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Ask HN: Who are the top UI designers on the web today?
64 points by jayro on Dec 10, 2009 | hide | past | web | favorite | 86 comments
It would be interesting and useful to know who the top 5, 10 or even 20 designers are and what they've done that's so impressive, innovative, useful or loved.

With all due respect to the aforementioned people, but personall I think the real rockstars are the leading designers behind sites like Yahoo, Amazon, CNN, BBC and digg's Daniel Burka. Designing for such a large audience while still keeping an eye on a company's goals and vision is what really is impressive. Making something look good is the easy part -- making it work flawlessly in an pre-existing environment with an incrediblyt large audience is the challenge.

A lot of my UI pals disagree, but I think the guys at Amazon and CNN are killing it, certainly operating at the highest level.

CNN are great at cross-linking and surfacing content, and the latest update is furthering that goal. Amazon...? Not so sure. They succeed despite their fugly, confusing UI rather than because of it.

Amazon's design has undergone countless testing for each new UI aspect that gets added and there are case studies written on it. Some may find it confusing but it's more often than not there because it's increasing sales.

Fugly is up for debate (one probably not worth having).

Confusing I'd like to hear your defense for. I don't personally find it confusing.

Regardless, what is a better measure for the success of a product's interface than its ability to support a company's objectives? Amazon's site is doing just that.

I personally think Amazon's pretty fugly

I also find myself scrolling around and looking for stuff alot on amazon - too much recommendations and stuff...

Which is exactly what they want you to do :)

Just because they want you to do it, doesnt mean its very good.

it's good for business.

Exactly. Too many people think UI design is about making something look pretty, but it's not. Making something look pretty is a nicely added bonus, but before all you must help the user in doing what they want in a way that's efficient and effective, while still supporting the company's commercial goals. More than often it's an incredibly challenge to balance this properly, but succeeding in this is what, in my opinion, makes a great designer.

I think Amazon is an awful UI. I'm not saying I could do any better, but for me, I hate it.

Amazon is fantastic, basically everyone in the industry that I know has been going there for inspiration first forever. Recently, Facebook has taken that place, and Google to some degree (although Google's case is a very specific one).

Wow, thats amazing. Its the last place I'd look for inspiration these days. Perhaps 8 years ago. It just doesnt make sense to regurgitate things that could be done better.

I find the whole UX clunky, especially the checkout process. Its trying to be too many things to too many people and have solved some hard issues - just not very well.

Huge Inc. did the CNN redesign

The work they do over at http://metalab.com/ is some of the best I've seen.

Edit: Oops! He's right, http://metalabdesign.com/

You probably mean http://www.metalabdesign.com

They are quite good.

Similar look to hoptoadapp, which I've always been impressed by. Really clean "application-ey" look.

"Designers are not highly paid cake decorators." -- Spencer Murrel

"When you're forced to be simple, you're forced to face the real problem. When you can't deliver ornament, you have to deliver substance." -- PG

http://www.metalabdesign.com/about-us/ is full of "cake decoration". Other than that it is nice work.

Other than that it is nice work.

I'm not sure what you're getting at here. Sure, average people think design is purely decorative, but that does not mean that decoration is not a part of design.

What about their site do you find to be poorly designed?


Look at all of the unnecessary lines framing everything on the page. Instead of adding complexity that potentially confuses the user, they should have used whitespace to group elements.

They also use too many colors. Their use of color is distracting -- it does not add value.

I agree. My eyes hit the page and have no idea where I'm supposed to be looking. The white-on-black text that's interspersed with the images is also painful to read.

There are a lot of good and interesting ideas there. The problem, I think is that there are too many, and that leaves the page cluttered and distracting.

FWIW, A lot of their color comes from images within a post, not the blog itself (which is quite consistent with its blues).

But when their blog design is built to emphasize images rather than text, that turns having those images distract into a design issue with the theme.

We have been incredibly impressed with the work Metalab has done for us - http://urbanairship.com/ and our admin interface at https://go.urbanairship.com/ . Couldn't recommend them highly enough.

Also, totally love Refresh Media - http://refreshmedia.com/ - they did http://bacn.com/ for us.

