Go on then, I’ll take a stab at this too…
I wonder if #RWD looks the way it does because so many projects aren’t being run by designers, but by front-end dev teams.
— Mark Boulton (@markboulton) March 18, 2014
I too have pondered this question many time over the past couple of years having felt a little uninspired about the direction of the visual part of the web is headed and to me most things point pretty convincingly towards one conclusion and it isn’t that front end dev teams are running design projects (your company doesn’t allocate the right people/team to the right task?) or that people are aping trendy flat designs (some do of course but there’s a great deal who don’t) or that there’s an over reliance on frameworks (my timeline is full of people who tell me they write/use their own so it can’t be that either).
No, the reason so many responsive websites look the similar is simple: Efficiency.
Brutal, soul crushing simplicity is for the most part what everyone aspires to and aims to achieve when presenting content to the world wide web and when you consider the constraints of the modern web that even a small site should aspire to meet, it’s pretty hard to even begin planning a testing strategy let alone implement one. I’ve covered a fair bit about efficiency in the responsive web will be 99.9% typography but that doesn’t cover the boxy, flat aesthetic we currently see so much.
It’s easy to make a column of content display in a predictable way even if you’re never going to test it in every device out there. By taking away so much of the “visual” style of websites right now, we end up with a modern day version of Bruce Lee talking about water but instead of water, it’s HTML, CSS and your lovely content and instead of teapots and other receptacles, it’s a million handsets and computers. The guy knew his stuff for sure.
I believe it’s also worth noting that in this day and age where it’s de-rigueur to point and laugh at anyone who dare present a detailed layout in a jpg rather than laboriously prototype it, we rely on pattern libraries and things like “atomic design” it’s easy to focus on the small details and forget the actual bigger picture. I have at times felt like I’ve expected clients are being given a box full of jigsaw pieces but no indication on how they all fit together of what that final puzzle will look like.
Still, these systems are powerful and efficient for breaking down difficult to test on even a small set of devices but the trade you make that you keep it simple. Keeping it simple at the moment on the web tends to lend itself to the couple of common layout and design styles we’re familiar with and are railing against, that’s the trade right now for making your content more widely accessible than ever before. We’ll move on, of that I’ve no doubt, consider this current aesthetic a baseline reset.
Some additional reading from others answering the original tweet you might enjoy: