What Has Happened to All of the Web Design Ideas?

We all know that most design clients are fairly predictable in tastes and not exactly thrilling to work for. I am sure you are not clapping your hands in excitement when designing another site for a wedding photographer or online marketing company that needs to be “conversion optimized.” Nothing about the project itself stirs the spark of creativity that is lying dormant deep inside you. You want to get it designed ASAP, get your money, and never look at it again.

So you go into autopilot mode. Out comes Open Sans for the 14th time. Out comes that web framework you’ve used 33 times already because you know clients love “the flat look.”

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Idea-Less Designers Have Become the Industry Standard

While there is nothing wrong with cutting some corners and borrowing a few graphics from other designers (even our past work), I fear that this unmotivated, “idea-less” web design has become par for the course in the world, instead of a once-in-a-while exception for that freebie project for your Uncle Bernard.

We have let ourselves become mindless workers on a production line, not fountainheads of ideas. Everyone and their mom can tell us how to design and we don’t even have the energy to ask “why?” The modern web designer has become a follower, not a leader, because our work lacks the conviction of thought, research and imagination behind it. Our only motivation is the carrot of a paycheck dangling in front of us.

We have lost the sense of adventure that we had when we first began designing. There were no limits to what we could (or at least thought we could) do. No grids or theoretical “folds.” No cross-platform compatibility or page load time. Just your imagination.

Though all these technical concerns are of course, real-life issues that we must take into consideration to design properly, I believe that they can turn into crutches for a defeated designer. We are too afraid (or lazy) to spawn a design based not on someone else’s template, but on what a design should be based on: an idea.

We Have Lost Our Will to Fight… and in Turn The Desire to Create

But somewhere along the line we lost our will to fight for our ideas… so we stopped coming up with new ones. We became willing to just complain over and over about nonsensical feedback (“make it pop”) and being prodded at the point of a gun into designing interfaces that make us doubt if we even want to continue in this profession.

When this feeling of helplessness sets in, we find ourselves consoled by the fact that every other designer in the world is probably going through the same thing. In the end, we have a fresh chuckle at “How a Web Design Goes Straight to Hell” and move on to the next destined-to-be-damned project. At least we have a job right?

However, if you as a designer are content to simply paint with Photoshop in a corner of the office somewhere, your role will become greatly diminished in value… and easily replaced by someone who can paint prettier pictures than you.

A successful designer is motivated by more than time and money. They strive for excellence. And in the design world, excellence is measured in ideas; that spark of creative brilliance formed in the human mind which finds its way to paper and screen.

You can start by treating every project as a fresh chance to create something extraordinary. Extraordinary in the sense that it is the product of your imagination and ingenuity, fueled by an idea. Creativity is birthed in your head, not in Photoshop. You can be more than a producer of graphics if you are not afraid to think for yourself and go with what you think. Your training, experiences and talent should be driving your mind, not just your mouse.

You Are What You Make Others Eat

An employee at a fast food chain can’t get very excited about their product because they are not putting much thought or care into it’s creation. There is no originality or diversity, only the same set of combo meals over and over again. He couldn’t tell you much about the food he is making, because frankly, he doesn’t care about it.

How can a client be excited about a product that its creator is not thrilled to show? If you want people to appreciate your work, then you need to put more work into its creation.

Think of a professional chef at an acclaimed restaurant. He is exhilarated by the food he prepares. He has chosen the ingredients carefully, testing out various methods of preparing and presenting each dish. He speaks of spices and sauces with an intimate knowledge, showing his keen interest and sincere passion for his craft. He is confident that his food is exquisite, because he knows the steps it took to make it the way it is.

In the same way, a design that is born from an original idea and honed to neat perfection will give you confidence and passion for it. There should be reasons for every “ingredient” in your work.

You hand-picked Open Sans after scrutinizing its every letter, comparing them side-by-side with two other typefaces. You created that textured interface from scratch by photographing linen paper and pixel-by-pixel editing a carefully selected portion of it. Every aspect of the design looks the way it does because you intended it to be that way. You have no problem talking about your work, defending it from stupid criticisms and meaningless edits by the idea behind your choices. There are no accidents. No cop-outs.