I like some of Metalab's work, but it seems like most of their designs are just copies of existing ones. http://go.urbanairship.com/ is almost identical to Metalab's marketing site except a few colors have been changed

I visit Urban Airship and my first instinct is to hate how little padding there is between your iPhone image and the image right below it, which strikes me as overlarge.

Thanks for the feedback! that's actually something we did after our contract with them, so it's no surprise that we didn't do that well :)

The Metalab people were involved in a dispute with one of the Tumblr designers on IRC the one time I entered the Tumblr IRC, so I've got a bias that comes from that designer ranting at them for an underhanded design, but I find that I really dislike the Metalab style. It's too undiscriminatingly open, and it wastes a lot of space doing/saying simple things. I prefer people who're capable of packing a lot of information into a small space and keep it looking good.

It's certainly "consistent."

http://metalab.com/ is essentially blank; any links to work they've done?

You're asking about UI designers and most people have provided links to Designers - two different beasts in my view.

I think stackoverflow if one of the best examples of brilliant UI I've seen recently - certainly one of the best I've seen on the web - but it probably wouldn't make my top list for beautiful design.

You're asking about UI designers and most people have provided links to Designers

This is the crucial point in this whole discussion. If the user has a task to accomplish, the user may indeed want the task to be accomplished in a beautiful environment, but most of all the user wants the task to get done. User interface design is first of all tested by seeing whether or not any typical user anticipated for the site or for the application can accomplish the task successfully.

StackOverflow is, from a UX perspective, indeed very well done.

I've always been a fan of MetaLab's work

I also really like what Sofa does: http://www.madebysofa.com/ (checkout the enstore demo, epic: http://www.enstore.com)

Ryan Singer of 37signals was very impressive when I saw him speak at RailsConf this year. I definitely think he's up there. http://twitter.com/rjs

I think our designer (http://dekorte.com/) did an awesome job:


Is there a way to measure it, other than subjective tastes?

I don't think it comes down solely to the designer, instead think of the company and team of professionals who make a great UI possible. A great UI design trapped inside of a photoshop file is useless. It takes the effort of multiple people to make it happen - I think a better question to ask is what companies are creating the best UI's that are actually being used today.

agreed completely.

I'm a big fan of Nathan Borror's stuff: http://nathanborror.com/

Also Wilson Miner: http://www.wilsonminer.com/work/

And Greg Newman: http://carbon8.us/

Keep in mind that I don't know many designers, so I've pretty much just listed all the ones I know.

Whoever designed the heroku site.

I would have to disagree, I think there a quite a few users like myself that find it difficult to look at light font on dark backgrounds for too long.

http://twitter.com/seaofclouds is the man you're looking for. I worked with him at CNET for a while, great guy.

I agree 100%. That site is a work of art.

I don't know if we're talking "top 10 in the world" but I want to recommend Amy Hoy - our own user ahoyhere - http://news.ycombinator.com/user?id=ahoyhere - http://slash7.com/about/

probably Jason Putorti from Mint is on the list, so impressive, he got a designer in residence gig at Bessemer VC

Yeah, he's the one I'd mention. I like how Mint has their own widget in place of the <select> tag.

Top designers, or most famous designers? It's not the same.

What do you think of Fantasy Interactive (http://www.f-i.com)? Not trying to self-promote, just want to see what people think. We've done some big portals like http://ea.com, http://events.nationalgeographic.com/events, and http://atari.com, but also more experience-focused sites like http://panamera.com

I'm a big fan of the HappyCog crew, Information Architects, and Huge, to limit it to three.

Big fan of F-I work... I like http://www.kontain.com/ especially

I have found the vast majority of my favourites through twitter. And they're amazing for showing off WIPs and sharing freebies with you. One of the below (I can't remember who) disliked the Wave interface so much they re-mocked it themselves just for fun.

Jonas Rask - http://twitter.com/JonasRask

Jonathan Castro - http://twitter.com/DDrDark

MetaLab Design - http://twitter.com/metalab

Philipp Antoni - http://twitter.com/PhilippAntoni

Not sure about top 10 but I really like Kyle Neath who now works at Github

Douglas Bowman(stopdesign.com) and Dan Cederholm(simplebits.com)--IMHO.

http://www.thenobleunion.com - we work with them often. Excellent iPhone and web design. Think they are reworking their site.

