Stuck In A Design Rut?

15 comments | Posted: 29 November 05 in General, by Rob Soulé

If you’re anything like me you’re always looking for design inspiration, wherever it might be. However, as of late I’ve felt myself getting stuck into a rut, a rut that I think a lot of us easily fall into. That rut being the traditional CSS design rut. The good ole’ two or three column layout that is the staple for most CSS based designs. Now don’t get me wrong I’m not saying that the two and three columns designs are bad at all, we really couldn’t live without them, I’m simply saying that we need to try to expand our thinking, push our designs and continue gaining inspiration.

My daily stops include sites like Stylegala, CSS Beauty and CSS Import. I believe that with what seems to be the emergence of dozens of these CSS design galleries we, myself included, get stuck looking at strictly CSS sites and lose track of what’s out there. I strongly agree that using web standards and having fully validating web sites is the way to go but we shouldn’t limit ourselves to how they look.

When I initially started learning CSS and XHTML I fooled myself into believing that CSS based sites had to look a certain way. Since then I’ve realized that I could not have been more wrong. There really is no design that can be conceived that cannot be built while adhering to web standards, so let’s not limit our imagination.

Often times when I initially design sites I tend to design them while in the back of my mind thinking “How would I code this?” I want to challenge us to reverse our thinking. Let’s design sites first and then figure out how we’re going to build them. It’ll be more fun and more of a challenge.

I’ve searched high and low to try and bring us some sites that I think we could gain some inspiration from. My hope is that in seeing some these sites you can start gathering ideas or themes that will spark original ideas that you can then encorporate into your next site design. Good luck!

Discuss This Topic

  1. 1 Ryan Heneise

    Great topic Rob. It’s awful to get stuck in a design rut, especially when it’s what you do for a living. I just posted an article about how I go about getting inspiration from designs.

    When thinking about how to how to code your next breakthrough design, I highly recommend Dan Cederholm’s book Bulletproof Web Design

  2. 2 Mark

    Fantastic. Thanks Rob.

    In a recent interview the interviewer noticed that I had the same basic layout for all of my designs. DOH!

  3. 3 Natalie

    That’s a great idea! Actually I think I need to pull back a bit there. I have a tendency to do all my designing with Photoshop and then try to make it work with the code. It’s the reason my sites take longer to get up to par, so I could probably think a little MORE about the code. Of course in the end, it’s what the client feels most comfortable with, so the standard layouts are typically the most soothing to more creatively conservative folks.

    Great article, Rob, and some cool links too!

  4. 4 Rob

    @Mark – Yeah dude, it’s SO easy to use the same layout, I’ve definitely fallen into that as well. :)

  5. 5 Ryan Heneise

    Here are some more sites that I enjoy looking at…

  6. 6 Will Clark

    I always find to be helpful.

  7. 7 Boyink

    Same basic design? raises hand, kicking the floor....

    Starting to think I need to outsource the design phase…

  8. 8 Mike Montgomery

    I mentioned the great effort it seems to take to ascend the web standards learning curve to produce “stuff that works,” yet in the end just “looks like all the rest.”

    As an evening web builder with a day job, my design rut is aggravated by time pressures. Thanks for the observation and the resources.

  9. 9 Robert

    This has been something that has been bothering me for quite some time. It seems that not just one individual is stuck in this design rut of 2-3 column layouts, rather a whole community.

    I am working on my own redesign of my site now and I have this kinda 1 column into 2 columns, into 3 columns kinda triangle thing. Yet, it is still columned! hehe

    A design revolution is what we need….

  10. 10 Marius

    Part of it is the current blog trend. Most of them have a standard colum layout. Offcourse it is possible to do tricks with those layouts as well, but that requires a lot of work (depending on the blog platform.)

    Flash developers have less of a problem, but many times go over the top and discard usability altogether for the sacrifice of creative freedom. However, they do offer inspiration, we should transform that creative freedom to a savy CSS usable site that supports standards.

    But remeber necer create for the sake of cerating. If it does not support what you are trying to communicate, most likely it will get in the way of it.

  11. 11 Theron

    Hey Rob… though this comment is not entirely related to CSS, you may be interested to read a post i just read by Seth Godin. He is a marketing guy who wrote “unleashing the idea virus” and others. Anyway, his blog post was about the purpose of the home page. We all want people to do something when they get to our (or our clients) site. That could include buying, browsing, listening, reviewing, etc… Seth’s point is to make it easy for the user. Here’s the post:

    Again, not entirely to the point, but hope this will add some flavor to the discussion. BTW, i came across this site through the “Church Marketing Sucks” blog (: They had a cool link to This is a great site. First time here.

  12. 12 Rob

    @Marius – Yeah, you’re right. A lot of it has to do with the blogging movement. And i agree, don’t create something overly complex just for the sake of creating. But on the other hand we have to try to think outside of the blogging box, that was my main point. Thanks for the comment!

    @Theron – Thanks for the article. I was happy that it was such a nice short read. :) AND welcome to GodBit, we’re glad you’re here…. haha..

  13. 13 dustinS

    I wonder if most of the ‘user-friendly’ sites are in columns because the average user finds it easier to have information compartmentalized. When I am designing something and I know that my target audience for that site is a demographic that is less likely ‘work’ to get their content, or maybe they aren’t totally internet savvy, the columns just ‘work’.

    That is not to say that I want my sites to just work but lack inspiration. However, in some cases (and these are usually more boring to design) what just ‘works’ can be better.

    I find that I need inspiration to break out of that ‘design-what-works’ mentality. Thanks for the article and your posts. It is good to see that I am not alone in my lack of inspiration.


  14. 14 Marius

    One a side note – I know this entry is already climbing down the ladder, but I just visited your site and wanted to comment I found it inspirational, especially your bg textures. Well balanced!

  15. 15 Nathan Smith

    Marius: Thanks, glad you like it. I tried not to go overboard with the whole high-tech theme, but had been watching a lot of the Firefly DVD series, so had space-ships on my mind.


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