Care More About Your Design than Your Client Does

I always like to say that a designer should care more how a design looks than the client does. Why? It is not your money that is paying for it. But it is still very much about you. It is your time, your energy, your thought, your emotion that goes into a design. Your name is on it, meaning that your reputation will be effected by it. Most importantly, your confidence, your self-respect, and your pride and joy in what you do everyday is at stake.

Even if your ideas are rejected or changed drastically, it is not you who is missing out. You have done your best and presented an excellent product that you can be proud of. You have grown as a designer and have gained valuable experience in your field. Eventually people will take notice and you will be given fresh opportunities to “idea-ize” for more appreciative candidates.

Autopilot off

But it begins with you calling a halt to your own apathy. Turn off the autopilot by putting away the templates and starting with a clean white page where you can be free to create something new. Pay less attention to flash-in-the-pan trends that everyone is doing and more attention to the minute intricacies of type, color, and shape so that you can set yourself apart from the ordinary.

Most importantly, when you know you have a great idea: stick with it. Commit yourself to see it to completion and defend it against those who may not understand it yet. And if designing “combo meals” at a “fast-food” company is not giving your ideas a chance… then perhaps it is time to change restaurants.

Comments

  • Luke Pettway

    I think that a lot of it too is we have entered a very minimalist era in design. We’re still adjusting to the explosion of devices and new functionalities so we are unifying our approaches to solving design problems. There is a lot more at stake when we make deviations from best practices because it can frustrate users and make them go elsewhere.

    Designers definitely need to stick up for themselves because more and more of us are touching more and more parts of entire businesses. Design itself is strategy and it makes sense to include designers and developers in meetings at the beginning, but a lot of companies struggle balancing the mundane business strategy with the creative parts of that strategy without creating meetings that drone on and on forever.

    It always worries me when I see designers who either don’t stand up for their work, or can’t argue why they created something the way they did. If someone is paying you to design something, you are designing for their goal in mind and if that goal is selling something to someone, the design is about that target audience, not the person giving you money. That doesn’t mean throw everything out the window, their branding and message all still matter, but don’t let them boss you around. It is much easier to have a conversation about why their idea is bad and will fail vs letting them find out the hard way and having a more difficult talk about why you didn’t prevent them from failing in the first place.

  • xymurgist

    Frameworks.

  • OnceBuilder Framework

  • I don’t believe this shock piece one bit. There are tons of amazing designers that continue to stretch their imaginations and bring new experiences and environments to the table on a daily basis.

    Maybe you’re hanging out with the wrong crowd, or maybe you’re just hungry for clicks, but I feel bad for all the designers that are moving the medium forward and not getting recognized for their frequent, grand achievements.

  • I’d like to note that the previous article in this blog is “Be Theme: Build Websites Within Minutes!” Kind of mixed message if you ask me.

  • I think in any creative industry (and you seem to touch on it) the client will always be risk-averse and more a follower in how they look at their website. Thus many of us are stuck building “safe” ideas for them. I even see many web designers/developers who more work on bulk, selling quick WordPress installs with ready-made themes at bargain prices, because they can set it up and launch it in a day.

    In my book, the creative ideas are out there. I’ll look on inspiration sites and see them. Unfortunately they’re mainly portfolios. The real issue is we all need to find more ways to sell the clients on taking a little risk and trusting us as experts. It is tough though as it seems every client I meet has been “screwed” in the past by someone not as experienced.

    For me, this is why I try to keep a few “fun sites” where I’m the “client” and thus I can give free reign to do things as I want.

  • I agree that sometimes we do need to fight, but I’ve found it difficult when the person paying you can and will easily fire you for someone that won’t fight. This is especially true for agencies, many whom I’ve seen fire CD’s who fought the client and installed “yes men” who will do whatever the client requests. Worse is when I’m seeing CD’s taken out and the power handed to the account team!

