An interesting survey, These web sites are identical...or are they? suggests that "75% of web design is normative, the rest is merely color and pictures.".

I found this link over at

This survey compares 10 web sites through elements of their layout: styles, page construction and elements... The survey seeks similarities and differences between those well known web sites... What can be observed is that those web sites agree on implicit, internalized layout and design norms (Consensus rate), and that deviance from these rules (Dissidence rate) is uncommon.

The survey made the following conclusions, which I'll directly quote here. Before I do, let me urge you to take a look at the data and analysis they present, it's enjoyable.

  • Similar layouts

    Even though thousands of different layouts can be achieved using (X)HTML, web designers tend to stick, explicitly or not, to a set of layout elements. Links must be underlined, even when hovered, and the user must be able to tell which links he has already visited. web designers do not like sidebars very much when placed on the left, right sidebars are much more widespread. Every page should include a header logo and a footer; moreover, a white background is preferred. The main text font should be serif. Last, a header graphic is recommended.

  • Identical contents

    Some elements of content are recurrent in web design: search boxes are quite common, copyright sentences including the designer's full name are prevalent; 404 pages are quite used too. The habit of dividing web sites into sections is extremely common; such sectioning rarely goes over six sections.

  • Coding the same way

    Although many techniques often exist for the same effect in XHTML or CSS coding, web designers favor some coding techniques, elements, or norms. XHTML is acknowledged as the markup language to use by a majority. When designers decide not to use some code, they massively reject it: access keys, XML prologs. Many cleavages still remain: UTF-8 vs ISO encoding, Strict vs Transitional, use of print style sheets...

  • Inheritance from print design

    web designers share a common print design background and import some of its elements to their Internet creations: a comprehensive use of sidebars and their positioning, footers, graphic headers, typographical knowledge.

Filed on July 27, 2004 at 10 AM (Permalink) in these cateories:

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I seems like there are some best practices bubbling up.

Posted by: vanderwal | Jul 29, 2004 6:26:45 PM

Seems simple -- an outgrowth of usability. It's easier for users to use things they are familiar with. As designers we are making it easier for users to get their task done, which on the web, is normally the task of looking for and consuming content. Therefore, left navigation, sidebars, Verdana text at a readable size, are all norms we *should* employ. I don't think it has much to do with copying each other out of a lack of creativity or imagination. We've created some good, usable rules, and we design or brand within them. The implication that this is normative is misguided -- it's done by design (sorry for the wordplay). We are doing our jobs as designers by not reinventing the familiar, while adding personality in a way that is non-destructive to usability and efficiency. For artsy sites, we break all the rules, and that's fine, but they are not part of the 75% majority.

Posted by: Ravi Singh | Aug 6, 2004 12:52:13 PM

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