Clicking on a broken link is a pain, but a witty and well-designed 404 page at least sweetens the pill. We've found 35 of the most original and imaginative designs to inspire you.
The 404 page is a standard response code in HTTP telling the user, in effect, that they've clicked on a broken link.
It's traditionally been an immense source of frustration but in recent years, designers have taken up the challenge of designing bespoke 404 pages that at least sweeten the pill of finding you're in the wrong place. When done really well, they become mini-ambassadors for the website itself, being shared on Twitter and blogs as an example of the site or service's keenness for customer service and unique approach to design. The 35 we present here have achieved all this and more, so take a look and be inspired to create your own bespoke 404 pages!
The superb tips, tutorials and advice blog CSS-Tricks is loved by all in the web design community because despite its dry subject matter, it manages to excude enthusiasm, humour and personality. And this cheeky 404 page is an excellent example of that.
Hootsuite is proving an essential tool to many who work on the web - not least us at Creative Bloq, where we make good use of the social media management system for brand management. What could be a visually dull functional app is brought to life by the use of the owl mascot, which is at the forefront of this witty 404 page.
iStockphoto is an online, royalty free, international microstock image provider that's risen to prominence partly because it understands its users. This cute if slightly gruesome cartoon will put a smile on your face if you ever get stuck while navigating its massive site.
In general, Lego can do no wrong in our eyes, and we love this cute little tableau for its website's 404 page, which proves that you don't need a lot of technical-sounding text to get your error message across.
Magnt enables you to create a business card themed web page in minutes. Its clever 404 page demonstrates both a keen sense of wit, and a clear call to action to take you where you need to be.
06. Chris Jennings
Chris Jennings works as director of user experience at Disqus in San Francisco, and the witty 404 page for his own site provides an excellent experience for any visitor that stumbles upon it. Simple and effective, it manages to tell a story and raise a smile.
Coding website GitHub is the home of geeks, and what better way to appeal to geeks than a simple Star Wars parody with parallax effect when you move your mouse? GitHub also has a nice 500 page for when the server breaks.
08. CSS Ninjas
Another example of the web design world's love of ninjas, this 404 page features a nice simple illustration that reflects the site’s general approach to design.
This site makes excellent use of animation including sound, and its 404 page employs a beautifully rendered subway station complete with empty train that rolls in. As with many of the examples here, the page diverges from the overall site aesthetic to great effect.
The designers at ultra-hip email newsletter service MailChimp have used lateral thinking here and come up with a sausage analogy for a broken link. The style of the 404 page fits the rest of the site design nicely, reflecting the same lighthearted approach that makes an otherwise boring task into something fun and endearing.
The current 404 page for our sister title's website, netmagazine.com, designed by Mike Kus, features a series of colourful flashing blocks with screenprint-inspired illustrations representing different elements of the web. It’s as beautifully realised as you’d expect from the UK’s premier web design publication.
This 404 page created especially for a .net magazine tutorial by Trent Walton, features a never-ending animated text cut-out effect. The 404 text acts as a window through to a montage of previous .net magazine covers. Click through to the tutorial, 'Create a 404 page with CSS3 animations', to find out how to achieve this effect yourself.
13. Hakim El Hattab
Another 404 page designed for .net magazine, this time by Hakin El Hattab, this HTML5 experiment features creepy eyes that follow your cursor around the page with occasional blinking and narrowing of the iris. Brilliantly executed and nicely interactive.
14. Tin Sanity
Tin Sanity features an incredible animation, involving a dancing cup and straw, that screams its way across the page around the text: “You just got 404’d”. The screaming is accentuated with a drumroll and funky bass soundtrack, all of which leaves an excellent impression (although the website itself is currently empty).
The free ringtone-making service's 404 page features a beautifully rendered illustration of London, including the obligatory red bus and telephone box, as well as Big Ben’s Tower, Sherlock Holmes and a hint of Tower Bridge. The site's worth a visit just for the artwork!