Naz Hamid has done some wonderful work. I particularly like the work he did here on a CMS project: http://weightshift.com/design/aiga-cms-design

I also think the work skinnyCorp does (http://www.skinnycorp.com/) on all their sites is fantastic.

One designer not mentioned on this list is Jason Fried of 37 Signals. Basecamp is very useful. Web App designers don't get the attention of flashy visual designers but after repeated usage of an application, you really get a sense of how well thought out it is.

Haven't seen the Sofa guys on here yet. Minimalist, Apple-esque app design: http://www.madebysofa.com/

My favorite interactive design agency: http://www.2advanced.com/

I wouldn't consider 2advanced to be a company that's good at UI... They're good at flash, I guess



How has no one mentioned Nick La?


Also, Dragon Interactive is pretty cool, although they can be mega douches at times.


How about Ryan Singer at 37signals? Not only is he a great, functional designer but I think he's an awesome teacher, too.


My personal opinion is that he's very good, but not great. His designs work very well, but he never strikes me as ambitious or risk-taking in his work, which I feel is a must for great.

Let me cast my vote for Shaun Inman, whose two web apps are brilliantly designed and brilliantly functional. His homepage is pretty dandy, too: http://shauninman.com

My pick: - Ryan Singer of 37signals - HappyCog - ClearLeft - Unit Interactive - Made by Sofa

Also, I think UI design is different from Visual design. I found that some of the posts below are referring to visual specialists only.

As much as I really don't like the guy, I think Mark Boulton would be up there. His UX work for Drupal (some of which is at http://d7ux.org) is really top knotch.

i think the names of the top 5, 10, or 20 designers aren't public because they are busy working on uis instead of promoting themselves on the web. it's all a matter of opinion. a lot of the people mentioned below have 1-2 things under their belt, excepting some of the more seasoned folks like bowman, vinh, and miner. the reality is no one person is responsible for a great ui. it's a confluence of talent. the only reason you know about any of these products is because the talent of multiple individuals produced it.

Might not be exactly what you were asking, but I like Envato.


Particularly, I like their themes site:


I can't believe no one has mentioned: Jon Tan His taste is exquisite his websites are beautiful and functional.


Many designs on http://csszengarden.com/ is very nice, and it has designer contacts there as well.

30 top web designers on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tor/status/6525201103

Its impossible to accurately classify something subjective into a top X list. The lists will always be skewed into the tastes of the judges or list compiler.

Take music charts for example. The top 20 could be renamed, the '20 records that teenagers like at the moment'.

That said I would like to say that UI designers that work for one company who have one product, do not deserve the same amount of kudos as really skilled agency UI designers who work on upwards of 10 UI's a year. They solve 10 times more problems than those who work on one product.

Disagreed. I find that the agencies don't tend to "solve" problems, because they're not there when their solutions are measured/exposed to the real world. Agencies tend to take a stab at solutions. In house designers need to solve things.

Perhaps that is the case when the relationship is not right. In a lot of cases we run the sites for our clients and dont have to ask them to make UI changes. We spend a lot of time fine tuning and getting this part right. We do this on a permanent basis.

But I accept your point if this kind of relationship doesnt exist and the site is 'handed over'

IMHO Top UI design http://thesixtyone.com, anyone knows the designer?

Timothy Gray of http://www.shelfari.com/ Great UI and UX design.

Few more apps that I consider great UI/UX design implementation... http://www.foodspotting.com/, http://hunch.com/

Aaron Sittig - http://www.facebook.com

Facebook is awesome user experience. The visual design is pretty decent, but it's the UX that's awesome.

surely off-topic and probably silly, but I was wondering where do all the designers get the pictures they use? is there a market going on for such thing? (I assume they won't shoot the photos themselves -- division of labor and all :D)

thank you very much!

could this stand as a sub-topic for top photo shops, branching the 'top UI designers' main theme? (yes, I'm trying realy hard to subvert this topic :p)

It's called stock photography :)

I stand educated.

I inferred such thing must exist, but I never encountered it in the real world during my tribulations so far :)

thank you.

Nobody has mentioned Khoi Vinh? Creative Director from the New York Times?

I mentioned him :) His personal site in subtraction.com

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