The web is not art. At least, not most of the time. Websites should only look markedly different with good reason. For most clients, there is not a good reason.
Not sure what cars you've been driving, but search for 'car dash' on google images and bask in the differences.
Saying that all websites should look the same might be reasonable when you're talking about one network or brand, but outside of that, creativity should be explored, encouraged and rewarded.
Who wants a world with every restaurant, bar, urban design or any design looking the same? Good design and UX has nothing to do with copying your neighbour's layout and changing a few colours. Just because that's frequently done, doesn't mean these cookie-cut sites deserve any praise other than "good copy 'n paste job mate".
They are all minor/semi-major style differences. But in the end they all have a round wheel, some buttons in the middle and some form of RPM+speed meters.
Definitely wouldn't say I am basking in differences.
Most websites want their navigation to be found, so they put it in the same place as every other website. They want their story easily readable in the center.
There's still plenty of variation, but sites with similar goals are going to end up with a lot of similar elements.
Being different for the sake of being different just wastes people's time trying to find stuff that isn't where they expect it to be.
Yes, modulo marketing concerns. Which obviously is something not regarded very highly on this forum :)
Has anyone ever tried to sidescroll a web page lately? On my Yosemite MBP with latest Firefox/Chromium I just get a jitter and no movement. Sometimes the scrollbar moves in the wrong the direction and then dies.
Moral: what is tried and tested usually works very well.
So turns out you have to scroll up/down to get it to scroll left/right. That makes total sense. And the speed is way off so the first time I tried it it just flicked straight to the end...
For me - scroll hijacking (or crazy unintuitive scrolling in general) is the worst 'feature' 'web designer' can implement. Gives me instant rage.
The author clearly doesn't remember what it was actually like to arrive on a Flash site, and play the fun games of 'where has the designer hidden the navigation today?' and 'oh crap, how do I turn the sound off?'.
Design patterns are there to ensure that functionality works in a roughly consistent manner across different sites, so instead of having to spend ages figuring out an inscrutable interface, the user can easily buy a product or find the information they want and get on with their day.
This is not a trend. This is lots of people slowly figuring out how content should be structured for maximum usability in a web context. Layout conventions will develop over time, as new ideas are incorporated and technology changes, but that's a good thing.
As has been pointed out, books have looked roughly the same for the last few hundred years, but design innovation has only increased, as technology and our understanding of the conventions involved has improved.
The visual design area is more susceptible to trends - a few years ago everything was glossy, then with 'Flat UI' everything became dark blue and a sickly shade of green. But that's ok too. Except for the green, that was horrible.
The danger is with 'cargo cult' design. That's where the complaint against generic themes is valid – a style is used because it's popular without thinking about whether it's actually the best fit for the content and what's to be achieved.
With a passion.
Even when it was being done it was a stupid tech trick from jackass developers, it was never a designer driven thing except as a means of doing layouts that were you couldn't do in html at the time. and it was NEVER about usability.
I hated that trend and thank god it didn't last very long specifically BECAUSE it threw the users under the bus.
During this time, it was extremely rare to have a designer involved in website design (I can't prove it, but I think you'll see a correlation with the growth of template sites at the time, I broke my back trying to learn design and color theory at the time and I still can't even draw a straight line freehand :) so what I normally had to deal with was the client as designer. Complete nightmare...
Here's one anecdotal data point:
I was designing an eshop for a client. He demanded a long flash intro to the site. I tried to lead him through an idea-
You want customers?
You want repeat customers?
You want them to have to wait 30 seconds every time they shop to watch your intro?
So I snuck in a huge skip intro button on the flash intro...
Call from client:
'hey, my buddies tell me that the intro is ruined by a big button saying 'skip intro'. Remove it now!!! It's degrading the experience!!!'
I tried, but hey, I got paid, and his business suffered in the long run- and I mean went bankrupt...
I know of few developers at the time who wanted to do flash intros. It was normally forced on them...
Turn the sound up, and definitely do not skip the intro. It'll bring a tear to your eye.
One thing is for sure, it brought a tear to my eye.
It's just an amazing example of what you can do with Flash, and why you shouldn't.
The current state-of-the-art full screen background image site is no more a standard than any other design in any other field. Design is a living, breathing thing that evolves as our technology evolves - it moves with the times.
I believe that after years of designing websites, we found something that works, and works well.
