Why Do All Websites Look the Same?

The internet suffers from a lack of imagination, so I asked my students to redesign it

Boris Müller

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TToday’s internet is bland. Everything looks the same: generic fonts, no layouts to speak of, interchangeable pages, and an absence of expressive visual language. Even micro-typography is a mess.

Web design today seems to be driven by technical and ideological constraints rather than creativity and ideas. Every page consists of containers in containers in containers; sometimes text, sometimes images. Nothing is truly designed, it’s simply assumed.

Ironically, today’s web technologies have enormous design capabilities. We have the capability to implement almost every conceivable idea and layout. We can create radical, surprising, and evocative websites. We can combine experimental typography with generative images and interactive experiences.

And yet, even websites for designers are based on containers in containers in containers. The most popular portals for creatives on the web — Dribbble and Behance — are so fundamentally boring they’re basically interchangeable. (See lead image.)

Dribbble versus Behance. Can you spot the difference? Thanks to David Rehman for pointing this out to me. All screenshots: Boris Müller

How did this happen?

There are a few reasons. Technological frameworks like Content Management Systems (CMS) and blogging platforms like WordPress are based on templates. Web pages on these frameworks are not individually crafted but generated on the fly by piecing together various media types like images, headlines, body text, and videos. Templates are not designs. Rather, they are rules for combining related data types. Beyond the template, these platforms typically offer users no way to influence a page’s visual appearance. What you see is what you poured into the template.

In other words, templates are content agnostic. And that is the problem.

One of the fundamental principles of design is a deep and meaningful connection between form and content; form should both reflect and shape content. Separating them breaks this principle and creates generic content containers. In a design sense, templates…

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