Recently I was hit with a comment I found hard to swallow: “All your designs look the same”. I re-read the comment a few times while I thought of a witty response, before closing the browser and telling myself to forget about it, and then deciding it’d make for one hell of a hot topic issue to bring up in an article. So here it is, the question designers have to ask themselves over and over again when creating new pieces – “Is this too similar to…”
Who is the pattern maker?
First you have to realize who the “pattern maker” is. The pattern maker is ourselves. Each one of us does things a certain way, and one we begin to do things one way, we tend to stick too it if it works and start fresh if it doesn’t. This is evident in design (finding one style or niche and sticking with it), music (a band tries to reinvent itself after a flopping album), sports (the ones your surrounded by as a kid tend to be the ones you pick up on as you grow), and etc, etc. “Patterns” literally control our lives, and many times it’s hard to break away from them.
So patterns + design equals?
As a designer, many times you fall into “ruts” or a consistent way of making sites. A lot of times, this happens after one design really gets high praise from the design community. Because it turns out well, you tend to pull and re-pull elements from that one design and re-use them in multiple instances and all different designs.
It’s not just a select few people who reuse specific elements on multiple designs either. Many times, those who browse the web frequently can spot designs and the people behind them without and knowing, simply by picking up similar tendencies that a design may show. Even such small things as how gradients are used, fonts, colors, etc can hint at who designed a specific site. For example, when I first saw the Flock site design, without knowing Brian Veloso designed it, I instantly picked up that it was done in “his style”. Does that mean he doesn’t show variety in his designs? Absolutely not. It just meant that I could pick out minor things here and there that I personally could attribute to him.
So how do we stop ourselves from reusing some of those design elements over and over again? Many times, it’s just too hard to stop. Like trained dogs, some things are just stuck with us. Every time I bust open photoshop and put together a design, any time it has two columns are start saying to myself “It looks to similar to Devlounge”, and I end up forming a design with the same type of structure; logo, header, nav, two columns, footer. But that’s how I’ve been designing for ages; even before I knew anything about web standards and all the new “trends” of today, I was always setting sites up the same way since that days of Homestead WYSIWYG site builders.
And sometimes, even when you want to try to break out of that pattern, you get the clients who want you to design their project because it was your style that got them interested in the first place. I’d really love to be able to put together grunge style sites for bands again, but every requests I’ve got recently is a request for a design with the same “style” as Devlounge. Your hands get tied behind your back, and your forced to reuse some things here and there to give them that effect.
Let the pattern maker live, but let him rest too
The best bet is to limit what design elements you reuse and try to find available work that will allow you the space to experiment and try something new. I myself have to face the fact that anytime I put together a two column layout I’m going to see some reference to Devlounge, even it’s it’s the slightest bit, because I look at Devlounge every day and the setup is now burned in my head. But there’s millions of two column designs out there, so why should I compare myself to myself all the design. You’re going to find yourself adapting to a certain style and reusing it, but don’t let it phase you too much. If you designs are different, don’t let an odd comment bring you down.