Elliot Jay Stocks, web designer and Creative Director at Adobe Typekit, wrote a short article about lack of creativity in web design. The article was littered with frustration towards “laziness amongst designers,” gravitating to trends as shortcuts. He poked at designer’s uses of passé design elements to give their project the polishing stamp of acceptance. The article was published in Computer Arts issue 225 and picked up by the creativebloq.
The article is short and worth your read if you are a web designer, having a new site built for you, or interested in the web industry. (So, you, you, and you.) Elliot’s main complaint is that designers are not innovative enough. Modern coding tools are rapidly improving to create the unthinkable; meanwhile, design creativity seems to be retreating. We gravitate towards trendy site layouts and design elements that have reached a level of industry notoriety. Elliot mentions the following trends that probably sound familiar:
- Full width imagery filling a homepage with a white type overlay.
- Buttons with only a border, no fill color.
- Full width, solid color sections of content, that visually break up the large full width imagery used everywhere.
I can safely admit that I, as a web designer, have used all of those design techniques and then some. But am I guilty of using hot topic tricks to save time and fit in? I will argue not. As I read Elliot’s article, the project roadblocks I face with every project formed in my head, but were left unaddressed by the author. Though I understand Elliot’s point and generally agree, there is another side to this tale of lackluster web design. The five points below help explain why trends exist and why I feel that using a trendy web design technique is not necessarily a sign designers have “stopped dreaming.”
1. Template websites are attractive, affordable and everywhere.
Wordpress, Squarespace and Shopify based websites combined own a huge market share of internet destinations. The explosion in usage of templates to build a website is creating a more homogenized web. These high quality templates may fool you into thinking they are custom designed sites. While template websites can be a great option, these sites are fueling now controversial trends.
2. Content speaks for itself.
If the client has high gloss images, why not fill the screen with that rich media? A site design hinges on the branding of the company and what content the brand brings to the table. Provided assets can be a huge advantage (or disadvantage) to the creative process and overall design style.
3. Responsive web design is a trend creator.
As responsive built websites become the norm (this is a good thing!), there are design trends following suit. Certain techniques scale with the browser size better than other:
- Layer cake page layouts
- Full width imagery
- Full screen drop-down menus
- Three column icon lists
All of these design techniques smell very much like responsive design trends to me, and guess what? They look good on all devices.
4. Website design should focus on usability.
Incorporating industry best practices into a design allows a new visitor to navigate through your site smoothly. Adhering to UI best practices should be considered a positive boon to a site design, not a surrender to uninspired trends.
5. Last but not least, budgets are real.
My job, first and foremost, is to discover, organize and highlight the client’s content. I help to create an attractive container for their information, ensuring that it looks good on all sized screens. There is coaching involved, lots of communication, and some hidden branding work along the way. More often than not, a project budget is chewed up before the site even holds all the content. Pushing creative boundaries is ideal, but not realistic for many budgets our small agency works with.
Creativity is important, but should alway come after the basics of quality web design are covered. Personally, I get more satisfaction out of finishing the design phase with a layout that moves into development smoothly, and exists quickly, than I do by creating a groundbreaking design headache. Good design direction is filled with reason and logic. The high level of design Elliot and I both desire, is often out of reach when you stack on the layers of reality listed above. Attractive, flowing designs are created for almost all projects coming out of the Daylight Studio. Exceptional usability and cutting edge creative, that takes an added level of collaboration and planning to achieve. If you are a client or perspective client reading this, know that we are willing and able to break down the design trend barriers for those willing to contribute.
So, thank you for the motivation, Elliot. As designers, we walk a fine balance between our dreams and project boundaries. I hope Elliot’s article sparks a fire among individuals in the industry to push for new layouts and graphical treatments with every project—while simultaneously remaining within the boundaries to serve clients the best possible product.