You don't need to 'believe'. If you aren't testing your designs and gathering actionable metrics you're really missing out.
Even if people did run tests on significant redesigns, I suspect results would be dominated by methodological issues and a lack of power, leading to little more than noise.
The consumer doesn't always want to be challenged. See "Don't Make Me Think". A familiar design allows us to focus on the content, not the delivery.
There are exceptions, of course. Iron Maiden's website is dark and epic, as it should be. They're a metal band. But if I'm going to be buying software from you, c'mon. Make my life easier. Don't make me think.
If I'm going to buy software from a website, what matters is quality information architecture and UX, which could be presented in any number of ways.
"Don't make me think"... next you'll be wanting all your restaurant menus to follow the McDonald's menu style guide.
"Thinking" doesn't need to be an annoyance. Promoting "you don't need to think" might even backfire. You're ignoring the benefits of standing out as unique. Leaving a lasting impression however small, can be the difference between earning respect or being seen as playing it safe and therefore a clone in the consumer's eyes. Clones are expendable.
It's a fine line, a balancing act that sorts the confident websites out from the copycat yawn-fests. Take the risk I say, but it's a philosophical difference.
The idea is that the user is not on your site to get your ideas about web design but to get specific information. If that info is hard to find, they'll get out and try the next site.
Concentrate on making your content memorable rather than your UI.
My iPad for example is not unfamiliar, but I find it annoying to bookmark a site because of how the bookmark button is hidden behind an icon which to me looks like "sharing" (little square with arrow pointing up). Same for searching for text on the page.... it's not intuitive. I have to "think" for too many milliseconds each time just to do those basic actions.
You could say "I'm familiar with Apple's annoyingly unintuitive iOS Safari UX for bookmarking and searching text on the page." "Familiar" has not saved the day in this case.
When I go to a site because I'm interested in their product, I'm not looking for a familiar interface in terms of layout or design replication from previously visited websites. I'm looking (unconsciously) for top level things such as clear presentation and logical, friendly layout. "Logic" can appear as many pathways. "Interestingness" is what humans get a buzz from and reward each other for all the time, so if I get a dose of interesting too, served just right and not too much, then it's a winner.
Fair point. :)
> "Interestingness" is what humans get a buzz from and reward each other for all the time, so if I get a dose of interesting too, served just right and not too much, then it's a winner.
I agree with you but, clearly, it's a hard balance to find. Going back to the article, most website owners (and some designers) don't know what that balance is so they take a safe option. It's an understandable choice, they're not experts. I think it's a net win if those non-experts don't experiment but settle on something that's easily readable. It's a step up from the time when everybody was doing their own thing and standards didn't exist.
In short, you're right: a well-designed website is still better than a generic one. But a generic one is better than a mess put together without paying attention to standards.
Non-tech people, when ordering a web side, often just don't accept things which look different than other web sites they have seen. At that times it was difficult to convince people rounded panels with borders are not necessary. People often are unable to judge themselves, so they rely on what others do.
There are many other examples of such unhealthy fashion: Spring framework in Java, XML, SOAP, gray text on web pages (even despite it violates W3C accessibility recommendations), not using tables in markup (even if I want tabular layout), etc, etc
On the other hand I agree that uniformity can help people to consume information, and also inventing unique design is often a waste - the content is the most important part. Still, there are many cases of harmful fashion.
>gray text on web pages (even despite it violates W3C accessibility recommendations),
the W3C don't recommend against grey text at all, they recommend that designers consider the contrast of text colour versus background colour, and to not use light grey on white. It's a matter of contrast and not a blanket rule.
I do think it is important that we don't start making new silly rules about dos and don'ts in web-design.
But when the main text - e.g. an article body - is published in low contrast so that I need to inspect HTML and disable the color to be able to read it, such cases make me sad :(((
If the information contained is of any importance it will show up in a readable form somewhere eventually.
His article is negative, but I for one have been able to traverse websites more quickly and easily because they adhere to some now-common conventions. Of course websites need to be original but not SO original that they require the user to adjust their assumptions about what to expect from site while it's loading.
I mention it not be a pedantic fool, but because the web also has global regional variations and the linked blog post deals solely with the western web and its layout. There is a marked difference in design and quantity of information (and quality, both positive and negative) of the web we use and the web in other regions.
