What does Showtime’s hit TV series, Weeds, possibly have in common with the business of online design and brand marketing? Let’s start with a song. Malvina Reynolds drove through the suburbs of 1960’s Daly City, California and saw rows upon rows of identical tract houses. Struck by the lack of visual distinction among houses and neighborhoods, she was inspired to write the iconic song, “Little Boxes” that much later became the theme song for Weeds. Of course Ms. Reynolds wasn’t thinking about online design was at that point. Personal computers didn’t exist in 1963! Nevertheless, those “little boxes all built out of ticky-tacky” are all too relevant today when we look around at current design trends.
Folks now face an overwhelming number of choices for self-service web development platforms like Web.com, Tumblr, Weebly, Wordpress, WIX and Squarespace. Freed from the intricate complexity of computer coding, anyone with the dexterity of a preschooler can click and drag, upload and download. Pre-defined templates have transformed the stress of the “How” to the excitement of the “What.”
Like the popular tract housing concepts so reminiscent of post-WWII Americana, however, online design trends have fallen prey to the very same unoriginal conformity they were created to defy. We laud the democratization of web development and the inarguable accessibility and user-friendly quality of “build-your-own” sites. But too often they result in safe, tried and true layouts lacking in character, spirit and the most important thing of all: any visual distinction that would inspire anyone to stop, take notice and engage.
Despite the ease of entering words and pictures into pre-assigned boxes and filling in the blanks under a few pre-determined tabs, the resulting output looks very much like that of everybody else who has performed the same actions using different words. No sleek-looking template selected for a restaurant. artistic passion or [insert business here] stands a prayer of standing out from other sites using the exact style layout. Templates are not inherently bad, but using them with little imagination or customization to regurgitate the lowest common denominator represents a squandered opportunity.
A great website serves as a paramount component of building a strong company brand online. How can we do more for our online design ideas than settling for some little boxes that all look just the same? Graphic and interactive media designers are experts at using original content—and yes, templates—to create thoughtful site designs that look and feel sui generis. How? By capturing and expressing a company’s distinct brand identity through its relevant imagery, words, style and personality, rather than slavishly adhering to the tyranny of the template. Let your customers, employees, partners and competitors know that your business is more than just another little box on the hillside—build something fresh and new. Ticky-tacky may be just fine for lots of other folks, but your brand deserves better.