Welcome to same.
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I typically go to Dribbble to get inspiration. But lately there’s been nothing new. It’s all the same stuff, the same styles, the same treatment, the same answers to every problem. The same button styles, the same shadow insets and drop-shadows on the text, the same #f6f6f6 background with the same noise. The same rounded corners, the same sans-serifs and the same #252525 font color. The same really big type. The same slab serifs (hello Museo). The same subtle gradients. It’s all the same. It’s nothing new.
On one hand I think this is great because it brings consistency to nearly everything. We’ve found something that works and we all use it. In all this makes the web feel incredibly cohesive. I’m one of the biggest proponents for consistency and familiarity because they aid significantly in the user experience.
On the other hand how do we call ourselves designers when what we’re really doing is copying everyone else?
We’re not really thinking, merely copying. It’s usually Apple or Google who are the real creatives, the real user experience experts. In the recent past it’s been them who have forged forward with new UI ideas and interactions. Those ideas catch on, they get popular, and the rest of us become really good at copying those same things. But are we “experts”?
Furthermore, there are more and more companies out there hiring “UX experts” that are paid to copy the real experts – those who have created the very solutions we’re mimicking in our interfaces. Not to take anything away from the interface designers out there, including myself (because let’s face it, I draw inspiration from current trends too), but I think we all need to be a little realistic in our own capabilities and set the arrogance aside. Until you or I create some highly successful new method of interacting, we’ve got no reason to be arrogant. (Actually, there’s never a good time to be arrogant.)
I don’t mean to be critical here. I’m simply responding to what I’ve seen lately, even with myself, and expressing some general frustrations. I like buttons that look like the ones Google created, so I use them in my designs. But I didn’t design them. I like the rounded corners and cleanliness of the stuff Apple puts out so I bring that into my interfaces. But I didn’t design them.
It’s a little frustrating because I want to create something ground-breaking. I want to be part of the next big idea. I want to design an interface that is more user-friendly, more accessible, and even better looking than all the stuff that’s out there right now. I just can’t imagine anything more right now. I actually love some of the stuff out there which makes it difficult to “one-up” it.
The times I enjoy most are when I’m given a problem to solve and a blank slate. I recently created an interface for Boston University that simplifies the “specmail” email process. Gone are the days of having to know HTML, building your email with tables, and inline styles. I’ve created a slick, easy-to-use interface that’s completely WYSIWYG. Select your template. Choose a header image (or supply your own). Enter the subject line, the heading, body copy and the footer, and send it off to “specmail” for approval. It’s easy. It was a fun project that I think I solved incredibly well. And the interface looks a lot like what you’d expect to see on Google.
I like to think I’m really good at what I do, but it’s a sobering realization that I am certainly no “expert”. I’m just a guy who loves creating useful, usable, accessible, and slick-looking user interfaces.