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.
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.
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.
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.
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.