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July 7, 2015 /Web Design /

The Singularity of Design

We’re approaching the singularity of design. It’s both the fault of the designer and the tools we use. Also at fault are the trends we follow, the pixel perfect posts in online communities, obsessing over every single detail.

More personality but less interesting

When was the last time you saw a marketing site that didn’t have a single full-screen background image, a single, one-sentence header and a flat, stroked button? What about an ambient video of beautiful people doing ordinary things looping monotonously in the background? We’ve forced ourselves into a corner, and I’m as guilty as anyone. This type of design is popular. It’s what our clients want. It’s what looks good on Dribbble.

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The problem isn’t so much the execution, as top-notch designers can craft these pixels beautifully. Take a look at the above examples All of the above examples are excellent designs. The remarkable part of these designs is that the brand becomes the hero. It’s not about selling the services immediately. They set the tone for the rest of the whimsical scrolling story. But what makes them unique? A different stock image? What purpose does the button serve? Is it ever clicked? So many considerations that were never taken into account.

Why it’s like this

A few years ago, skeuomorphism became the punching bag of the design community. Layers, gradients and shadows were laughed at as unrealistic attributes to elements on a screen. The trend was jettisoned into the spotlight with the release of iOS7, a singular, minimal UI that received mixed reviews at WWDC.

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Courtesy of

Since its inception, iOS7 was adopted as the industry standard in terms of a design guideline. The simple lines and airy feel is definitely a step forward from skeuomorphism, but somewhere in the middle, we lost personality and individual expression. The great thing about the iOS7 aesthetic is that it got out of the way; it made it so much easier to get standard native controls to feel more on brand with your app, and less like an Apple UIKit app. Unfortunately, this style also has its limitations. The clean style translated easily to the web and was adopted by the most iconic designers. It was championed and ultimately became the new fad.

Trickle down impacts

With so many parties involved, there is bound to be an impact on all of them. Some readers may not find issue with these depending on their experience level, others may have already seen their freelance clientele change over the past few years.

For designers

As designers, we’ve lost some of our individualism. Many designers no longer have their own styles, they’ve merely adopted the style of the new trend, which hurts not just our community but our (potential) clients. The next generation of designers are also emulating this style which adds more of the same styles on the stack. The barrier to entry is lower and perhaps low enough that clients can do the design work in house. This obviously hurts the design industry in a few different ways, but ultimately a lack of clients for the new pool of designers.

For clients

Clients that are looking to hire professional designers have more and more options for consultants every day. Now that the styles have converged, clients have many alternatives for differing budgets. Clients can now be in the driver seat when it comes to negotiating price and in my experience, no longer value the services of more experienced designers.


With everyone designing the same style of website, there is a huge opportunity to be unique. Nothing great was ever expected, it was always created from someone blazing a new trail. Eventually, the trend will change and those doing the new and inspiring work in the area of marketing pages will be sought out. Attacking the problem is simple.

Be an individual

Fads come and go. Some faster than others, but it’s especially quick in the design community. In the last 5 years, we’ve gone from Web 2.0 to skeumorphism to flat, with probably a bunch of micro-fads within. The only way to truly stand out is a designer is to not blend in with the pack. If there are five designers that can produce the same piece of work, the designers have a race to the bottom for price. The client wins.

Make it stand out

If you’re still compelled to follow the layout trend, make it unique from the rest. A single headline plus call to action may be appropriate, but try not to use beautiful people smiling over a computer for the background. The above examples illustrate just how this can be accomplished with a bit more brand interjected into the screen.

Approach with logic

Does it really make sense to only have a headline? Think as a visitor: will that really help you understand what is the purpose of the site? Obviously, scrolling has become a frictionless behavior for visitors, but just because visitors will scroll doesn’t mean you should use up as much screen real estate as possible.

Trim the content

It may feel like you’re already doing this by keeping that headline and button in the first viewable portion of your screen, but you’re missing a huge opportunity to pull even more value up the screen. Visitors may not be afraid to scroll, but there is still cognitive load necessary to digest more information — especially information that they now need to seek out.

Test it out

Data can be the ultimate decider. Using a service like Optimizely for a super simple A/B test of your layouts could prove very beneficial. Outline clear objectives, goals and metrics, and you’ll derive which layout would work best.

Web Design

Join the discussion

  • By Khushnood Qadir - 5:09 PM on July 10, 2015  

    Sorry, just noticed… in Opportunity paragraph line 3, “Eventually, the trend with change…” I believe should be “Eventually, the trend will change…”.

    Other than that, great read. totally hits the nail in the head…I believe design has now become a commodity…And that is never good for any industry. I believe a huge part of the problem is the freelance industry …places like Odesk and freelance where designers form emerging countries like india are willing to do the same work for a crazy low price…its almost inhumane.

    • By Lindsay Munro - 5:12 PM on July 10, 2015  

      Oops! Great catch 🙂 Thanks for the head’s up and for your feedback.

  • By Dennis - 6:24 PM on July 11, 2015  

    ..and I have to be a bit shocked, once again, as someone uses iOS7 as trendsetting..shocked and angry.

    iOS7 does not bring anything new, at all, when it comes to the graphical design and layout. The downscaling of graphics and layouts in general have been the rule to live by for years before the Almighty Fruitvendors release..

    This is still a good piece..but for the love of Nurgle, stop using apple as the godgift to design!!

  • By Alex - 9:54 PM on July 12, 2015  

    skeuomorphism became the punching bag of inexperienced designers that didn’t have the experience to understand that there is no one style that works. Trends come and go, this one certainly will. Realistic graphics are not dead, just take one look at gaming. Games utilize a wide array of realistic design styles to great success and they will continue to do so, the web will too…

  • By Saïna - 6:41 PM on July 13, 2015  

    Great article! I have also been guilty of designing pages like these. But I definitely believe in using inspirational pages to get the visitor to stick around.

    However, it does concern me what part designers will play in the future; all websites are starting to lookalike, obviously differing in functionality. Designers and developers are giving themselves limitations by keeping things simple and not allowing the user think (differently). That’s why innovation seems non-existent.

    So, I think there will come an age of uniformity on the web. With a select number of templates for the very few types of websites (educational, commercial, corporate, etc.). The only thing separating them will be the logo, the use of color and photography. But I honestly think that’s it. All this for the sake of uniformity. The user will not have to think, because every website will evidently work the same way as the other websites.
    Not to mention not having to worry about the performance on all devices and for all screen sizes (responsiveness).

    It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but for designers the process of designing websites will lack creativity, which sucks.

    As for Apple, I love everything Mac. But lately they’ve seriously been lacking in the usability department.