A Look Back at the Best Redesigns of 2009

by Tom Kenny (@tkenny)

With 2009 complete, we can take a good look back and realise that it was a great year for web design. It’s time to reflect and see what redesigns really were the best of the bunch from such a great year. While redesigning Inspect Element, I took the time to see what other sites had done to reinvent themselves and breathe new life into their projects. Here are just some fantastic examples from the last year and what makes them so great.


The first thing you notice with the new design is how adventures they are with the combination of typography, colour and illustration. You know what stands out for me amongst everything? The simplicity. Something that I hope is carried over into 2010 as a ‘trend’. Included is everything that is necessary and nothing more. It’s this simplicity why I think Carsonified is one of the best redesigns of the year.

National Rail

Here in the UK we struggled along with a boring and out of date design for our national rail services so to say a redesign was long overdue is understating it ever so slightly. But here we are in 2010, witness to a great redesign, especially when compared to the previous version, making the list due to the vast improvements it makes achieves.

Form design has been improved substantially from the old design. It has now been made the primary focus of the site and rightly so as it is the most used feature on the site. A smart redesign tip is to realise what your customer wants and give them exactly that.

They’ve also done a good job of simplifying by removing unnecessary content from the homepage. At the time of writing they’ve simplified the page even further due to the heavy load as customers flock to the site to check the latest travel news and how it has been affected by the huge snowfall we’ve had across the whole of the UK, demonstrating that this is something they’ve paid attention to in the design and build.


CNN redesigned their site towards the end of the year and received a lot of attention. Deservedly so. A bold header with a centred logo is very well laid out and immediately memorable. Much more so than their previous than their dull white header. The grid layout displays content in a way that is easily scannable.

CNN have certainly not forgotten that a redesign isn’t all about the visuals as their story highlights section demonstrates. A great addition that certainly helps people digest information easier in a world where we can get information whenever we want, however we want. Make a note of this and learn that redesigning websites isn’t just bout making everything look nicer but to improve the experience and great ideas like this can go a long way.

The White House

Barack Obama promised change to the American people and they’ve certainly got that even if you just look at the official White House website. To get an idea of how good the redesign of The White House is, take a look at the just how ugly government websites can be.

It has the elegance that one of the biggest countries in the world requires, treats whitespace with respect, has great typography, makes good use of both shadows and gradients and makes excellent use of the footer.

Manchester City Football Club

Recently cited as one of the reason why the English football club made the biggest loss in the history of English football, the redesign of Manchester City’s website is worth every penny. It is another example of keeping things simple to the benefit of the visitors.

Great imagery is the order of the day here with big spaces set out for high quality photos on every single page and really helps communicate the message along with the bold typography.

Redesign of the Year: Engadget

The redesign of Engadget is a great example of taking something that wasn’t necessarily bad and turning it into something truly special. It demonstrates how fast the world of web design moves. Before the redesign they were certainly one of the most successful gadget sites on the internet, if not the most successful. Not resting on their laurels and while on top of their game in the world of content creation, a new version was released that takes their gadget coverage and news to the next level. This is the act of a forward thinking company and I like it.

As the screenshots below show, one of the best aspects of the new design is colour. Probably some of the best use of colour seen all year, used in the first couple of examples to show the most posts in a day and most comments on a topic by using the heat colour model.

With Blue representing cold for lower frequency rising up to red hot for the other end of the scale.

Colour is also used well to clearly present breaking news articles as seen below.

Not only that they use colour on their social sections. Light blue for Twitter and dark blue and yellow for digg. These match the well-known colour schemes for their respective sites but Engadget are able to keep the style consistent with their own brand.

Due to the almost overwhelming amount of content they publish, the top stores section gives readers the opportunity to keep up to speed with the more important articles and news. They achieve this with a layout that almost looks unique every time you see it, therefore catching your attention.

The header section is used to great effect. First off a very noticeable red bar appears at the top of the page whenever they are covering a live event, especially popular when Apple are in town.

Below that is an area used to display what I can only describe as their flagship articles or promotions with a simple tab system to navigate between them all.

All of the above come together to form a cohesive design where not one section is overpowering another, where colour is used to great effect and ultimately evolve a design that many didn’t think needed evolving. Until now.

Your Thoughts

As usual, add your thoughts in the comments and let me know what your favourite redesigns of last year were and why.

These are the redesigns that I’ve focused on and I know that there are many many more that could comfortably make the list but it’s best to not go overkill and instead keep focused on a few examples rather than a boring static list of 50.

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by Tom Kenny

I’m a freelance web designer and front-end developer with over 7 years of experience designing for the web. Follow me on Twitter here.