card UI design - cover

Card UI Design: The Future of User Interfaces Is Now

Design, Product
13 min
Jan 12, 2024

Card-based interfaces seem to be everywhere these days! Whether it’s Pinterest’s image pinboards, Spotify’s playlists, or even simple online recipe cards. These modular, bite-sized designs help simplify and better organize information for us.

In this article, we’ll take a look at what exactly card UI is, why it’s becoming so popular, and the useful benefits it brings and share some tips on how to design good card interfaces.

What Exactly Are Card Interfaces?

Card interfaces organize content into individual “cards” — compact containers that frame everything from text to videos in a consistent, bite-sized format.

They come in all shapes and sizes but tend to stick to some common conventions: crisp edges that clearly define boundaries, heavy use of images alongside text, and plenty of “whitespace” surrounding each card.

Some key characteristics of card-based UI design include:

  • Modular components containing info/functionality
  • Brief, scannable chunks of content
  • Visual distinction from the underlying page
  • Stacked galleries layered over menus
  • Dynamic responsiveness across devices

Now, let’s find out what exactly makes card UI design so popular over traditional designs.

The Popularity of Card-Based Interfaces Over Traditional Ones

There are some clear reasons driving the surge in card-based interfaces over the past several years. As mobile has become the dominant mode of digital interactivity, a UI card provides the ideal design pattern in terms of looks, utility, and flexibility. Their compact modular nature helps organize information cleanly on smaller screens. This makes it fast and pleasant to access content regardless of device.

Additionally, cards simply improve scanability by separating disparate pieces of content into neat little packages. This makes drilling into an article or recipe much easier on today’s cluttered websites. It also enhances general comprehension for users since retaining shorter serial content is cognitively easier than digesting solid text.

From a development perspective, card components also accelerate design velocity by providing reusable building blocks that are fast to implement. Their partitioning likewise aids in easier code maintenance down the line.

Design Principles Behind Solid Card UI

For card UIs to be effective, they should follow a few core design principles focused on being adaptable, scannable, and visually distinct.

Smart card interfaces are architected in layers to maintain focus as you navigate. This way, getting around is fast and distraction-free.

Great card UI also adapts responsively across device sizes, orientations, and browsers to give a consistent user experience. The layout, content, and arrangement shift dynamically to optimize experiences.

Visual distinction is huge for good card-based UI design. Elements like shadows, depth, and rounded corners make critical components stand out, while uniform rows enhance flow and scanning. Such a prioritization helps direct user attention.

Lastly, UI cards should be self-contained units that cluster related data and tools around a single topic. This enhances cognitive comprehension and accelerates development, too.

When to Use Cards UI

Card interfaces come with a variety of benefits around user experience, development efficiency, and flexibility. Use cards UI if you want to achieve the following goals.

cards UI

Improved Information Organization

By breaking up interfaces into individual cards, information architecture gets far more understandable through simplification. Enhanced organization aids user comprehension and focus.

Enhanced User Experience

Beyond just organization, cards breathe life into interfaces through fun micro-interactions like subtle animations, transitions, and badges. Exploration feels more rewarding and intuitive as a result. Cards operate tactilely to enhance mobile experiences, too.

Versatility and Scalability

Card templates flexibly accommodate diverse content types, from text to charts to photos. Their neat modular nature also makes adding, removing, or rearranging UI cards simple from a development perspective.

Visual Hierarchy and Clarity

Card UI establishes a crystal clear visual hierarchy through strong typographic contrast, negative space, and strategic use of color/imagery. This makes differentiating features easier compared to dense pages.

Accessibility and Scannability

Cards accommodate different learning abilities and speeds through simplified content organization. Their scanability makes extracting information easy for speed readers, while clear typographic contrast assists screen reader users.

Best Practices for UI Card Design

So, cards clearly provide immense value. But what does it take to build card interfaces that are highly functional, intuitive, and delightful? Several key best practices hold the answer…

UI card design

Content Formatting

Cards obviously need to contain useful, engaging content at their core. Despite their compact frames, smart structuring brings clarity. Lead with descriptive yet brief headlines, winning attention.

Then use a tight, scannable copy, limiting body text to around 200 words. Anything longer should link deeper as a content series instead. Lastly, add clear calls-to-action to channel the next tasks, whether booking, downloading, or shopping. Make these vibrant buttons visually distinct.

While copy comes first, resist stuffing cards with walls of heavy text, too. Paragraph styles, imagery, and negative space contribute just as much!

Designing For Appealing Aesthetics

Visual design hugely impacts the appeal and scans of card content. Subtle corner rounding and shadows define frames distinctly from the underlying pages. Avoid flat, full-bleed cards that risk getting lost. Then make the most of that compact space with strong typographic contrast, headings between 14-25px, and paragraphs no smaller than 12px. Also, avoid widths straining readability across viewports.

