For those of us WordPress developers who have been around long enough that we remember building all our themes from scratch — and thus having “Design” as a major stage of website production — this article on the unmistakable similarities between most websites these days comes as no surprise:
My colleagues… and I were studying the history of the web when we started to notice these (website similarities) cropping up. None of the authors had done any sort of empirical study, though. It was more of a hunch they had. So we decided to investigate the claim to see if there was any truth to the notion that websites are starting to look the same and, if so, explore why this has been happening. We ran a series of data mining studies that scrutinized nearly 200,000 images across 10,000 websites.
We found that across all three metrics—color, layout, and AI-generated attributes—the average differences between websites peaked between 2008 and 2010 and then decreased between 2010 and 2016. Layout differences decreased the most, declining over 30% in that time frame.
Is conformity healthy?
On the one hand, adhering to trends is totally normal in other realms of design, such as fashion or architecture. They’re also more user-friendly, since new visitors won’t have to spend as much time learning how to navigate the site’s pages.
On the other hand, the internet is a shared cultural artifact, and its distributed, decentralized nature is what makes it unique. As home pages and fully customizable platforms such as NeoPets and MySpace fade into memory, web design may lose much of its power as a form of creative expression. The Mozilla Foundation has argued that consolidation is bad for the “health” of the internet, and the aesthetics of the web could be seen as one element of its well-being.
I remember taking a lot of pride in the visual designs I came up with, as well as the corresponding Photoshop mockups I spent a great deal of time on. While I absolutely don’t regret using boilerplate starter themes and utilizing common design elements to make the process of web development much quicker (and thus more affordable for my clients), I do miss the aspect of creative expression in website design sometimes.
Maybe it’s one of those things that will come back around full-circle in the future. If creativity in website design becomes something that people look for again, it will be us old-timers who did it once before who will reap all the rewards!