Little Boxes All the Same

Did Malvina Reynolds predict the future of interactive design before the internet existed?

A pink one, and a green one, and a blue one and a yellow one… Little boxes on the internet and they all look just the same. That’s my rendition of Reynolds’ 1962 civil rights anthem about conformity.

Ok interactive designers look, I get it. It’s much easier to just go with the ephemeral. Trendy shit sells, conforming is easy, and frankly, clients get it when you hand them something familiar. Admittedly, at times along my career path I’ve found myself conforming and just following the wireframes or simply doing what the client asked because it was easier not to battle it out. I’d draw cute little boxes inside of cuter big boxes that everyone looked at on their, well, even bigger box. I’m sure you too, as a designer, have had this experience at least 100 times.

The problem with conforming in our industry is that it has led to a very banal experience on the web. Everything looks exactly the same and worse yet, I feel that it’s no longer creative or fun. It’s like we took Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Ship of the Imagination backwards in time to when the internet was lame. It feels a bit to me like someone hired a gang of 10 year olds that got their hands on microsoft paint, drew some boxes and said, “Hell yeah bro, rectangles never looked so good!” and then quickly convened for recess.

Now, I could go on complaining and talking mad shit for hours, literally, I’ve done it before. But my mom always said, “Don’t complain about something if you aren’t going to do anything to bring about change.” She also said, “Can’t you think of something more intelligent to say?” Every time I cussed… but fuck it… I like cusses. So this is where I switch gears and try to make suggestions that may work for you.

We’re all guilty of taking the simple design route, but it’s sad to see how “Paint by numbers” most websites and apps have become.

–Shane Mielke

Think for yourself. Or as I like to remind myself every day, create more copy less. Let’s stop stealing. Let’s not look for ‘inspiration.’ Be the creative designer you are. This is after all a creative industry. Create what you feel is the best solution. Step out of your comfort zone, tear those behance/dribbble blinders off and go bonkers! While many feel the flash player plugin was an absolutely terrible solution for web, and it was, I’d argue it seemed to inspire a lot more creativity and frankly, at least people were going balls out back then. I want to see that level of creative thought again and fortunately, it’s coming back slowly.

Have fun. I didn’t get into design to just sit around farting and drawing boxes. I mean, I definitely fart a lot but, after 15 years of designing I still just want to have fun. And drawing boxes isn’t fun guys. Work is first and foremost work, but that doesn’t mean you can’t create insanely cool and fun designs that solve your clients needs. I know not everyone needs some crazy webGL powered experience site but don’t let that stop you from pitching something singular, distinct or noteworthy.

Learn to sell your ideas. I know we’ve all experienced a head strong client or creative director and yes, that can be tough, but if you can’t learn to sell your ideas then you can’t blame bad work on anyone but yourself. Take time to sit down and show your thought process. And yes, that means you’ll have to have a thought process in the first place. Help your client or creative director see your vision you really can’t expect them to get it right off. Speaking of creative directors…

Stop aspiring to be an art director or a creative director and aspire to be an amazing designer. There are enough of those shoulder hawks dropping turds on your work anyhow. If you really love designing then trust me you don’t want to be managing other designers and never designing anything yourself. Your first and only goal should be to become an awesome designer and be proud of being one. Now don’t get me wrong, there are some amazing AD’s and CD’s out there. If you trust them and they trust you, you’ve got some serious shit going there. And at the end of the day if you really want to get sign off on your designs… just get em drunk.

Find your niche. Look, you boners can keep your utility apps and your e-comm sites to yourselves. Give me those mirco-sites that are full of weird details and unusable navigations. I’ll take them all!!! Let the UX/UI nerds cry square-shaped tears all they want about how they can’t even find the contact page… jokes on you dildos there is no contact page.

And finally…

Stop with the excuses. Stop saying or believing short-sighted things like, “It’s all been done before.” If you genuinely believe that it’s all been done before, I believe you may lack imagination. Designers are creators at their core. We’re non-conformists. So stop conforming. Grab a pencil and paper and start designing things you love.

Please, don’t let the ‘little boxes’ be your norm. Tear off your trojan solider mask style blinders and go nuts! I think we’re all capable of something greater. Break out. Do something that challenges you and have fun!!! Isn’t that why we all got into this field anyhow?


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