Having said that this specific layout is garbage, in my opinion and not because of its design but because of the way it's used. It's so incredibly rare to see a company use this type of layout without filling in every single space with utter bullshit about generic buzzwords and it just takes up so much space. I can't count how many start-up websites I go to and I have to scroll down for pages just to figure out what they even sell because everything up front is large, generic images that don't mean anything followed by lots of very general phrases and buzzwords.
I can recall a number of times scrolling through the entire home page for a company, only to still be confused about what the product actually does. I see a huge banner image, coordinating colors, tons of whitespace, very high-level text content...but little that says, "Our product will specifically do this, that, and the next for you!". I have to click around to find that out. By that time, I'm quite annoyed, and I'm not sure if your product is worth my effort.
Maybe my expectations of a home page are wrong though.
This seems to be a major problem lately with startups, especially ones promoted on YC. The home page is often one big image with a little vague text and a "sign up" button. Half the time you can't even tell if it's a shipping product, or much about what it does.
There are people who will click on anything, so this strategy looks, at first, like it's working. ("We have a zillion users and signups! We're ready for another financing round!") As the clickbait advertising industry has discovered, the click on everything crowd does not buy much. Most clicks come from about 10% of users, and they're not the users with money.
A more general-purpose home page has it's challenges, of course, but often it's really just about showing something pretty and guiding users to pages such as 'pricing', 'buy/shop', 'contact', 'about us', etc.
A landing page, on the other hand, is basically the same as creating an ad or a commercial. You have a limited time to 'sell' something, and the fact that you need a page for it means that it's not immediately obvious what you're selling. You have to write ad copy, consider the visuals, target audience, selling points, etc. This is much more difficult than just having a few pages that do very specific things, and a home page that points to them.
This gave me 0% of what I wanted and no way to get there, I was confused before I realized it was just a glorified shitty landing page.
Fuck them for trying to scam me into creating an account and making me waste my time, I thought.
A side effect of the current design trend is that navigating to a specific piece of information, or seeing what's changed usually takes another click or a lot more scrolling precisely because the actual products and support contacts are relegated to a lower priority than the full screen "We make software (and have good taste in stock photos)" message.
Sorry, but `novolume.co.uk` is stepping into the the category of over doing it.
Huge, and super low contrast arrow buttons to switch articles. Why?
Italic serif slim and narrow font, from which my head hurts, eyes are twitching and is not readable (and some characters are unrecognisable, e.g. '&'). AFAIK, serif font is more readable then sans-serif, but this is not the case.
Custom scroll bar, why the hell do you need to replicate a perfect native widget my browser has (and this seems to be a new trend, probably replacing scroll hijacking)?
Crazy tilted, on hover shape and colour changing (and low-res) social buttons, why make it so complicated?
At least `novolume.co.uk` loads and renders fast, is responsive and does not have lagging UI.
This is the take away line. There's a reason why we now have beautiful looking websites to a fairly uniform standard and that after the 2000s, the usage of Flash on Web sites declined.
The fact that "all websites look the same" should be celebrated in as much that we've found a formula that is practical for consuming content and for the most part, works.
But OP is wrong once you talk about startups that get money. I mean for some well known ones, just look at Stripe, Mattermark, Branient, Mixpanel, Filepicker, Buildzoom... these sites aren't the same at all. If you spend time studying the design of hundreds of YC startups you'll see what I mean... almost to the point where I wonder if YC specifically instructs their startups not to copy other YC startups.
With that said, specifically in websites, I think utility should come as a first priority. If your doing a band or artist website I can see bumping up the creativity factor though.
We've arrived with this design from years of design evolution and no one person is responsible. All products seem to ultimately converge on some optimal universal archetype. Websites, books and radio towers are no different in this sense. The same will be true of mobile Apps someday but I don't think its the case at the moment.
- Headline / key attention-grab in the most visible size possible
- Subhead / attention -> interest converter right below that
- Attractive visual element providing emotional context occupying as much screenspace as possible
- Benefits propositions right below those, exactly where you'd expect them to be if you're familiar with a Web browser
Sounds like a damn good approach to me. I mean, I'd be happy to see an even more efficient design that measurably increased conversion rates for most products, but if there's nothing currently out there, I'm OK with the state of the art :)
But then there is "design" and then you get stuff like inconsistent search, inconsistent site layout, you never know where to look, what to look for, you miss things because they are placed somewhere where you are not used to look. It's a mess.
