have ways to make squares but I won’t get into the details here. Instead just be inspired by these killer squares here:

from Stéphane Gibert

That’s all for this special April 1st edition of Tiny Trends, thanks to our design guru and professional trend spotter Christian Beck.

Be sure to post any unique #rectanglehacks you come up with yourself!


When I’m not writing, I’m working on Sketch design tools at UX Power Tools to make you a better, more efficient designer.

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