By Ben Davis.
Have you noticed that website launches fail to suprise any more?
Of course, that’s because over the past 15 years, we’ve all seen as many websites as we’ve had hot dinners.
But it’s also because web design has been converging, thanks to the mobile trend, established interaction design patterns and also cultural conventions, as clients are influenced more by the crowd when deciding on their own approach.
I’m continuing to explore my web design predictions for 2016 in more detail, so let’s take a look at convergence.
Converging on what?
At the start of 2015, Dave Ellis, a designer from Leeds, wrote a brief post on website convergence and included the sarcastic-but-serious template shown below.
I’m sure you’ll recognise this layout, predominately from technology websites or perhaps consumer startups attempting to simplify and brand a product or service.
Dave makes the point that this design is self-perpetuating; it’s achieved a sort-of critical mass.
The style itself is now so mainstream that clients ask for it. It’s happened to me, more than once…
…If clients are seeing a lot of sites that are the same style, it’s causing them to ask for it. It’s a bold business owner that will take a risk. It shouldn’t be, but it is.
As Dave points out, themes (chiefly WordPress) play a big part. It’s very easy for these sites to be created.
But more than that, centred designs with big font suit mobile well. These sites have lots of white space and icons, and don’t require much in the way of assets from the business (sometimes limited to a photo/screenshot or three).
The three column design also suits a website with a notable lack of detailed information.
Is convergence a bad thing?
Despite perceived lack of imagination perpetuating this style of design, convergence isn’t necessairly a bad thing. The user simply finds it easier and easier to navigate websites.
From Dave’s design, the scrolling page and the hero image with overlaid type and ghost button are the two features that can be found beyond one-page startup sites.
Here are three examples (shown below). Although the sites look similar above the fold, Lush is much more sophisticated than the other two (understandably, given it’s a fully functioning ecommerce site from a much bigger business).
Navigate to the three and you’ll see that The Prince Ink Company and Trunk Club employ the three column layout, whereas Lush takes only the hero image and text overlay from Dave’s famous template, and also differentiates itself with a very bold and easy-to-use drop-down header menu.
The Lush team uses style atop substance (rather than instead of it) and realises that a bold message and image is consistent with the fresh, sustainable and young image of the brand.
Convention comes about with good reason.
The Prince Ink Company
How should businesses stand out?
Though Dave urges design agencies in particular to take a risk, like they used to do with flash, a commenter on Hacker News asks ‘Did anyone actually enjoy using the novel flash sites that ‘never looked the same’?’
As designs converge, we’re noticing brands more and architecture less. And isn’t that what marketers want?