We plead guilty! We have used Pinterest to harvest inspirational moods more vigorously than a Kentucky farmer. We admit, it is sooo easy. Suddenly we caught ourselves creating more of the same and our website began to look like Pinterest in a different layout. However, we are not alone. Many design agencies are succumbing to this globalized style disease. And it takes effort not to fall into the sameness trap. So we started to ask ourselves; where does this unified style come from?
A long time ago we started noticing that cultural differences were starting to blur, cities all over the world began to look alike. Restaurants, airports, hotels and other public spaces began to blend into each other and with Airbnb at the forefront of holiday rentals we are noticing that even people’s personal spaces are becoming unified in one global style.
YOU ARE WHAT
YOU ARE WHAT
A good example of this globalized style is the coffee shop. We saw an explosion of coffee shops worldwide and they all look the same. Tokyo, Sydney, Paris, Reykjavik, Copenhagen, London, New York; if we took you blindfolded in one of their coffee shops you would not be able to tell the difference. The strange thing is that they are all screaming that they’re authentic and local.
Why this globalized style? Considering we are all fishing in the same pond, being the internet and all social channels, the fish we catch are all of the same zeitgeist. And after all, you are what you eat. We are all eating the same things. When people start looking for inspiration in the same places it results in sameness. And like it or not, even when you are trying not to be influenced by what you see we must disappoint you. All things you encounter get embedded in your brain subliminally, waiting to be pulled out of the drawer when you least expect it. Want proof? Just watch the Derren Brown movie below:
To make things even worse, add to the mix the tunnel vision that is created by the media channels’ algorithms that make sure you will be fed more of the same.
We as designers are not the only ones responsible for the sea of sameness. Our clients often come to us with their own Pinterest boards and expect us to create something that looks just like that. So besides reeducating ourselves we also need to educate our clients and show them that a world exists beyond what we know and have already seen. Still, clients want safety and proven concepts, they want return on investment and security.
Maybe safety is one of the thriving forces of this global unified style. Not only safety from an economical - proven return on investment - perspective. But also safety in the sense that we do feel safe in environments that we know, we like predictability. We have an innate fear of the unknown. When it is safety that drives the unification of style, it is technology that enables it.
We might look back with nostalgia on the days where countries or regions had their specific style. Still this was also a miniature unified style, though limited to one region just because there were no means to spread a culture more widely. Some cultures might have tried to spread their cultural (and political) radius by force, yet never before has anyone succeeded in creating one unified culture without any bloodshed. What some have tried so arduously before is now achieved without any revolution. All we needed to create a unified style is one content, one tool and to have everyone be connected. Anything now has the potential to spread all over the globe in no time and with no apparent effort.
And who are we to judge whether this is good or bad. What is it that urges designers to create unique things? Why this longing for novelty and uniqueness? Are we bored that easily? Is it because we as designers have a consumerist mindset, out with the old, in with the new? Or is it because creativity is the highest good we sell? The driving force behind creativity should, however, not be novelty itself but the need to come up with the best possible solution for any given problem or to create something that comes from within; a personal story that has to be told. When designing something, especially with a commercial mindset, you want confirmation that something is good, that it will work or that it will be liked. When working with proven concepts you have this guarantee. It takes guts, courage and effort to design or make something that is new, unknown and unproven. Creating new things might fail and there is no room for failure in a commercially driven world.
So now what? How do we escape the sea of sameness? First of all, do not use the known media channels as a source for inspiration. Go back to the good old lateral thinking; work with mind maps and create associative links between things that have no connection. Explore new materials and production processes and employ them in places and situations they were not conceived for. Being creative is about rearranging things in a different order. It’s about distorting your perspectives. Being creative is going out into unknown territories that, just like in real life, might hold certain risks. As a humble starter, try out the oblique strategies created by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt.