Design Different.

The post before this one was a gallery of Material Design interfaces. It’s useful as inspiration, and a great resource for anyone doing UI design. But I also posted it for another reason that you might not expect.


To me, Material Up is also a good way to see how design trends have started to destroy the originality in digital things.

If you have only been designing for a couple years, you might not see it, because it has “always” been this way for you. Don’t worry, that’s normal. And adorable. But it’s still a problem.

Look at you, all young and enthusiastic, and here I am, trying to destroy your ideas of what a nice interface looks like. Apologies if it feels like that, but listen up, because this is the real shit.

Every five years, the internet is new again.

Before Windows 8 (the “Metro” one) and iOS 7 (the flat one) and Material Design (the one Google made when they could finally hire that design consultant they like) companies were designing their apps to look unique, and trying to build a “brand” into the look and feel of the app.

Like the way Coke designed a special bottle for their drink, or Tiffany’s designed a special box for their rings, or the way Disney makes everything feel “magical”.

When Path was launched, everybody commented on how amazing the UI was. Their timeline and fun details and circular navigation was interesting. It was a selling point. It gave the app some character and made it recognizable.

Wunderlist was often used as an example of great UI design, because they had a “wooden” background. That was a UI that you could recognize from across the room, and it made the app feel more friendly and special compared to other to-do list apps. (That may not seem original now, and I am sure you shuddered at the mere thought of skeuomorphism, but every time you want to put a darkened picture of a desk or blurred landscapes behind the headline of your website, you’re effectively doing what Wunderlist did first.)

And Foursquare ushered in the age of gamification by designing a unique set of “badges” that felt fun and competitive without being too serious, visually and psychologically.

Not so much anymore.

All three of those apps are flat and much less unique now, and people copy Foursquare’s badges like it’s the only way gamification can be done (it isn’t). 

Before you get all twisted over this, this isn’t about nostalgia. I’m talking about iPhone apps 5 years ago, not black-and-white pictures of the war. Let’s keep some perspective.

Somehow we have turned a corner and designers are making each other feel like a UI design is “wrong” if it doesn’t follow the “rules”. That’s great for Google and Apple, but that doesn’t help you and your company.

That’s not what design is. You could literally program a computer to design apps like that. It is the opposite of creativity.

Ask Coke and Tiffany’s and Disney and McDonald’s and Nike and Burberry and any other great brand how they feel about following rules created by other companies.

It’s not Apple and Google and Microsoft that are killing creativity. They’re designing our apps! It’s designers that are killing creativity, by choosing the design that is given to us, instead of creating our own.

The first thing we do when an OS update is released is strip away everything we designed before and make it look as generic as possible.

WTF. Why would we do that?!

Do you want to create something that is iconic, with an innovative, recognizable UI that does something nobody did before? Or do you want to be that app that some people used for a while, that time?

Material Design looks fine. iOS looks fine. And even some of the new Windows apps look good. There’s nothing wrong with getting inspiration from them. And there is nothing wrong with tweaking your designs so they “keep up” with the fashion of the day. That’s a good thing. AND it’s also a good thing to start with the UI guidelines.

Just don’t stop at the UI guidelines.

Innovate, damn it!

If you disagree: remember that I am saying we should be more original with our designs. If you don’t agree, you’re arguing against originality in design.

That’s a slippery slope.

But a shift is coming soon. I’d bet money on it. Somebody is going to launch an app that looks beautiful AND unique, soon, and everybody else is going to shit their pants.