How To Use Shadows And Blur Effects In Modern UI Design

When you examine the most successful interaction designs of recent years, the clear winners are those who provide an excellent functionality. While functional aspect of a design is key to product success, aesthetics and visual details are equally important — particularly how they can improve those functional elements.

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In today’s article, I’ll explain how visual elements, such as shadows and blur effects, can improve the functional elements of a design. If you’d like to try adding these elements to your designs, you can download and test Adobe XD for free and get started right away.

Shadows And User Interface Discoverability Link

There’s a reason GUI designers incorporate shadows into their designs — they help create visual cues in the interface which tell human brains what user interface elements they’re looking at.

Design Affordance Link

Since the early days of graphical user interfaces, screens have employed shadows to help users understand how to use an interface. Images and elements with shadows seem to pop off of a page, and it gives users the impression that they can physically interact with the element. Even though visual cues vary from app to app, users can usually rely on two assumptions:

  • Elements that appear raised look like they could be pressed down (clicked with the mouse or tapped with a finger). This technique is often used as a visual signifier for buttons.
  • Elements that appear sunken look like they could be filled. This technique is often used as a visual signifier for input fields.

You can see how the use of shadows and highlights help users understand which elements are interactive in this Windows 2000 dialog box:

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