I recently completed a course on WordPress for designers that meant I could use pre-formed templates without having to know coding.
For designers who aren’t also geeks, that’s an attractive proposition, and although I was required to learn some of the basics of how a site is delivered, I could concentrate on the visual side and not worry about exactly how it worked, because some nice geek had already done that hard bit for me!
So with this system, I could adapt a massive variety of templates and revise all the elements until I was happy with what I wanted.
I did get concerned at the beginning that although I was being offered these smart templates to work with, they all looked a bit ‘familiar’.
Call me an old sceptic but I often find so many websites hard to tell one from the other.
In the end, you are constrained by the format of a smart phone, tablet or desktop. You basically have a rectangular space to play with and the smaller you go, the harder it is to make it look different from the rest.
Sure, you can use good photography, sensibly cropped and edited, good typography with a myriad of web fonts, and attractive colourways and graphics. But I was still slightly uneasy about the results.
Looking for inspiration, I came across this nicely designed site by Jacinthe Busson, and had a quick trawl through its archives. It got me thinking.
Uxtimeline takes a number of brands that have been on the net for a few years now (AirBnB, Uber, Spotify and others) and compares where they were then to where they are now. It’s a shame that the site doesn’t seem to have been updated this year but hey, it proves my point to some extent!
It’s fascinating to see how these brands all started their internet lives with quite distinct (if now dated) designs, but at least had a unique look and feel to begin with.
Now they’ve almost to a man gone for singular, scrolling sites with massive centralised images or video (almost all of a central casting approach depicting the users they are hoping to attract) and large text.
Of course, a lot is to do with much faster download speeds since the early days of the net, and making a site responsive. It’s driven by how it looks on a mobile first and then works backwards to the desktop version. But it does cause problems I think because after a while there are only so many things that one (visually) can do.
Yes, we all need to have a seamless and simple user experience, but are we in danger of making that experience the same wherever you go?
You can argue that a site simply needs to tell a story fast and let the user navigate quickly to the area that they want, with as little faff as possible. I’m all for that.
What I have not seen recently is a new site that really makes me go “Wow – that’s great!”
In the meantime… I still have the problem of how to design sites that have a unique look, but at least I am a bit clearer now about what is going to be there and what is not going to be “Me too”.
A great website design has to work on a small screen as well as a large one, and until we get phones that project on to the nearest surface or provide a head up display those constraints will at least make a good designer work that much harder to try and make the design stand out.
(This article is an updated version of one that I wrote on LinkedIn earlier this year).