According to the results of a study published in The Conversation, layout differences in website design declined 30 percent between 2010 and 2016. Layout differences was one of three web design metrics – included with color and AI-generated attributes – that became more similar over that time period. In other words, sites were starting to look a lot like one another. Although from 2016 to 2018, color differences increased and artificial intelligence diversity dropped before spiking to its 2016 level, layouts are conforming more than ever. But the surprises don’t end there.

Top 1,500-Plus Websites Studied

The Indiana University researchers chose the websites of the Russell 1000, an index of the top 1,000 U.S. companies by market capitalization, for their study of web design similarity. They also chose Alexa’s top 500 sites and those that were nominated for Webby Awards. The researchers decided to conduct this data mining study after noticing an influx of articles questioning the rise of website conformity. After completing a different but similar study on the “aesthetic evolution of websites,” they got to work, aided by their most important tool: The Internet Archive, a repository of web screenshots dating back a number of years. Thus, the researchers surveyed the designs of 1,500-plus websites from 2003 to 2018.

Not Everything’s Conforming

The researchers found that while differences in color, AI-generated attributes, and layouts in web design decreased between 2010 and 2016, and AI and layout differences continued to decrease until at least 2018, the differences in code usage increased significantly between 2010 and 2019. This means that a greater variety of codes is being used for website design, which is a paradox considering that a smaller variety of designs are evidently being used concurrently.

The explanation? Although the typical web designer or web design company is using more codes, they’re using fewer libraries that store code. Library usage similarity increased dramatically from 2006 to 2012 and remains high. The researchers believe that the same code repositories are being utilized so often that there is significant overlap in website design. Even though the codes are varied, they tend to come from the same source, creating similar layouts.

Why Is This Happening?

Everything’s easier than it used to be – especially on the internet. In the same way that in 2003, it took hours to scour the internet for a certain video, it took hours for designers to find the code to create a unique website. Today, that video can be found in milliseconds through a YouTube search, while spectacular code can be acquired in bulk from monopolistic libraries. Of course, there are still innovators in the field of web design, which is confirmed by the recent decline in similarity for two out of three metrics, but default designs reign supreme.

Researchers at the University of Indiana discovered that a trend of web design conformity began in the late 2000s and peaked in 2016. While other design metrics have seen some encouraging shifts in the last few years, website layout similarity continues to rise. If you’ve noticed that a lot of websites look the same, you might be right.