“The Same Six Templates”

After toiling away at over ten different themes and styles for this site and finally settling on a design, I run into this painful posting on the sameness of designs (via Kottke). The poster (Heather Champ) is “so very tired of seeing the same six templates.”
Garrett at YourTotalSite makes some good points in speaking to this issue, and really nails it in the first paragraph:

I am so absolutely sick of hearing, “It’s nice, but it still looks like a blog.” I can understand everybody’s desire to see the limits pushed, but let’s be logical about this. Have you ever said, “I love all these new books being published, but they all look like books.” Or maybe, “That’s a beautiful car, but why does it have 4 round wheels?” How about, “It’s so boring to always have the door knob on the outside edge of the door about waist high.”

He’s hitting on a critical point here: blogs serve a certain purpose, and to make them useful, key features are becoming conventions. Conventions allow others to get proficient and good at using these things we interact with. And so, because we are concerned about ease of use, we self-impose some boundaries to work within. That’s the interaction designer in us. Once the boundaries are set, the creative designer is left to roam around.
Of course, we could choose to be bold and try something radically different and ignore boundaries altogether. It’s really any designer’s prerogative to do so. The Holy Grail, in my opinion, is striking that balance – presenting an intuitive interface that leverages common conventions while introducing designs that are compelling and attractive.
In fact, I would argue that a good, familiar organization of information and controls lends itself to the overall aesthetic appeal of a design. I’ve run into numerous sites where the design is beautiful, bold and provocative, but the interface is downright awful. The ultimate feeling I walk away with is “that didn’t feel good.” Conversely, you can have a well thought out interface that is visually unappealing (Jakob Nielsen’s Useit comes to mind).

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