Marketing & Media trends
Don't Imitate. Innovate
"The Surplus Society has a surplus of similar companies, employing similar people, with similar educational backgrounds, working in similar jobs, coming up with similar ideas, producing similar things, with similar prices and similar quality." - Nordstrom & Ridderstrale in Funky Business.
The web is plagued by a condition called the 'blight of sameness', which was first mentioned by Tom Peters in The Circle of Innovation. This is a condition that results in many web sites looking exactly the same, thus straying far beyond the identities and brands they are suppose to portray.
I think this condition originated when the line between the technical side and the artistic one became blurred. But I also believe that it came from confusing someone who knows PhotoShop with someone who actually knows the difference between "kerning" and "leading."
Now, when young web designers' start out, they tend to grab at everything that comes down the assembly line: graphics, animation, Flash. They read the same literature, they follow the same school of thought or best practice dished out by so-called usability experts, and they look at similar sites done before in order to be "safe" and not forget or leave anything out.
In doing so, they tend to make some pretty serious mistakes. They also tend to create sites that are identical in look and feel. This can be forgiven because I understand that even the greatest designers had to learn their trade before they could produce fantastic work.
But learning their trade is unfortunately where many designers stop. And what cannot be forgiven is that these designers - who have been in the field for an eternity - still don't seem to have learned anything about web site design at all. However, they are not alone, and the role of the client in dictating the 'best practice' they read in the same Internet books written by the same "experts" should not be underestimated.
Sure, their sites are aesthetically not too bad, and they embrace the recommended related practices, but there is no sign of innovation. The overall web design strategies employed by most companies seems to have attached themselves to some really limiting habits, and these influence all their visual designs and presentations.
It is these companies, designers and marketing executives combined who contaminate the web with the 'blight of sameness'.
Good vs. Great
In the early years of the web, anything and everything was allowed because the most important thing was to just get online. We were subjected to lots of poorly designed, unreadable material displayed in six different incompatible typefaces and weird colour combinations.
But as competition for ad spend and visitor attention became fiercer, the web was forced to change, and it wasn't long before companies decided that they wouldn't settle for 'good enough' when they were looking for 'great' when it came to their web presence.
In line with that, web design progressed - from the use of colour and basic functionality (where there was absolutely no branding), to the introduction of limited functionality and some imagery that was not necessarily corporate or brand related. This was followed by the introduction of low graphic usage, and more selective branding. The corporate portal - which was fixed on full branding - came next, pursued not long after by single-minded simplified e-commerce applications bent on focused branding.
Finally, today, a web site can be a beautifully branded and expertly designed technical masterpiece incorporating design and functionality into a synergistic informative user experience...but only if some inactive thought is employed in the solution design.
Building the Brand
Branding means nothing more than creating a distinct personality, and then telling the world about it. Companies spend countless amount of cash on developing their brand, sometimes only to have them morphed, stretched, bevelled, and 3D'd into oblivion by so-called designers.
A company's web site is the front door to what may be its largest reachable audience, and it should not only complement the organisation's overall marketing program, but should also be its mainstay for building brand identity. Remember, you only have one chance to make a first impression!
The bottom line is that uninventive design hurts marketing efforts and brand character, and it definitely hurts brand building. It is thus crucial for designers to break the mould in web site design in order to reinforce an organisation's brand, and help it stand out from the competition.
"While everything may be better, it is also increasingly the same." - Paul Goldberger, The New York Times.
According to the Webster Dictionary, a designer is "one who conceives or forms original designs planned for or aimed at communication." Maybe we all need to pay more attention to the word original.
The era of design has evolved and web designers need to evolve with it. So look at what others are doing. Pay attention to the concepts. Then do things differently. Don't imitate - innovate! After all, isn't it about time that web sites got some respect - especially from those that design them?