I keep seeing SunBurst Background Pattern for years, literally! and It is still trendy. Why is it still so? Do we lack creativity for similar generic (or focus drawing) background patterns or human psychology has bias against it?

Secondly, has there been any other so obvious background pattern trends?

Thanks in advance.

  • 3
    While at first this question could be seen as subjective and not constructive, maybe even as a rant or not-a-real-question (especially the "why" part); but, in my opinion, the answers could provide high-quality, analytical takes on the subject. Jul 3, 2011 at 10:16

4 Answers 4


It's easy to over-think design. The hilariously overwrought and over-intellectualized b***sh*t that was revealed when the new Pepsi logo went public (great article and the actual document here) gave rise to much rofling, deservedly so. It's a fine example of the "baloney baffles brains" approach to design. It produced a monstrosity, and I was not in the least surprised by the recent announcement that Pepsi's market share had fallen to #3, below Diet Coke. (A brilliant parody on the consequences of over-thinking design here.)

The sun, the source of energy, light and life for (almost) all living things on Earth, worshipped as a god throughout history, featured in religious art of all kinds since prehistoric times, is an evocative symbol. Well, surprise, surprise. This needs neither analysis nor explanation and, in my not-in-the-least-humble opinion, is much better without either one. Far from being trendy, the sun is (from a human perspective, anyway) completely timeless. Methods of depiction change from time to time and culture to culture, but the basic symbol retains its associations regardless. Ditto water, sky, greenery, mountains, fire and a host of other evocative images and their derivatives.

Within individual cultures, there are other symbologies with similarly deep roots and inevitable connotations. Digging for deep psychological, biological or metaphysical reasons for this is about as useful as psychoanalyzing Hamlet: it might be interesting, in a vague way, but it won't help a working professional create a more effective product.

Over the centuries, different schools of art or design or music evolve out of the technologies and cultural interactions of their day. They start out as innovation, become trends, go out of fashion, then become classic styles that can be evoked ever after by generations of artists. But the intellectualization (sorry for the polysyllable) of those techniques has never of itself produced great art or great design in any era.

Da Vinci and Michelangelo took deep dives into anatomy, mathematics and classical Greek art to redefine painting and sculpture. They produced work that is as breathtaking today as it was when it was new, but they were artists who knew, first and foremost, how to communicate. Their theories and techniques, in the hands of imitators who knew only the theory and not why it was there, produced dull stuff, only mildly interesting for all that they hewed to the right proportions, the proper sfumato and chiaroscuro.

As Jin very correctly points out, the fact that a given symbol is in use on a site (if it's well designed) is an indication that it is appropriate for the message.

The message, in design, is everything. Keep it in mind, and keep it simple. Over-think at your peril.


Stripes, stars (come to think of it, on Independence Day, a certain flag comes to mind), spots (e.g. polka dots) ...

"Sensory Bias Theory" posits that ornamentation takes as its point of departure the way nervous systems are wired. The research usually focuses on animal courtship displays (peacock tails, bird songs, etc.), but much of it carries over to human aesthetics.

This from The Mating Mind by Geoffrey Miller (a professor of evolutionary psychology at the University of New Mexico):

Consider the area at the back of the brain called the primary visual cortex, or "V1." ... V1 seems to be a set of edge detectors. ... Perhaps stripes became popular sexual ornaments across many species because stripes are optimal stimuli for activating the visual cortex. ...

Biologist Magnus Enquist suggested that symmetric patterns might be the most exciting way to stimulate animal visual systems. … Enquist and his collaborator Arak did some evolutionary simulations in support of their claim that any neural network capable of recognizing rotated objects would be optimally excited by radially symmetric patterns. Supposedly, this explains the popularity of sexual ornaments that resemble stars, sunbursts, and eyespots.


Do we lack creativity for similar generic (or focus drawing) background patterns or human psychology has bias against it?

There's a difference between styles and trends. An appropriately applied style is always timeless, where as trends come and go. This is true with recent "trends" such as web 2.0, grunge, water color, and noised texture with embossed text etc.

There's really nothing wrong with any of the styles above. Over use and inappropriate use are caused by inexperienced designers trying to mimic whatever that's popular at the time.

The sunburst effect is kind of "old" as far as trends go. However if a new site uses it still, there's a high chance they're using it because it's fitting, not because it's popular.

  • Do you think there are similar patterns, old but still serves the purpose?
    – Özgür
    Jul 5, 2011 at 15:54

Ignoring completely any psychological discussion, the starburst pattern is merely a series of lines which pass through a single point. It is one of the simplest patterns possible, and as such, is easy, graphic, and timeless.

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