The New ‘Net Commandments: Examining How Innovation Gets Old Real Quickly

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Have you noticed how, in any new sector, marketplace or trend, pioneering rapidly creates followers, innovation normalizes and conventions form relatively quickly? That’s why marketing textbooks advising brands how to stand out from the competition regularly champion the war-cry, ‘Break all the rules!’ Because, somehow, there always are rules, no matter how recently conceived or implemented.

Often, the answer isn’t to break all the rules. It’s to understand the rules and why they came about, and thus to identify which rules exist to be broken and which rules are there for a very good reason.

So, applied to the Internet at large, I would differentiate between those new norms which are a function of ‘open source’ in the widest possible sense of the term — that is, the ability to view, share, adopt and benefit from the innovations of others across the board, which is how we end up encountering many of the same things in lots of different places — and those that are more a function of a lack of imagination or an excessive willingness to follow the herd.

The following is just a light-hearted selection of some of the latter new ‘commandments’.

FUNCTIONALITY SHALL MATTER MORE THAN DESIGN AND THE MAJORITY OF WEBSITES SHALL THEREFORE LOOK PRETTY MUCH THE SAME, I.E. A BIT OF A MESS

Seth Godin writes in his latest book ‘Small is the New Big’ (which, by the way, I am currently raving about and recommending to everyone — a highly inspirational must-read), in a riff entitled ‘The Web Is Ugly’:

‘Maybe I’m just in a visual mood, but I was struck as I surfed around today at how ugly many Web pages are (eBay’s, for example). Typefaces that fight one another instead of work together. Things that flash for no reason. Hierarchies of size and color that are irrational. Milton Glaser talks about why the supermarket is the way the supermarket is. Why is Tide in that multi-colored box? It turns out that the original boxes evolved when you still had to ask for what you wanted from the guy behind the counter. The boxes needed to be bright in order to attract your attention from a ways away. Once the vernacular was set for the early winners, everyone else followed. I wonder if we’re about to get stuck here as well. As we enter the broadband world, with better browsers and all sorts of tools to improve the Web experience, is everyone going to be stuck emulating what succeeded in 1999?’

That ‘detergent dynamic’ that Seth talks about is true of the overall design approach in so many markets — a build-up of received design wisdom holds every player in the sector in thrall until one comes along that explodes it completely. (For the detergent and homecare marketplace, incidentally, that player is Method. Can we have some more design explosions online please? Even if it’s just making your tag cloud look different from everyone else’s tag cloud?

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