Website Sameness™

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Chris Coyier on

Here’s captain obvious (yours truly) with an extra special observation for you:

It came across as (particularly trite) commentary about Website Sameness™. I suppose it was. I was looking at lots of sites as I was putting together The Power of Serverless. I was actually finding it funny how obtuse the navigation often is on a SaaS sites. Products? Solutions? Which one is for me? Do I need to buy a product and a solution? Sometimes they make me feel dumb, like I’m not informed enough to be a customer. What’s the harm is just telling me exactly what your thing does?

But anyway, people commenting on Website Sameness™ has plenty of history onto itself. One of the most memorable stabs was from Jon Gold:

Dave Ellis has a good one too:

They style itself is now so mainstream that clients ask for it. It’s happened to me, more than once. I’ve created sites that follow the formula. This surely is another reason. If clients are seeing a lot of sites that are the same style, it’s causing them to ask for it.

Mary Collins says Dave’s sentiment rang true right away:

Myself, I’m not sure how much I care. If a website fails to do do what it sets out to do, that, I care about. Design is failing there. But if a website has a design that is a bit boring, but does just what everyone needs it to do, that’s just fine. All hail boring. Although I admit it’s particularly ironic when a design agency’s own site feels regurgitated.

My emotional state is likely more intrigued about your business model and envious of your success than eyerolly about your design.

As long as I’m playing armchair devil’s advocate, if every website was a complete and total design departure from the next, I imagine that would be worse. To have to-relearn how each new site works means not taking advantages of affordances, which make people productive out of the gate with new experiences.

It’s probably fair to say, though, that design uniqueness and affordances need not be at odds. Surely you can design a site that is aesthetically unique, yet people still know how to use the dropdown menus.

There has been a lot of scapegoats for Website Sameness™ over the years. The popularity of frameworks. Flat design as a trend. Performance holding back creativity. User expectations. Research telling us that our existing patterns work. The fact that what websites are all largely trying to do the same things. Even responsive design is a popular whipping boy. We might as throw style guides / pattern libraries on the heap.

So again, I’m not sure how much I care. Partially because of these two things:

  • Designers have all the tools they need to make websites as unique as they like.
  • There is an awful lot of money in websites, and an awful lot of people trying to get their hands on it.

If design uniqueness was a lever you could pull for increased success for any type of business, you’d better believe it would be pulled a lot more often.