By: Jordan Krueger
One of the biggest barriers of entry into graphic design is the multitude of techniques, styles, and aesthetics that you can apply to virtually any design. Even when making decisions with something as basic as texture, there are so many options at your fingertips that committing to one or two textures can be rather difficult. However, being that texture is such a versatile element of design, you really should try to experiment with different textures in design when you can. For even the busiest web designs, you might be surprised to find certain textures that still blend well and don't overcomplicate.
It is important to understand what texture is and what its uses are before diving into experimentation with it. Most texture in web and graphic layouts is designed as an illusion. Think about texture as you experience it in real life; is it more of something you see or more of a tactile sense, determined by touch? Most people would associate texture as a tactile sense, but in design, we refer to it visually, as a 2D surface with the illusion of touch-based 3D texture.
However, texture also has a relationship with patterns in addition to its association with touch sense. Different textures are typically the products of some form of repeating pattern, either in nature (more random but still repetitive) or design (abstract, perfect shapes). Picture a knitted sweater with a symmetrical or repetitive knitting pattern. Upon close inspection, you can see the pattern of the stitching, but as you move further away, the pattern becomes lost in a sea of texture as you lose discernable patterns. Something as simple as a checkered pattern, when zoomed to a wide enough scale, can appear to be a texture.
Textures are best categorized as loud or soft, abrasive or subtle. Loud textures are, in my opinion, the most fun textures to experiment with. They will typically serve the purpose of highlighting certain areas of a design (perhaps the header) or heightening the contrast between boxes of content. Be wary of using too many lout textures as it can easily distract from the content or even overpower the design itself. Many designs are better off without loud textures.
The site Narfstuff demonstrates a very effective use of loud texture. Using a large variety of textured elements such as a clipboard covering several photos, torn pieces of paper, and even a vine all over a multicolored cloth with slight wrinkles, the design would appear to be oversaturated with texture upon reading this description. However, as you scroll down the site, all of these textural elements begin to gradually fade to white through a smooth gradient. This results in only a textural emphasis at the top of the page, where the header is, which makes perfect sense.
While experimenting with loud textures can be a lot of fun when designing a site, mastering the finesse of using subtle designs shows the mark of a true professional designer. Most soft textures will only appear as an odd shade of color or a smooth gradient when viewed from a distance; only until your eyes move closer to the screen will you discern the subtle intricacies of the texture.
Take a look at LogoGala's simple but effective use of subtle texture within their web design. Throughout the design, the site incorporates various shades of blue; on the top of the site rests a dark blue navigation bar while the remainder of the site is a few shades lighter. Right below the dark blue navigation bar, you may notice a type of misty or marbled texture that seems to fade just as the header ends. This texture not only draws attention to the header, but also helps draw a distinction between the two similar shades of blue in the design.
Now that you understand and can make distinctions between different functions of texture, you must determine when to use texture in your own design. Ultimately it depends on the flow of your design and the priority of information on your page; for the most part you should utilize them to make distinctions between different types of content. While it is good to keep different ideas for textures in mind when creating a design, you probably shouldn't commit to any textures until you have an accurate prototype of the design as a whole. It is much easier to add a texture to a design than to take one away.