In the last couple of years we’ve noticed more and more websites following the same basic format. This is typically referred to as design convergence; two designers, approaching the same problem, might reasonably arrive at the same solution—even more so, if they’re aware of each other’s work.
It’s common to hear complaints from designers (rarely clients) that all sites look the same, and that web design has become “boring”. But another word for “boring” is “predictable”, and predictable is good for users.
Design patterns stick, because they work
Design convergence is a process driven by widespread adoption of design patterns. At some point, cobblers decided that the best way to secure a shoe to a foot was laces—yes, other types of fastening are available, but most footwear uses laces. Those cobblers didn’t hold some kind of clandestine meeting, over time cobblers who didn’t favor laces either found another niche, or went out of business. Design patterns stick, because they work.
As an industry, we’ve been here before. From Web 2.0, to Flat Design, via Splash pages, every design solution is definitive until it’s surpassed. Inevitably, technology moves on, and as the question changes, the answer changes too. However, despite the continuing march of technology the current crop of design patterns has proved to be unusually persistent.
Part of the reason is that business (always blame the client) is heavily invested in current solutions; we might also blame the design community, blogs (such as this one), Medium, Dribbble, all reinforce a status quo; we might also blame our own expectations, I recently caught myself referring to Material Design—a whole two years old—as “dated” (because it is). We’re acutely aware of design trends, we’re always looking for the next idea, and a watched pot never boils.
Still, the one characteristic of every revolution is that it is preceded by a period of stagnation. The current design convergence may be the maturation of design patterns that will continue for decades, or it may be we’re about to experience another momentous change in the design landscape.