Are 'blocky wocky' sites killing web design?

Web design is losing its soul to 'vacuous, soulless containers', argues Neil Cooper of SapientNitro.

Neil Cooper is unhappy with the current state of web design

Learn to make sites that stand out at Generate London! In his talk, Be the black sheep, Mike Kus will share the secrets of how to extract an organisation's identity, and use it as the inspiration to help you craft truly distinctive web designs. Book now!

Most of the websites I visit currently seem to be secretly conforming to a new sub-culture within design.

They present the illusion of individuality and personality, but the internet has become a dumping ground for vacuous, soulless websites that are simply containers for squares of text, images and video.

The opportunities to create beautiful, rich, useful, relevant and immersive creative content are being over influenced by square blocks.

The 'trend' (a term I'm using in the hope that it is fleeting) is one of web design becoming homogenized, but that isn't to say one element is to blame. There are multiple factors changing the web experience. Here are three of them...

01. The influence of gallery sites

If we all get our inspiration from sites like Behance, does that encourage homogenity?

Where do you go to get your creative fix these days?

I'm guessing it's going to be anything from your Pinterest boards, scrolling through the endless pages of hypothetical designs on Behance, browsing through Panda, or maybe your thing is more siteInspire, the FWA Site of the Day or looking at the kind of agencies you really want to work for and see how you could get a bit of that into your work.

If we are all looking for inspiration in the same places, how are we going to create anything new? We need to find inspiration in the most unexpected places to encourage new fresh thinking.

02. Off the shelf frameworks

Are platforms likeWordPress themes leading to a generic takeover of the web?

A lot of the websites we experience that are borne of the paint by numbers square block approach, are more often than not created from off-the-shelf platforms like Squarespace, WordPress, Semplice (based on WordPress) to name a few and the soon to be launched creative killer 'The Grid', which claims to "harness the power of artificial intelligence to take everything you throw at it – videos, images, text, URLs and more – and automatically shape them into a custom website unique to you".

Isn't this approach to designing websites the very thing that breeds the kind of generic ubiquitous design we should be trying to avoid?

Haven't we had enough of the expressionless blocky wocky websites? What happened to ideas being story-led?

03. Overemphasis on UX

Is the right balance being struck between UX and aesthetics?

As designers we love simplicity and we subscribe to the concept of 'less is more', but how much less of the experience and more of the function are we going to sacrifice before we completely lose the potential of what the web can deliver?

Are we becoming too driven by UX and in turn democratising design? Are we trying to be as efficient as possible by creating the paint by numbers approach and forgetting how we can create something useful and relevant?

Have our budgets been cut? Have we forgotten the value of design? Or is time a factor to shortcutting creativity?

How to give web design its soul back

Be the black sheep! Learn to create distinctive designs with Mike Kus at Generate London

I'm not saying we need a skip intro button on the landing page of every website, a far cry from the Flashterbation websites of the noughties, but we need to bring back the emotion to the future of individual branded experiences.

At what point in the creative process are we getting inspiration? Without a core idea or creative platform underpinned by killer insight and strategy – you're dead in the water.

Being inspired by something that looks familiar (you might say on trend), may be a good thing, but it's never going to be great. It's going to be safe and predictable, and if you're not careful, it's probably going to look a bit blocky too.

We need to move away from the tyranny of blocky-wocky web design

It feels like the importance of creativity is being lost in an era that really values design. We cherish our beautifully crafted phones, we care about the headphones we wear. Our trainer collections are synonymous with our lifestyle (sorry to raise a cliché).

Perhaps we are getting lazy and too reliant on what is at our fingertips, maybe. Have we run out of things to be inspired by? Or have technology and the availability of ready made off the shelf 'insert image, text and video here' solutions made it too easy for us?

If we think about the role of the (P)inspirational stuff continually regurgitated over and over, those 'cool' sites we send around, they mean nothing without context. They are the starting point of the mediocrity of design and it's a downward spiral from there.

Are web designers losing their mojo and conforming to the latest trends and fads as we did in Web 2.0? Are we just going through a phase? Why are we all looking at the same thing and being inspired by the same stuff? Either way it seems like I must have missed the memo.

Don't follow the crowd; be the black sheep! In his Generate London talk, Mike Kus will explain the importance of understanding each client's unique qualities, and using them to create distinctive sites that reflect their character. Don't miss out; book now!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Neil Cooper is creative director, visual design at SapientNitro. His role is to lead the visual design team and help to create and develop the quality, thinking and craft in the creative work by enabling a culture that puts storytelling at the heart of the studio.