10 Beautiful Web Applications for Inspiration

Sometimes when designing a new project we get stuck and need a little inspiration. The problem I find is that all the design galleries are focused on websites, not web applications. Since marketing websites usually follow different design patterns, I don’t find them very helpful for inspiration on web app projects.

So here are a few of my favorite interfaces. Here I am mostly focused on aesthetics, but for some (Gumroad in particular) you should check out their user experience first hand.

YouVersion

YouVersion uses great simple typography to create a clean, focused interface. They don’t overwhelm the user with too many choices. In fact, they even have an icon-only navigation bar (you have to hover over the navigation to see the label).

YouVersion

YouVersion

Gumroad


If there is anyone who pays attention to details in software design, it’s Gumroad. Not only do they have a great design style, but subtle details, like the color bars animating when you save, really bring the design to life. Oh, and their product is amazing. I use it to sell my books.

Gumroad

Gumroad

Flow

Metalab took styles that were successful on iOS and brought them to the web. Popovers, modals, and navigation bars really shine in their interface. It is a pixel-perfect interface that is fun and easy to use.

Flow

Flow

Flow

Grooveshark

Start by dragging music into a playlist, then go find even more great music. Grooveshark’s interface is quick and snappy, with lots of clean edges and crisp lines. It helps that they have great album art to showcase.

Grooveshark

Grooveshark

AirBnB

You may not consider AirBnB to be a web application, but with their user accounts, wishlists, and other interactive features, they definitely qualify. They use a surprising number of bright colors in their interface, but since everything is separated by whites and light grays, the colors don’t clash.

AirBnB

AirBnB

Squarespace

Black, white, and beautiful. Squarespace uses clean typography, simple icons, and lots of great whitespace to create a sophisticated website creation interface. Just goes to show how often removing elements can improve your design.

Squarespace

Squarespace

Zendesk

When designing an interface that will be used all day, every day, you need to use restraint. If your colors and fonts are too bold they will quickly become tiresome to look at. Zendesk does a great job maintaining a great design, while keeping it focused on the content.

Zendesk

Zendesk

Visual Website Optimizer

The user experience on this application is incredible. They took A/B and Multivariate testing, which is a complicated and confusing process, and made it simple and easy. I set up a new multivariate test within a couple minutes, all without having used the application before. It doesn’t look half bad, either.

Visual Website Optimizer

Visual Website Optimizer

Visual Website Optimizer

SpaceBox

Drew Wilson put this payment app together in 5 days and it looks great. Clean and simple. Each page is focused on the main task, without extra distractions to get in the way. The colors and fonts are clean, plus it’s responsive so it looks great on mobile devices as well.

SpaceBox

SpaceBox

Simple

Simple has a modern, classy style. They use sharp, trendy elements, while still keeping enough of a classic style to make it feel trustworthy. Plus, I love the idea of simplifying my online banking. Their safe-to-spend balance is a great idea.

Simple

Simple

Simple

Simple

What We Can Learn

Let’s take a look through again to see what we can apply to our own web applications.

Design for repeat actions.
Since web applications are often used dozens of times per day by the same person, it is important that you keep the interface clean and easy to use. Too many bright colors, moving backgrounds or annoying textures will get old pretty quickly. Just keep in mind that what may look fun and cool the first time you see it will be tiring after you’ve seen it a hundred times.

Pay attention to the little details.
Follow the example of Gumroad and Simple by adding simple animations and subtle details.

Simplify the process.
Visual Website Optimizer is remarkable because they reinvent a process that used to require creating multiple pages, carefully editing HTML, and managing statistics. That entire process is replaced by a visual editor where you can quickly make any change to an existing page.

Gumroad lets you make a purchase with just a credit card number and an email address, cutting out the name, address, and many other often unnecessary fields. Always look for what you can remove to make the process easier.

Use visuals to add life to a design.
The Grooveshark interface takes advantage of beautiful album art to bring it to life. Looking at these images is so much better than just reading song or album titles.

AirBnB uses brilliant photography of their rental listings to enhance their design. Does the content of your web application provide any nice visuals?

Keep it clean.
All of these designs are clean and focused. They make it easy to accomplish a particular task, while staying out of the user’s way and focusing on the content.

I hope you now have some inspiration to take back to your project.

About the Author:

Nathan Barry is the author of Designing Web Applications, a complete guide to designing beautiful, easy-to-use web software. He also writes about design and business at NathanBarry.com.

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7 Responses

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  • Moritz B., December 12, 2012

    i work with spacebox. it is really easy to handle with, but anyway, i wanna try the other applications.

  • Nancy Young, December 20, 2012

    I like such kind of apps as Grooveshark is. It’s simple to use and elegant at the same time. The playlist looks nice because of lots of album imagies. Thanks for a collection, I like it :)

  • Mốc, December 26, 2012

    Why not Do.com?

    • Steven Snell, December 26, 2012

      Hi Mốc,
      This post wasn’t intended to be an all-inclusive list, there are a lot of other good app designs out there that also could have been included.

  • Mark Adkins, December 27, 2012

    Nathan,

    I enjoy reading your blog. The examples you give are great, but I believe they are not indicative of all “web applications” – but are primarily customer focused. So many companies today design and build web applications for internal use. These applications tend to be much more complex than something along the lines of a Zendesk or Flow (think billing systems, or accounting packages). I realize there are simplified versions of these available (like Freshbooks), but am wondering about sources for design with regard to this type of app. I believe their level of complexity would challenge even the best UX designers…

    Thanks again for the resources.

    Mark

  • Alanda, June 15, 2013

    I am late to the scene, but nice collection anyway. They should thank you, because I haven’t heard of some of these apps before this.

  • Martin, June 25, 2013

    Great list. Good to see these nice examples. I am also searching for good examples of web applications, and have come to similar conclusions as you and also agree wit Alanda, that highly professional and production-oriented applications are tricky, since the users expect both the niceness in the interface and interaction as well as the screen efficiency of SAP or office products. I don’t think there exists a golden rule of how to reach the right balance, but your advice are some of the way.

    By the way, I also find Podio.com very appealing, and able to handle a lot of complexity in a simple and elegant interface