Keeping Up with the Joneses of the Web

You’ve heard the saying “Keeping up with the Joneses,” right? It basically means that whenever your neighbor (or friend or family member) buys some new shiny toy, you have to buy one too. They have a bunch of big screen TVs, trucks and Sea-Doos, so you have to have them too.

But have you heard about Keeping up with the Joneses of the Web? Every day there seems to be some new cool trend out there than can be accomplished with CSS3, HTML5 or a bit of Photoshop trickery. Five minutes after one person accomplishes this, it seems that it somehow has made it on to everyone else’s site. You know, things like gradients and drop shadows were once just on one or two sites on the web.

Keeping up with the Joneses online is just as dangerous as it is offline. Yes, you may have something shiny and new, but does it really help your business? Does it hurt your customers? What do they think when they see on your site the same thing they’ve seen on 300 other portfolios?

The Problem with the Joneses

Everyone wants to be first, and I admit I’m not an exception. Last year when the iPhone4 came out, I begged my fiance to let me use his upgrade for myself. I pre-ordered the phone, and then took pride in walking past the thousands of people in line at our local Apple store (yes the line was wrapped TWICE around the mall) with my shiny new phone they didn’t have….I admit I like to be the Jones’s of Apple products. (I am terrible, you don’t have to tell me!)

Keeping up with the Joneses presents a problem both in the real and virtual worlds. You end up spending a ton of money on something you don’t need that only lasts a little while. Yes, gradients were cool for a little while, but now they’re a cliche. What about those people who paid $10,000+ for a redesign to put some gradients and rounded corners in?

If you check out the best sites of the web, they’re always one step ahead of us. You could say they themselves are the ‘Joneses.’ Just as you get what they have, they move on to something new. You can never keep up. It’s impossible.

How Trying to Keep Up Hurts Your Customers

At this point, you may be shrugging your shoulders and asking yourself, “so what?” So what if you copy from the greats and get your design clues from them. Does it really hurt anyone?

Yes, yes it does. It hurts both you and your customers. It hurts you because you end up spending time and money on something that’s not important, instead of spending resources on really bettering your company and getting your name in front of clients. It hurts your clients because they end up seeing the same thing everyone else has, and then end up moving on (and therefor missing your business, which might have the solution).

Your website’s design is important whether or not you offer design services. For example, even though I’m a developer, I only put the sites that I’ve coded with the best designs in my portfolio. I didn’t design them, but the client will still base their decision to hire me or not based on the design of the site, not just on the design of my code.

Becoming the Joneses

If you can’t keep up with the Joneses, can you become the Joneses? What if you were the one everyone copied and looked up to? This is certainly possible, albeit very difficult and a waste of time to try to accomplish. I’ve watched several of the big names in my industry (The Joneses, if you will) and have discovered one important thing that makes them who they are–they don’t try. While they do try to be the best, they better themselves and the work they produce for their clients. They don’t care about becoming famous or “Keeping up with the Joneses.” That’s not why they do what they do.

If you seek to become famous, you’ll never really make it. You’re too focused on the outcome and not focused enough on the work it takes to get there. Become better and seek to do work that will enable your clients and colleagues to excel, not to just pretty up their site and keep up with the newest trends.

Some of the Joneses of Today

I have to admit something else–I’m tired of hearing about CSS3 and HTML5. In reality, both CSS3 and HTML5 aren’t radically different from the previous versions, they just add on some needed functionality (i.e., they aren’t totally new languages, just updates). Yet everyone on the web is running around like a chicken with their heads cut off freaking out about the new awesomeness that comes. Yes, CSS3 and HTML5 are awesome. But why are you really using it on your site? Ask yourself–am I using it to be the coolest or because it is the best tool?

One person makes a Twitter icon completely out of CSS3 and all of a sudden, everyone else has to make one. A client hears about HTML5 canvas and assumes it should be used on his site because the “Joneses” are talking about it. Many freelance designers don’t stop to think about the most important thing a website is for–your customers. Do your customers even care about or want these things? Will it help them to buy more of your product or service? Or will it just get in the way?

Your Thoughts

What do you think about the trend of keeping up with the online Joneses? Are you guilty?

Image by xlibber