All websites should look the same.
Other kinds of web page with a standard design style include: shopfronts, forums and Q&A sites, search engine result pages, shopping carts, calendar apps, video sharing sites.
Trying to look irregular just for the sake of it is bad.
Looking irregular because your designer can ... actually design is good.
Looking irregular because there's a better way to present your site to the public is good.
Interactive new stories, artists' portfolios, design agency websites, web apps, and websites that are themselves art - these are all good places to push boundaries in design. Not startup product promo pages.
I do theoretically find a website to be a form of "artistic expression" but unlike most other medium, there is a technically "right" few ways and many "wrong" ways to "implement" your art. When you see a website posted here that takes a bit of artistic liberty in its design, you will undoubtedly have some HN commenters criticize the way they did such and such.
Despite the fact the page load time is only affected by one millisecond, that "incorrect" implementation is reason enough for some to trash the designer and deem his "solution" inadequate.
What we then see is a world full of TALENTED designers often too afraid to try something new.
But, isn't that the point of art? It's meant to be polarizing.
This is just personal opinion, but I'm finding it more and more necessary for the designer of the modern web to have multiple, concurrent projects as opposed to completing one project and moving on to the next.
Currently I'm working on an athletics site which uses your now "bread and butter" design which the OP gripes on, but I'm also working on a payment web app which has a design that harkens to someone filling out a clipboard.
I've just this week also accepted a project to showcase a fashion designers portfolio, and I'm swinging for far left field on that one.
If I was not working on these projects concurrently, I would not have learned that each design has advantages and disadvantages, and I would be pidgeonholing myself if I didn't give myself room to fail
We are all still learning and growing in web development.
And our consumers are growing too. One interesting thing you mentioned is that users are steadily growing more accustomed to the hamburger button - a quick google search will tell you that the Hamburger wasn't so tasty in AB testing, however, users learn. I've been a part of a reason site redesign which found the extra click of a dropdown menu was better liked (and had more click through) than the link bar, despite our demographic was relatively older users!
And The hamburger menu is a great case study as it has become commonplace in modern design. You could go with the triple bar, or do Apple's approach of a double bar that rotates into an "X" ( https://apple.com ), or you could do Google's three circles arranged vertically in their mobile Chrome browser, but the concept is essentially the same.
Now, there are very talented developers on HN that despise the hamburger, and perhaps rightfully so, but you often hear crickets when an alternative is proposed. Certainly the tabbed interface at the bottom with a "More" button works, but it doesn't work for every case.
So sure, you will have some projects where you have to go with what is known, but try some other projects to challenge a different approach out of you to build up your chops.
Websites Fall into functional categories. Sites within a given category look the same. Sites about a product need a powerful visual "grabber" element that communicates key brand points along with their name, then they need to provide key informational points on am easy to digest manner, often segregating the audience by interest. The big banner, three subtopics layout is a popular way to achieve this.
But not all websites are about introducing a product. Some are about getting immediate social interaction. Some are about exposing deep information in a set of categories. Some are about hierarchical display of the newest possible information. They don't tend to use the banner/three subheadings layout.
Sure, you can do some artsyfantsy pantsy stuff now and then, but then again, it's about the content too, just that the whole artsy website is the content.
And this guy has the most generic looking blog structure also, so why is he blaming the guilt on somebody else. I'm so glad I don't have to go through these "designed just because design" flash websites anymore and try to figure out different structures for each page.
These days, you have no idea what is browsing your website and more than likely it is somebody on a phone. So priorities change.
Content makers want their message in front of as many people as possible. To achieve this, you make it work on a small screen. This brings good design constraints and stops design for the sake of design.
https://fortawesome.github.io/Font-Awesome/ I get that your comment was a joke (clearly) but there is a nugget of truth in it.
I guess they prefer arty over practical.
I'm starting to think that the tech community at large doesn't understand that it's also part of humanity, and thus falls to the same cognitive traps as the rest of society.
Frankly, unless you are a company where design differentiation is paramount, it is much safer to do what everyone else is doing and be "good enough".
It's cheaper, faster, and possibly on average better for visitors to glean the messages you want them to hear, compared to more daring designs.
That's how the human world evolves, slowly blending the old with the new.