Mashable blogger Jason Abbruzzese takes a look at the similarities between the most popular media websites. Why do they all seem to look the same?
Parts and Pieces
“It’s sort of the same way that all cars look more or less the same. There’s only so many ways you can design a doorknob to where it’s going to be effective,” said Brad Frost, a web designer that has worked on the websites for TechCrunch and Entertainment Weekly.
Cars and doorknobs serve a purpose under certain constraints, just like websites. But unlike those everyday items, the demands on websites have changed drastically as audiences have taken to different devices.
“To a certain degree, websites always look the same. Design is fashion and it follows trends. We’re in the middle of a trend of big and clunky, not just because of responsive design but also because of touch,” Clark added. “As touch has spread from small screens to laptops and desktops, all desktop designs have to be touch-friendly, and that has influenced the aesthetic, too.”
Enter Responsive Design
Numerous major media sites have shifted to responsive design with similar results — multi-column, boxy and flat designs that look almost strangely similar.
At first, it was tenable to create multiple sites: one for mobile, another for desktop. Now, more sites are moving to the responsive design as a one-size-fits-all solution. There are simply too many different screens and experiences to plan for.
“Your head is going to explode trying to support that stuff, let alone afford it,” Clark said.
“Media sites have a specific limitation called an ad unit that really limits the flexibility of design, because unlike every other unit, this ad can’t change size,” Clark said.
Online advertising guidelines are set by the Internet Advertising Bureau so marketers and websites can have a common market. Rigid ad sizes may help sales, but end up being a pain for designers.
“You have these dinosaurs grasping at straws, that haven’t been able to move as fast as the rest of the industry, and it creates a real restraint,” Frost said.
Many screens, many ad types
“As a digital designer, our world is now going from watch space to 80-inch screens, so what do you do with that? Do you seriously try to design one interface for all of those screen sizes and all of those experiences?” Storey said.
And it’s not just screens. The rise of contextual advertising, in which a variety of data is used to tailor advertisements, could end up pushing design forward as well.
“The content and experience that brands are going to want to offer is going to demand more design and more design thinking, more consideration for not only those unique devices, but also where you are and what time you are there,” Storey said.