Visual design, vibes and lack of taste
Most takes on visual or UI design are boring. Every single time, it comes down to either good ol’ «it depends», or conventional wisdom on typography, color and layout design. As much as I enjoy studying all of these topics, they don’t make a ton of sense without being tied to the terms of taste and style.
Back in the days when I started my design journey, senior folks always told newbies to pay attention to visual aspect of their work, but not too much. Talking about the style or vibe you'd like to create was almost a taboo. Some time later, most of the Internet started looking the same: Inter font, sidebar, buttons with 8px radius:
Some might say it makes a lot of sense. Product folks might say how something looks doesn’t really matter. However, every time we saw a good looking website, a playful interaction prototype or anything that stood out, it became the center of attention in the community.
Most recent occassion is when Linear redesigned their frontpage. Design Twitter fell in love with mysterious gradients, shiny cards and microanimations. But product didn’t change. Positioning didn’t change. All the smart things we tend to overemphasize as product designers didn’t change. The outside look and feel, style and vibe of Linear changed.
I don’t have a great taste myself. Matter of fact, I believe most of us don’t. And it keeps us from creating great things instead of shipping conventionally good things. The optimization culture and corporate aesthetics that big tech companies brought into everyone's routine changed the way we see our work. And that is something I hate and want to play against. Playing safe sucks. Having a product that looks like it's built by Facebook feels wrong.
Corporate vibe is good for corporate companies. Most of the things we build aren't really like that.
I’d love to see more detailed discussion on the interface styles. Different vibes and what makes them feel specifically how they feel. At the moment of writing, I’m mostly learning from teams behind consumer products such as Family, Honk, Substack or Arc. They feel oddly specific and share the energy most products don’t: they’re fast, inviting and snappy. Designers, engineers and managers deliberately chose to go the extra mile and make that happen. The way I (and a lot more people, I believe) feel when using them was designed by someone.
Have a look at how Family presents their product. Design decisions, look and feel are the product:
People deserve to have something that just feels and works better than a multi-billion company user interface. Not slow and uninviting. Not generic, not too 'professional'. When was the last time you were excited about using LinkedIn? I don’t remember either.
In the years ahead of me, I bet on consumer vibes and energy. What the product feels like is what it is.