Ever wondered why websites look so similar?


From the BBC to Facebook, Amazon to an average WordPress blog, things are getting a little familiar. There are lots of reasons for this, the most important of which we are going to take a look at below. A good designer will know the environment, its pressures, limitations and opportunities but for the rest of us it’s a good chance to understand exactly what is going on.




Internet ads (like offline ads) have strict sizing rules. These industry wide rules make it easier for selling and buying ad space – but harder for designers who have to rigidly work around them. No big deal you might think (they have been doing precisely that in traditional media formats since day one) – but it is an issue when you also take into consideration…


Responsive design


Where once a web designer took it for granted that the end product would likely be seen on a desktop monitor, it is now assumed that a website should work at every level (including consistency of design) for mobiles and tablets. In fact, we have no doubt that large organisations are working very hard now at making their content work on watch sized screens too. Responsive design is the end result of having to design for a variety of screen sizes and coming to the (sensible) conclusion that it is better to have a one size fits all approach to provide an optimal viewing experience, whatever the viewing platform. Easier for the designer, more consistent for the brand and easier to manage multiple sites and their content.


Of course there is a ‘look’ that comes with responsive design. Large columns dominate around easily resized pictures. The page that needs to work at many different sizes works better when it is simple.




Another aspect of mobile that designers have to take into consideration is the much less reliable internet speeds available out of the home/office. Graphics flatten, unnecessary lines and shades disappear as they are considered superfluous in the face of longer page loading times.




Users need to be able to access the content (including the ads) as easily as possible. Nothing, least of all a designer, can get in the way of that. One obvious example of this is that menus need to go where menus are normally found. Anything else might stand out from the crowd visually but it will impede content delivery.


Doing it right


Despite all of the above, it is very possible to create design within the limitations outlined that also reflects the individuality of the brand in question and helps them stand out from the crowd.


Take a look at two very different (content/ad rich) newsbrands, The Guardian and USA Today, to see how they both fit within the rules and play by their own to see how it can be done.


Don’t forget, if you would like any advice on how to help your organisation stand out from the crowd online (while still being readable on a phone), our design and branding team would be happy to help.