Much like midcentury modern has overtaken the American home, design homogeneity has descended upon the web.
It comes in the form of particular typefaces, notably Georgia and Arial; the use of white and off-white as default background colors; and certain design elements, such as hamburger menus and flat design, that are common enough to be ubiquitous.
This design homogenization has emerged gradually, according to a recent study by a group of researchers at Indiana University. It found that websites were most dissimilar from each other between 2008 and 2010, when designers began to take advantage of large, higher-quality monitors that gave them more room to work with, according to Sam Goree, one of the researchers who worked on the project. But between 2010 and 2016, differences in web design between sites became significantly less common.
“In the early 2000s, there was a lot of variety in the kinds of layouts and colors that people were using on their websites. And, by and large, that variety is decreased,” says Goree. Imagine designing a GeoCities website: much of what you had to create, from layouts to fonts to colors to navigation, were built from scratch. Maybe you could scrounge up someone else’s code for a bit of guidance on a menu bar or a text box. But for the most part, you were on your own.
Of course, GeoCities was hardly the only place online where web designers let their freak flags fly. The entire web was a bit of a free-for-all. Even corporate websites that people interpreted as looking similar were actually relatively dissimilar, as Goree points out in The Conversation.
The emergence of software libraries — repositories of code that programmers and designers can access to assist when building websites or embarking on other projects — contributed to the ever-growing homogenization of the web, according to Goree’s study. “In the early 2000s, people would generally write the code or copy the code for their website. But now there were these resources that they could use,” he says. These software libraries, along with the advent of the iPhone and other smartphones that encouraged designers to create sites that would look decent both on a computer…