What’s more, photos, custom illustrations, and icons amplify meaning faster than text alone can while also adding personality.

Making Cards Interact

Beyond just visual style, interaction design makes cards feel alive through movement, feedback, and smooth transitions between views. Subtle animations show how cards are connected as they slide out or in while keeping context.

And since cards now live more on small screens, take a responsive approach across platforms. Keep improving based on data about how real users interact across desktop and mobile. What works on bigger screens may fail on tiny phone displays. Let the device type and size shape the card experience.

Prioritizing Information

Handling many cards in one view requires setting up a clear ranking — highlighting the main information while secondary aspects stay in the background. Show priorities by varying the card size and using contrasting pictures and colors. Key details should pop out at a quick glance. Spotlight key cards for featured products or logins by reserving space at the top for the web and the bottom for phones.

Maintaining Consistency

To keep interfaces looking sharp, keep card framing, padding, and visual styles aligned per group. Staying consistent creates harmony. Still, allow some uniqueness between card types to avoid boring uniformity. Keep key elements in sync: rounded corners, light drop shadows, and text sizes.

Card UI Design Implementation Tips

While best practices inform solid design, effectively implementing card UI requires addressing several technical considerations as well.

card UI design

Choose Card Size Wisely

Factor in the content type (text vs. visuals), desired user experience (scanning vs. immersion), and breakpoint limitations when establishing card sizes and rows. Too big looks clumsy, while too small strains readability.

Develop Strong Headlines

Card headlines should be:

  • Brief yet descriptive (under six words)
  • Written in sentence case
  • Free of generic, overused terms
  • Leverage active voice and keywords

Embrace White Space

Negative space eases visual congestion by lowering clutter. For legibility, define margins between cards that are at least equal to the paragraph line heights used inside the cards themselves.

Account for Device Diversity

Optimize card alignment and arrangement for the full spectrum, from phones to desktop monitors. Consider more compact multi-column grids for large displays, with predominantly full-width stacking on smaller ones. Confirm responsiveness through testing.

Continually Refine Through Data

Analytics, heatmaps, and user tests should inform iterative design evolution. Continually refine card alignments, layouts, and performance, informed by hard insights into usage and behavior — optimization requires diligence.

Standout Card UI Design Examples

When skillfully executed, card components enable highly engaging and intuitive experiences users love across industries and use cases.

Pinterest

Pinterest’s gallery grid brilliantly scales between desktop and mobile while expanding cards reveal deeper layers of content. Generous white space and a strong visual hierarchy aid discoverability for their pinboards.

Trello

Trello drives project management adoption through card walls mirroring real-world workflows. Their drag-and-drop cards enable manipulating tasks fluidly across columns and schedules. This tactile, playful interaction model makes work intuitive and satisfying.

Airbnb

Airbnb smartly adopted card UI early across booking flows and property listings, which succeeds tremendously in helping travelers compare options. Interactive favoriting and responsive hover animations boost evaluation and delight. No wonder users return regularly!

Flipboard

Flipboard’s news curation leverages the card’s aesthetic and functionality. Their mosaic of articles, photos, and headlines offers an engaging balance of glanceability and depth. Just like a real magazine reimagined digitally.

Conclusion

Card UI design clearly offers immense advantages around engagement, comprehension, and development flexibility that have fueled its rapid adoption over the past several years. And given their versatility across contexts and platforms, component-driven card interfaces will likely continue revolutionizing digital experiences across industries in the near future.

This article provided useful perspectives on UI card design and how it can be applied to your efforts. We would be excited to explore whether card UI could benefit your product and unlock additional value for your users, too. Get in touch to learn more!

by Ivan Klyzhenko
UX Startup Advisor, Uitop

FAQ

Why have card designs become so popular?

There are a few reasons driving the card trend! For one, modular cards keep things tidy on mobile screens. They also help users scan and digest content better amid information overload. Plus, their neat visual style just appeals more than walls of text to modern tastes.

Is card UI appropriate for complex applications?

Cards definitely work for many robust applications, but they’re more for surfacing top tasks and summary data than deep functionality all on one screen. Use cards to simplify and organize, then link deeper for heavy workflows. Complex doesn’t have to mean cluttered.

How do cards impact development?

From a development perspective, reusable card templates speed up the build time of UIs. And their compartmentalized nature promotes a cleaner code structure that’s faster to manage long-term as it scales and iterates. So, cards boost velocity both for users and developers.

What's the ideal length of card content?

Keep card copy succinct — typically, no more than 200 words. Anything longer risks losing engagement even for topics users care about. Information absorption happens best in compact, scannable segments rather than dense walls of text.

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