I love this post from Chris about websites looking the same. What’s the harm in sameness?

If a website fails to do do what it sets out to do, that, I care about. Design is failing there. But if a website has a design that is a bit boring, but does just what everyone needs it to do, that’s just fine. All hail boring.

I love how he talks about the friction between design uniqueness and design affordances, and how striking a balance between the two seems like a good thing.

design uniqueness and affordances need not be at odds. Surely you can design a site that is aesthetically unique, yet people still know how to use the dropdown menus.

I think that hits the nail on the head. I keep thinking back to the days of all-Flash websites, where the navigation would be crazy bouncing balls or some weird 3D forest or spinning spirals. The cognitive overhead of having to learn a whole new navigation paradigm surely got in the way of users trying to quickly get to a restaurant’s menu or contact info (especially with all that background music playing!). There’s something comforting about knowing to look for a horizontal list of links across the top of a page. With each additional site that adopts this across-the-top navigation pattern, users become conditioned to look for navigation in the same spot, helping them achieve their goals faster. Hooray, affordances!

That said, there absolutely is value in design uniqueness. I’ve written about the pros and cons of UI toolkits like Bootstrap before, and one of the dangers is an aesthetic sameness that can work against the company’s mission.

If Nike, Adidas, Puma, and Reebok were to redesign their respective sites using Bootstrap, they would look substantially similar. That’s certainly not what these brands are going for.

A site’s design can and should reinforce the brand, and help it stand out from its competitors. That’s why I’ve always been a bit uncomfortable with UI frameworks that impose a certain aesthetic. I love the idea of sharing structural and behavioral patterns, but I also like the idea of using the aesthetic layer as a way to differentiate you from your competitors.

So yeah, I think designers should strive to find the sweet spot between design affordances and design uniqueness.