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A Look at Subtle Grunge in Web Design

A Look at Subtle Grunge in Web Design

I’m not sure if ‘subtle grunge’ is a recognized design term, but personally it’s one of my favorite design styles.

By subtle grunge I mean designs that have elements of grunge design (textures, rough lines/shapes, brush effects etc…), but applied in a subtle way, so as not to overwhelm the viewer. Applying this trend to websites, the best examples mix a variety of sketched elements, textures and brush strokes, but are restrained in their approach.

The Key to Subtle Grunge Design

There are a few keys to subtle grunge design. Most importantly of all:

DO LESS NOT MORE.

It can be very tempting to overwhelm your design with an array of textures, brushes and patterns. This is particularly true when novice designers start to explore with these techniques. However, it’s generally necessary for designers to go too far, before they realize their limits, and the power of a more reserved approach.

By being reserved, you truly showcase your skill as a designer. Often the most talented designers are sparing in their approach. It’s important to realize that a heavily grungy approach should only be taken when absolutely necessary. Some brands may be inextricably associated with ‘grunge’ (for example: punk bands, skateboarders etc…).

Just look at the design below:

This grungy approach uses a variety of techniques including:

  • Photo montages
  • Sketchy drawings
  • A variety of typefaces
  • An unconventional layout
  • Rough edges to content areas

Grungy websites are also often very dark and moody, although the example above does use a lighter background design.

Whilst grunge design can be very effective, creative and engaging, it also has some negative points:

  • Often readability and general usability is hindered
  • The complex background designs and variety of visual elements detracts from the content
  • The entire feel of the site is overwhelming. It shows a lack of subtly or restraint.

Awesome Examples of Subtle Grunge Websites:

To see how to properly construct a ‘subtle grunge’ style design, please look through the collection below, including my analysis of what works with each design. I hope that you will click through and show appreciation for each designer, as each displays a huge amount of talent.

1. Ivana Setiawan

A subtle background texture, and pastel color-scheme that is easy on the eyes. The typography is creative, yet limited to a couple of fonts, and used with restraint.

2. Racket

A fairly standard layout is enhanced by a large creative header, and awesome menu design. The logo and menu have a sketchy border effect, set over a detailed header pattern (which has been subtly faded into the page background).

3. Angelika Zambrzycka

What would have been a simple, and possibly boring design has been jazzed up with a few subtle elements of grunge, including a faint textured background and label hanging down from the header.

4. Imagine Plus

Imagine Plus uses a variety of background designs, faded as to not overwhelm the viewer. The patterns and jagged edges are blended together smoothly.

5. Panoetic

Another fairly simple design, enhanced by grungy elements. The edges are subtly given a ripped effect, and small illustrative elements are integrated into the header. However, these elements are used sparingly, and the background is still faint and easy on the eye.

6. The Albany

This site uses an awesome photo-montage combined with small sketchy elements to construct an eye-catching welcome area.

7. Fantasy

This website is clearly very illustrative, yet it is fairly subtle in terms of color choice and execution. Rather than be too bright or bold, the designer has instead opted for a faded watercolor effect.

8. Private Grave


Private Grave is a dark design, yet remains readable and usable. The typography is bright and clear, and the layout structure remains conventional.

9. Learn Czech in Wales

This simple layout is hugely enhance by a sketchy background design and colorful badge image in the top-right.

10. Denise Chandler

I love the sketchy effect used in this website. The elegant typography and clear content areas are enhanced by rough sketched edges and a watercolor effect.

11. GlueckStueck

I love the header area of this site. The level of detail is amazing, combining a beautiful mountainous photo montage with a stunning welcome composition. The super faint background design helps frame this central area, and the elegant logo typography is visually appealing.

12. Joseph Alessio

This layout is fairly simplistic, but the sleek lighting effects in the header, and varied typography help add a touch of grunge to a minimal look.

13. I Am Rogue

I Am Rogue combines a clean, professional menu and minimal background with grungy elements such as sketchy typography, and grungy illustrations.

14. Voz que Clama

The bold bright colors of this design are accompanied by elegant illustrations, and very faded brush marks overlaying the background. It’s the perfect combination of clean and grunge.

15. Otukaresan

The clean single column design of this site is combined with a variety of background illustrations that compliment the color-scheme of the website.

16. Josh Sullivan

I love the style of this website. The illustration of the whale is stunningly detailed, and I love the abstract way that it has been distorted. The clean logo and header background represent the more restrained side of this design, whilst the stained green background and illustrations add a grungy element.

17. Mascara Design

This site is a great example of clean vs grungy. The subtly textured background and illustrative elements combine nicely with the more standard web fonts and traditional two column layout.

18. WebTeam

Another very clean design, with subtle grungy elements. The faint watercolor clouds in the header, and lined paper background effect are not immediately visible, but upon closer inspection reveal an extra level of detail within the design.

19. Perspektif

The background texture in this design is really faint, but adds a lot of depth to the design. The subtle grunge elements are combined with a clear menu design and clean boxed content areas.

20. Word Refuge

Another example of a ‘subtle grunge’ site using very limited colors in order to best promote the content. The background combines texture, illustration and brush strokes but at very low opacities to create a subtle grunge effect. Laid over this is a combination of clean and more ornate typography.


About the Author:

Tom is the founder of PSDFAN. He loves writing tutorials, learning more about design and interacting with the community. On a more interesting note he can also play guitar hero drunk with his teeth.

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4 Comments:

  1. These sites are all great. I like so many Ivana Setiawan, The Albany, Denise Chandler, I am Rogue, Voz que Clama. These sites have such personality by being something different and using the techniques that you have been pointed out. I aspire to be able to design and build a site similar to these. Thank you for all the inspiration that you give me for my own sites.

  2. Nick Young says:

    Some excellent sites, some very good designs. I would love to have design talent like some of them! I must admit though, when I talk to a client, I try to avoid saying Grunge as it typically means to them dirty, yet the sites are far from this…

  3. These are some really great examples of subtle grunge being used in web design. There are a lot I like and they way they use different styles of grunge make them stand out. I will definitely use these examples as a new source of inspiration for my next designs. Thanks.

  4. magnet link says:

    All these templates are good but i still believe that the simplicity. is the key for the truth.

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