Fresh Takes: ‘Seinfeld,’ conformity & web design

By Natasha Jarmick
Creative Strategist

September 9, 2015

Recently, I decided to watch the entire series of Seinfeld from start to finish. I’ve seen reruns on TV, but being a millennial, I wasn’t at a Seinfeld-appreciation-age when the show was live on air. But today, Jerry’s stand-up at the beginning of each show often strikes a chord with me, relating to things happening in my life. Seinfeld is some timeless ish, you guys.

Anyway, in the episode titled “The Jacket,” Jerry does a bit about how much he hates having to pick out his outfit every day. And what he says on stage got me thinking about the work I do in digital design and strategy:

Here’s what Jerry said, in case you don’t want to watch the above clip:

I hate clothes. I hate buying them. I hate picking them out of my closet. I can’t stand every day trying to come up with little outfits for myself. I think eventually fashion won’t even exist. It won’t. I think eventually we’ll all be wearing the same thing. ‘Cause anytime I see a movie or a TV show where there’s people from the future of another planet, they’re all wearing the same thing. Somehow they decided “This is going to be our outfit. One-piece silver jumpsuit, V-stripe, and boots. That’s it.” We should come up for an outfit for Earth. An Earth outfit. We should vote on it. Candidates propose different outfits, no speeches. They walk out, twirl, walk off. We just sit in the audience and go, “That was nice. I could wear that.”

Are you wondering how this relates to my job in digital marketing? I’ll break it down for you:

What Jerry says will happen in the future of fashion is what is currently happening in the web design industry — we are all wearing the same outfit on the web. We are an industry of lazy Jerrys, choosing a design solution that we know our client will find acceptable, mimicking the design and rules set out by a few, successful, “forward-thinking” brands.

Full disclosure: I didn’t come to this conclusion on my own. I recently read an awesome article by Travis Gertz called “Design Machines,” which makes the point (as you may have guessed from the title) that in digital, we now design like machines. We receive data, we analyze it, we make recommendations and we make sure that everything aligns with the current “best practices.”

The result is a sea of uniform website templates, filled with content mainly created to feed the machines of Google and advertisers. The article makes the point that designers and marketers are no longer creating websites for humans, but for conversion rates and search engine rankings. How did we get here? What happened to personalities and human connection? Is it even working?

So what now? First, read Travis’s article, it’s much better than this post. Share it with your peers. Discuss it with your team and with your clients.

Maybe what we are doing is working, and we should continue down the path of data-backed design and SEO-fueled content. But perhaps dressing every brand’s website in a one-piece silver jumpsuit with a V-stripe and boots isn’t the answer. Your client may see the websites of the most successful businesses and think “That was nice, I could wear that.” But as designers, creative directors and digital marketers, we can do better than “nice.”

Fresh Takes is a series highlighting insights and tips from emerging talents on our creative, account and production teams.

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