Back in the day, Disney had a “formula” for many of its animated movies that feature female heroines. Going back to “Snow White” in the 1930s, the formula was this: a young beautiful white female meets dangers, works through them with courage (and a little help), and is finally “rescued” by her Prince Charming, living happily ever after. As it moved into the 20th century, the formula changed a bit. The heroines became a little stronger and more independent but the basic formula stayed the same. In fact, this trusted and tested formula even had earned its own name, the Disney princess syndrome.
Fast-forward to today and we have strong, independent, completely unique heroines, such as Elsa, Moana, and Mulan. Feisty, diverse, imperfect characters who are more popular than ever before. That’s a full branding u-turn prompted by an audience who were bored of the bland.
In essence, the Disney princesses have gone from “blanding” to a new “branding,” the opposite of what seems to be going on in many other sectors today.
For any business, your brand is all the things that make your company unique. Fro your brand colors to your logo design, website design, brand name, tone of voice, and more, your brand identity is a distinct collection of components exclusive to your business.
Alongside your company USPs and more, they form the powerful brand identity that sets you apart from your competition. Instantly recognizable by your customers, your branding plays a central role in every aspect of your business.
Blanding, in turn, in the complete opposite of ‘branding’. It’s the design equivalent of beige. Lackluster, safe, boring. Inoffensive and easily palatable, bland web design is everywhere.
Unfortunately, the collective desire to capitalize on the growing volume of e-commerce transactions and digital service models has forced many companies to sacrifice their unique brand identity for proven UX and UI web design and development best practices. The outcome? Websites that were thrown up in haste that end up lost in the sea of bland.
When blanding design occurs, companies put successful UX and UI strategies ahead of their own brand strategy. Blanding is a predictable design that uses common techniques to produce a product that looks like so many others. For the web, blanding is particularly evident in the trend for website designs that incorporate large swathes of white space and sans serif style typefaces.
As Eric Karkovack suggests in his post on Web Designer Depot, it almost feels like ‘we’re now at a point where user experience is such an important part of a designer’s job’ that for some, ‘the job of a website these days is to simply look good and simply work as expected.’ Clearly, blanding promotes a serious undervaluing of web design and branding that is guaranteed to lead to problems later down the line.
Take the aspirational sector of luxury retail. All the major fashion houses have replaced their striking, bold logos with blunt, bland sans serif typeface that, however, look better on various digital mediums since they are more readable and efficient.
From Yves Saint Laurent in 2012 to DVF, Balmain, and Calvin Klein in 2016 and Balenciaga, Burberry, Celine, and Balmain in 2018, all have decided to replace their signature logos with more down-tuned and less recognizable sans serif style typefaces:
The tech industry, too, has fallen prey to the giant that is sans-serif, although in the tech sector sans serif typefaces are often accompanied by graphic design accented with bright colors.
Of course, the immediate question is why brands choose to play safe and ‘bland’?
The answer? Readability — an attribute of huge prominence when you take any business online. As the fashion houses adapt to a surge in online sales and some web design companies put volume before quality output, creative branding has been sacrificed for UI priorities.
As is the case with any design trend, overkill will inevitably cause it to fall by the wayside —blanding is thankfully on its way there.
According to Christopher Baker, Founder of Creative Brand Design, blanding has a shelf life. “Pretty much every phenomenon in society experiences what I like to call the ‘pendulum effect.’ In the early days, web design was pretty wild. Brands wanted unique websites that their customers would remember. Layouts and color combinations were really creative and everyone seemed to be experimenting with extreme typography.
When that became somewhat exhausting for users, the pendulum swung in the opposite direction and brands began to seek website designs that blended in with what was already there. Thus, minimalism and simplicity have become the norm, yet, the pendulum is on the move again. Users are bored with white space and sans serif. Brands are realizing that blanding has lost its appeal and are starting to look for something different when it comes to web design.”
In general, blanding was spawned from good intentions. Considering that most ‘blanding’ comes as a direct result of over obsession with UX and UI best practice, there are aspects of blanding that should stay in the web design space.
However, the key is to utilize the most suitable UX and UI features within your website design rather than try to assemble something around the said UX/UI practices without giving them much thought.
The two key takeaways here are as follows:
1. Easy navigation and enjoyable user experience are both important. Your website design should enable your users to both find the information they want quickly whilst enjoying the experience. As research by The Nielsen Norman Group highlights, the longer you can keep a visitor on your website, the more likely they are to convert into paying, long-term customers who deliver an ROI. Without enjoyment and excitement, a bored customer won’t stick around on your site, let alone return again and again as a regular customer.
2. At present, social media is where users go for entertainment and fun online. Business websites have been sidelined as functional places to make a quick purchase — once complete the users are gone. With the aforementioned point in mind, this is a pressing issue that needs to be addressed.
TikTok, Instagram, and even Facebook have better levels of retainment than most corporate websites. This is a sharp reminder to all businesses that branding is as critical as your business social media profile. Unless your website design pops, it will be swiped over as quickly as a dull social media account.
As businesses begin to realize their web designs, logos and brand colors are gaining little traction, it makes sense to expect to see changes in web design on the way. Already this year, top web design trends such as dark mode, hand-drawn graphic design, and imperfect graphics, have begun to shift the conversation.
The middle ground is where we can expect to find ourselves in the end. Exciting websites with UX and UI design features that are easy, efficient, and enjoyable to use will be the final result. That, in the end, can only be a good thing —once we all get there.