How Cards Dominate Design

Practical as they are visually attractive, card interfaces are more than just a trend.

With 2014 marking the first time mobile internet usage exceeded desktop, web design is now favoring the small screen as responsive design becomes mandatory. The result: simple interface styles like the new flat design, minimalism, and especially cards are more popular than ever.

The usefulness of the card UI pattern goes beyond loading times and translating across different screen sizes. Bite-sized content matches the attention span of most web users (especially on mobile devices). Nurtured by Pinterest and then popularized by social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, card UIs can now be found across websites of all industries.

In this article, we’ll explore the rise of the card UI pattern: why they’re useful, how they fit into responsive and material design, and what to expect from them in the future.

 

What’s Container-style Design?

To understand this pattern, you must first understand the card itself.

Cards are basically small containers of each information, with each card representing its own singular thought. A card can hold all types of content — visuals, text, links, etc. — but all fall under a single unified theme.

Filling the screen with such independent containers of information is what the Guardian calls the “container model.” This provides a mucher cleaner and instantly comprehensible interface, attuned to quick browsing so the user can go straight to what they’re looking for. (On top of that, this method lends itself to gesture controls, which we’ll explain below.)

Trello lets users create any card they want. Anyone can create “to-do” cards and categorize them as needed.

Not only does this illustrate the card’s flexibility, it also demonstrates its organizational power. Trello succeeds because their card format feels simpler than traditional list-style task managers.

 

UI Cards in Mobile and Responsive Design

As mentioned above, cards offer excellent compatibility with responsive frameworks, causing some like Des Traynor of Intercom to call it “the future of the web.” The pattern translates well to mobile devices for a variety of reasons, which we’ll explain now.