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Our favorite web designs of the year so far

A curated selection of web and digital designs that are redefining what the internet means today.

Three website screenshots piled on top of each other placed against an abstract background with text reading “Web gems 2021”

Illustration by Linor Pinto

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With 2020 firmly in the rearview mirror and the first half of 2021 coming to close, it’s clear that COVID has changed how the online world looks, feels, and acts. We’ve spent the last year and a half adapting to a new normal, and the design community hasn’t been immune from those changes. Even as we slowly welcome back the “real” world into our daily routines, the border between physical and digital spheres has been forever blurred.

In short, the way we view technology is evolving, and digital creators are stepping up to the challenge with new and exciting interpretations of the web. Below, we’ve handpicked some of our favorite website designs that tell the tale of this seismic shift in the making.

From Virgil Abloh’s desktop to emerging crypto art, here are some of the best stories and designs from around the web this year.

1. Public Domain by Virgil Abloh

Virgil Abloh’s “Public Domain” serves as a web archive for the designer’s groundbreaking sneaker collaborations with Nike, a relationship that started in 2017. The website’s design and navigation mimic what is ostensibly Abloh’s own computer running Apple’s vintage OS, where visitors can click through files, recorded Zoom meetings, and more.

Browsing the site has the intimate feeling of rummaging through a creator’s workspace. It offers inspirational resources and gives visitors the opportunity to explore what makes Virgil tick using multiple browser windows, folders, and popups, many of which play simultaneously.

As its title suggests, the site is part of Abloh’s mission to share his knowledge and experience publicly. Allowing full access to his Photoshop and Illustrator files, work process and more, “Public Domain” continues the designer’s efforts to mentor and empower his fans, primarily Black and POC creatives. “Putting our hard drive where our mouth is,” reads his Instagram post announcing the site this January. “Systemic shift into education might be a part of the trick we need for systemic change.”

A screenshot of the Public Domain website design by Virgil Abloh

2. Mars House by Krista Kim

Mars House by designer Krista Kim is the world’s first digital house NFT. (It recently sold for more than $500,000.) The sale indicates both a growing interest in crypto art as well as a shift towards collecting assets, accessories and even real estate that are entirely virtual.

The house is designed as a light sculpture and meant to be explored in 3D augmented reality as an immersive digital Zen garden. Its use of technology aspires to cultivate well-being and a meditative mental state, instead of encouraging distractions and addictive behavior.