Let me start off this post (rant) by saying I am not a designer. I did receive a full scholarship to Auburn University for oil painting. That painting in the featured image is a commission I did of a scene from The Life Aquatic. I have sold many paintings and prints of my paintings. I’ve designed logos for companies that have been in use for 10+ years at this point (TRO Logo still in use, designed in 2004). Art has always been a big part of my life and yep, I have designed a lot of web sites.
I’ve stopped designing web sites. It’s just not my schtick. I can paint an impressionist painting all day but doing detailed margins, responsiveness, UX and so on just isn’t something I have the patience for. And to be completely honest with myself, I probably don’t have the eye for it either.
But as a visual artist in general I can tell you when I see something that doesn’t work. And I can tell you when something is being done to death. The current web design trend is incredibly over-saturated.
Here it is: The Template. In the graphic below you can see a handful of screenshots I took browsing the first page of the WordPress theme repo featured and popular sections. What do they have in common?
They are all the same.
Who invented this template? Does it have a name? Is this layout not reaching its peak of abuse?
I’d argue variation. Websites were unique. When the internet was young there was crap littered every where. We all remember the days of animated gif skulls and scrolling, blinking text. The web was brand new media and artists had neither the skill to develop it nor interest in learning it. Computer programmers were designing.
Then, graphic designers started becoming programmers. Beautiful, gorgeous designs began to blossom. Flash was giving people the ability to do amazing works of art (and convoluted, over-animated crap at the same time).
There were masterpieces spawning up all over the place. I spent hours browsing FWA which was full of gorgeous sites made in Flash. In fact, the FWA was built in Flash! Trying to look it up in archive.org and it’s stuck “loading” because the entire site is flash and I suspect the resources it used aren’t in the archive.
Flash opened the door to endless possibilities. I built a freaking a mini OS in it in 2005. The problem was it was resource intensive, easy to create broken apps and locked into an executable .swf file. Then came HTML5, CSS3 and jQuery.
Flash was dumped for native browser technology that was easily as powerful and far more capable and extendable. Designers who dedicated years to mastering ActionScript were sent back to junior dev level needing to learn a whole new set of tools. I was one of these people.
It took some time but people got good. Things being built in JS/CSS frameworks now are beyond amazing. Have you seen the walking, laser shooting AT-AT that’s pure CSS3?
I have a theory. It’s my theory so it could be completely wrong, but I think it has some legitimacy.
Flash & ActionScript didn’t have frameworks or plugins as extensive or popular as what’s being used today in the JS/CSS world. People were forced to be creative in their production down to the finest detail. If you wanted a perfect grid that had animated stacking you better be good at geometry and know some calculus.
Now we are all bootstrapped and gridlocked. It’s industry standard to use design frameworks. I totally get the redeeming value of this:
But we are losing our identity. The web is becoming a massive entity with a single (exaggeration) core. Users have expectations now, not just functionality but in aesthetics.
In no way do I suggest Flash should still be around and popular. It was buggy as hell and like I mentioned earlier, easy to make broken crap.
I’m saying developers and designers are abusing the npm. I read a great satire article on node packages the other day. The sad thing is I thought it was true until someone pointed out it was satire.
I want to see designers breaking away from the mold. The Template world is getting out of control. With WordPress running over a quarter of the www, The Template is creeping in and becoming the de facto design layout standard. It’s forcing people to say “OK, we have to have three columns with icons and important links so what should those be?”
No! You don’t have to have three call out items with icons! If that doesn’t make sense for your website structure then don’t use it just because the template shows it looks best with those elements in their screenshot.
And this is bringing me to my final thought on the situation. Instead of building a design around content, we are building our content around design.
Let us not forget that a website, typically, is to present information and useful services and UX is there to make it easily usable: Structure first, UX second.