16. Blik Wall Decals
This 404 page for Blik, the world's first removable wall graphic company, is slightly disturbing, featuring as it does a baby wielding a blood-soaked chainsaw. But this illustration style does reflect the rest of the site’s aesthetics, so it's in-keeping even if it is a little creepy.
17. Home Star Runner
Audio can be very effective when combined with visuals on a web page, especially as we’re still in the early days of reliable audio-in-a-page. This error page for Home Star Runner, which features amusing characters, downloads, and games, shouts “404’d” at you when you first arrive on the page. And the hand-drawn illustration fits the rest of the site well in terms of style and theme.
The seminal sauce maker makes nice use of its best known product to illustrate the point here. This 404 page is a great example of using existing branding and/or products in a creative way to lighten the tone.
Duoh is the collaborative partnership between illustrator Veerle Pieters and partner Geert Leyseele. Their business is based on strong design principles, and so you’d expect a well-realised 404 page and they don’t disappoint. In characteristic bright colours and negative space, this page looks and feels in keeping with the rest of the site.
20. Robert Sherman
This experiment by graphic design student Robert Sherman pretends to be an interactive bomb-diffusing game, but at the end of it all it makes no difference which wire you choose. A good idea, albeit a little anticlimatic when you get to the punchline.
Link shortening service Bit.ly needs a special URL for its 404 page as bit.ly.com/404 has already been used as a shortened link! The page itself features a cute little creature bobbing up and down in an interactive sea that responds to your mouse movements.
This 404 page for Foradian Technologies features an interactive 3D cube rendered in HTML5 and CSS3 that responds to click+drag as well as keyboard input. An excellent example of an interactive toy that demonstrates the studio’s abilities.
This letting agent website's 404 page features a strange interior shot with a fading sheep sitting on the lavatory. Creative and wacky at the same time, it’s a great (if abstract) example of how to do it well.
Drop Box has a very simple but effective 404 page featuring an Escher-esque impossible box. You can take this at face value, or see it as signifying the inside-out nature of having navigated to a non-existent page. A nice simple hand-drawn illustration that gets the message across well.
Form building tool Wufoo's 404 page is a simple static affair that uses the branding effectively to convey the message. A good example of a clean approach to handling errors.
26. Mike Kus
Leading designer and illustrator Mike Kus’s 404 page uses a familiar metaphor of TV static in an original way. The effect is achieved with an animated GIF set as the background graphic for the page.
Some sites include entire games or stories as part of their 404 page. This interactive adventure game works along the lines of the original Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy text adventure, and invites you to play by entering instructions at the cursor.
This interactive 404 page make a nice play on the name of the site with animated rain and clouds. The effect is simple yet effective, and is one of the better examples of a sign being used as a visual metaphor.
29. Walk with You
This simple illustrative design for a site promoting life coaching uses existing assets from the overall site design, including the waterfall, to convey the 404 message. Bold typography makes this page work well.
One of the best examples of a newspaper metaphor, Dave Barton's personal site manages to inject a little humour into its error message.
Starbucks, like Heinz, makes good use of its primary product to illustrate the 404 message. In this instance the tell-tales signs of a missing coffee cup are used to tell the story.
This personal site from a Vimeo designer features a delightful, hand-drawn illustration that reflects the rest of his website. A good example of a 404 page that's simple but effective.
Some of the nicest 404 pages aren’t interactive at all; they simply feature beautiful illustration that acts as a nice surprise when you’ve arrived at a dead link. This example from Sydney based interface designer Huwshimi features a simple yet effective sketch that tells a story while conveying the 404 message.
34. BlackMoon Design
This pixel-art styled 404 page for BlackMoon Design, a games and pixel art studio in Poland, made us smile. A design agency's 404 page is a window on their world, and something as original and entertaining as this bodes well for prospective clients.
Video game developer Blizzard takes an original approach to its 404 page that fits in with its general style, using broken glass as a metaphor for the broken link. What makes this example stand out is the clean design aesthetic beneath the glass.
Words: Sam Hampton-Smith
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Have you seen any good examples of 404 pages? Let us know in the comments below!