In Defense of Unique Website Design

It’s hard to believe that roughly a decade ago, putting up a new website was something of a headache. SEO was in its infancy. Programming for phones wasn’t really a consideration, and the Internet of Things was mostly just a programmers pipe dream.

What we put into web-building today has shifted  significantly in the last 10 to 15 years. But even as website creation continues to evolve, I can’t help but notice a gradual yet consistent move toward conformity in the design of many features, layouts, colors, and styles.

Full-width websites with big hero images, for example, have become more or less standard: popular design choices that—unlike many of the countless number of web design trends—are probably going to be part of typical web design for at least the foreseeable future.

Simply put, these features work. There’s something to be said about consistency. But are we losing the heart of web design in the process? Is the ongoing conformity to web design conventions inherently a good or bad thing?

The User-Experience Effect

Again, there are some elements of consistent design that make a lot of sense. Take the hamburger menu, for example: programmers and designers argue back and forth, but it’s hard to deny that such menus are now a universally understood piece of modern web design.

When users see a hamburger menu on a website, how and why to use it something that happens without having to think about it. Most people already know what those three lines mean, and what is going to happen when you click on it. This contributes to a more intuitive user experience, and doesn’t get in the way of the actual content.

We’re talking about features that we already know how to use, mostly because programmers and designers have used them so many times that we’re comfortable with them. That can turn into a “chicken-or-the-egg” argument; but the fact is, millions of websites have been designed around as many of these features as possible.

An intuitive UX isn’t just about specific features, however; pretty much everything about modern web layouts is now being tailored to what amounts to a pre-defined standard. Look at any design created by/for Wix or WordPress, for example, and you’ll see what I mean: lots of white space, large hero image, and sans serif type. The most common menu structure starts with Home, then Services, then About, maybe a Blog, and finally Contact.

Conforming to conventional web design patterns mean a better—or at least easier—user experience; that’s the good news. Thing is, we seem to be experiencing a massive shift in that direction, and that may not be as good.

Attack of the Clones

If we go back the decade or so I mentioned earlier, we might notice some huge differences. Much of the standard functioning would still be there, but there was a greater variety of creative design, as well. Designers and programmers were just starting to really grasp the uniqueness and potential of the web; website design was an empty canvas, and we were looking to  stretch that canvas in as many ways as possible.