I'm not a website designer, but I commission and supervise a lot of them. I see the cool website designs on Smashing Mag and elsewhere and I drool like most designers drool. Everywhere else I look, however, I see the same website, more or less.
Swap out a banner here and a color or font there, and you have a formula that 99% of websites use. How did we get here, and what's the remedy?
Trends come and go, but we have basically evolved into building business websites that are pretty much carbon copies of each other, down to the text, offers, ideas and layout. Why?
Let's look at the demands we place on our website designs before a designer has a chance to create:
- Web conventions - at a glance the visitor must understand who we are, what we do and why it's important to stay and explore. We tend to go with tried-and-true layouts, navigation styles and content to accomplish this mission.
- Business impact - we put so much emphasis on lead capture that we clutter our designs with calls to action, learn more's and click here's. We tell the visitor to ignore the beauty of our website and drill down now before the great offers expire.
- SEO - we must follow the on-page search optimization rules or surely face the wrath of Google. Eye tracking studies dictate that our content must be top-left-justified and ordered by priority with keyword phrases. There must be X amount of text with the correct keyword saturation. The list goes on...
- Client "preferences" - our clients tell us which websites they admire, and if their redesign isn't strikingly similar, there had better be a good reason for it.
- Our "preferences" - we have placed the web designer at the end of a pretty long food chain including Senior Management, Marketing Directors, Art Directors, Account Managers, Content Managers... The list goes on. By the time a web designer's marching orders are in place, there's exactly room for changing a few images or colors or fonts in our default website design.
And we wonder why our designs are starting to blur into an uncomfortable sameness?
What are my suggestions?
- Move the web designer up the food chain and make him/her responsible for the ultimate design. Ask for them to contribute ideas throughout the process.
- Give the web designer "guidelines" based on business goals and customer preferences, but don't dictate the ultimate design.
- Give the web designer a new requirement - we want our websites to be different from the pack. We want them to stand out as a design as much as we want our message and content to shine.
I hear what you're thinking. "But our clients like our designs. At least they never complain about it..." Well, maybe the problem is that you're not giving them something new to imagine, something different to set them apart.
Maybe we should be seeking inspiration rather than convention.
What are your ideas for pumping life back into the Web?