Design Homogeneity

Earlier this week a coworker shared an article in our company chat by Morgane Santos titled The Unbearable Homogeneity of Design. Because I’m a sucker for a certain brand of call-the-cops-I-don’t-care design industry criticism (I’m a designer, so it’s more of a lover’s quarrel than disdain.), I pumped my fist.

Santos asked some awkward questions like:

  • Is it weird that our work all looks the same?
  • Is it weird that WE all look the same?
  • Are our conferences themed and priced in a way that makes it difficult for these things to change?

And I was like, “GET ‘EM!”

A few days later Yaron Schoen posted In Defense of Homogenous Design that, though not explicitly stated, seemed to be a response to Santos. I don’t think these two disagree all that much, though, but instead compliment each other’s point of view. I suspect if they went out for coffee there would be more laughing than yelling, and if they go out for coffee, I wish they would call me.

I see these two articles connected by more of a “Yes, and…,” than a, “Yeah, but… .”

Schoen’s case is that a certain kind of homogeneity in design serves our purposes. Well established patterns amount to dependability, giving the user a familiar set of mechanics for moving through a task. We’ve even added some historically innovative interactions in the very recent past, like gestures, long presses, and 3D touch. Even though some of these are still quite new, they are well understood enough for large companies to bet their substantial, though still limited, budgets on their users understanding what to do with them.

I’m in hearty agreement with Santos’ call for more diversity in hiring, fashion, and general perspectives across our industry, as well as the flame-thrower she aims at our preciousness (This tweet? It burns us.), but a call to take more aesthetic risks in our software design is less compelling to me outside of personal portfolio sites, startups solving bro problems, and, I don’t know, corn chip marketing pages? One problem with designers is we’ve seen too much. We track the trends, we install the betas, we bore easily. But in terms of software, we are here to solve for user and business needs, not individual designers’ frustrated sense of style.

I suppose my bias toward enterprise software is showing. I know this, and I do want to take care not to put my preferences on a high horse. I would only ask myself, and my peers to vigilantly take readings of when we are solving for users and clients, and when we are solving for our own, hair-trigger boredom. When we solve for boredom, we are restlessly pushing food around on our dinner plates and calling it innovation.

PS: Seriously call me if y’all hang out?