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‘Sameness’ In Design

November 4, 2009


Recently, I came across this illustration I created in 2001 commenting on the ‘sameness of suburbia’ and how it threatens our individual identity. It got me thinking about ‘sameness’ in design.

In design thinking, we strive to come up with new solutions. Part of the conceptualization process involves researching existing products to determine their success and failures in terms of user experience. The problem with some design these days is that designers are focusing too heavily on what works in existing products and “creating” similar solutions. Just consider the iPhone clones such as the Samsung Omnia 2, LG Xenon and Sony Xperia X10a

If a thorough design process looks at the user’s needs and after prototyping and creating iterations arrives at a solution similar to an existing product, that’s fine. It likely means that the existing product was well designed. This scenario is illustrated by car design where aerodynamics dictate a common profile, especially in efficiency-hungry electric cars. But, if a designer takes shortcuts and simply copies existing successes, it does a disservice to the design profession where creativity and innovation are sacred. More importantly, it will hurt the user experience because full comprehension of the problem isn’t required and innovation is halted. Founder of the software development company 37signals, Jason Fried, sums it up nicely on the Signal vs. Noise blog:

Copying skips understanding.

Of course, a design solution shouldn’t be different just to be different. Creativity can produce remarkable solutions but it has to be tempered by the same understanding that copying doesn’t require. At the end of the day, all the issues surrounding ‘sameness’ in design will be taken care of by an honest and rigorous design process. My advice is focus on the process, work hard and be creative with integrity.

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