When Branding Falls Flat

A quick quiz: name the brands represented below.


No problem right? These are clear, distinct and easily identified.

Extending this a bit, the same should be possible with other design elements and imagery – specifically, a brand should be easily identified by its website as well.

Quiz #2: name the brands represented below by their websites.


Not so easy, is it?* Here’s the problem: when everyone adheres to the current flat design trend, distinguishing branding elements disappear. All brands tend to look very similar, essentially defeating the effort to create a lasting, memorable, and recognizable presence.

This critique usually applies when any design trend becomes adopted by millions. For example, the same thing happened with the Apple-originated aqua-like UI elements; once introduced, the style was widely adopted by many applications and platforms, resulting in a similar loss of brand differentiation.
When creating a design solution, be it for a web site, UI, or any other vehicle, it’s not prudent to just jump on the current design fad bandwagon. Sure, it’s appropriate to make visual references that suggest a brand is current. But some moderation and differentiation is important.

Take a look at our quick and dirty mashup below. We’ve swapped out the bottom halves of these two screens. Should it come this close to ‘working’ with two major, and very different, brands?


When all designers hew to the flat design dogma – or any visual design trend for that matter – possibilities become unfortunately constrained. And the world becomes a limited, less interesting place.

*You get a gold star if you picked out Virgin America, Microsoft and Google Play for quiz #2.