  • Karen Downing Cronin

    Excellent article. This applies to designers of all mediums. It certainly is something that we need to remind ourselves of every time we start a new project.

  • Flavio Renato

    What did you mean about CD’s: Its Code Developer’s?

  • Flavio Renato

    If you are a PRO and living of Design, ainly “Web/Graphic’ deesign, you must align Time, Deadlines and the Budget envolved.
    Graphic and Print Design are openes for more Creativity that never before, BUT talking about Web enviroment, despite the robot-no-talented-designer and the wannabes.and think itself
    What I can do for a 6k or 10k client and what I can deliver to a simple presence online for my Costumer berween 800-1k?

  • Hi Andrew …in principle I agree with you.

    But here’s the thing. You’re lucky enough to be a partner in a thriving New York consultancy with blue chip clients. By all means flex your creative muscles because you’re in a position to do so.

    For many independent designers the battle is persuading prospective clients to stretch their budgets. Times are hard for all of us. But it goes deeper than the size of their pockets …many small business owners simply don’t understand the value that a good designer will add to their business in terms of branding, marketing and business growth.

    One can hardly blame them …they’re hoodwinked by prevalent website builders’ adverts, cheap unskilled design services, the lure of contest sites and bad advice from ill-informed marketing gurus.

    I care deeply about the quality of work I deliver so I often go into self-imposed scope-slip, working for much less than my ideal rate in order to deliver a half decent job. Like many freelancers (I’ve been one for 26 years), it’s a struggle at the moment. If I lowered my standards and used the same templates and fonts etc, I’d probably be able to afford a holiday once in a while. Maybe even visit New York ;-)

    There are lazy and apathetic designers out there certainly, but there are many more who are having to do the best they can for clueless clients with very low budgets because they have no choice.

    I’m not defeated or giving up at all. I refuse to believe that the quality of design is stagnating. It’s just hit a low spot while we adjust to the increased demands of the multi device web.

    I suggest the design community as a whole join forces to raise the public’s awareness of the true value of design. This would help business owners to make better choices for their website provision and to budget realistically. Bigger budgets will raise the level of creativity and inventiveness in web design …which takes us neatly back to your point.

  • Sorry. I meant Creative Directors

  • Rachel Nordenhok

    I really appreciate that! So true that it seems everyone has fallen into these new ‘fads’ of designing, and to be honest, I’m tired of seeing websites that look the same! Thank you for stepping out and saying what it is…. Gutsy…

  • Flavio Renato

    Oh! Thanks. I did know the term AD (Art Director) only.

  • Andrew, you are absolutely right about this “Care More About Your Design than Your Client Does”. A designer who think like this, he can grow faster because first QA should be in designers’ eye. I believe that designers’ own satisfaction is necessary than client’s satisfaction.

  • Santa

    Original design died along with Flash.Today, many “designers” don’t even know basic HTML. They rely on Themeforest templates. Every website I visit nowadays looks like Avada.

  • Santa

    Go to “inspiration” sites like Site Inspire and you’ll find that there really isn’t much creativity around at the moment.

  • Graham Barnes

    Interesting article, I have seen a lot of this recently too where web designers/developers just get a theme from themeforest and change some images and code and then pass it off to the client, there is no
    creativity in it at all, I still make custom designs which I make in Photoshop and then I hand code it in HTML, CSS and some jQuery however I see some cheap clients wanting to use templates more and more, thankfully that doesn’t help me get to where I want to be or keep me there (if I use a template then I won’t improve in regards to design) so why do it?

    From a business point of view from the client perspective its about getting their online presence up and running fast, sadly that can sometimes means using templates or websites like Wix, although both of these kinds of sites have been around for ages, but this is where UX comes in and I hope that clients will come to realize the user experience they are giving to their clients is the same as what their competition is giving.

  • ENCORE

    How come the article is in Jun 2017 and comments are 2 years before? speckyboy?? are you re-posting old articles?

  • mwaterous

    Recycled article? Dated 2017, yet all comments are from two years ago.

  • You are the William Wallace of design.