Very few professional sites these days can claim to be unique. This isn’t to say that they don’t look good. The clean look that many websites favor is not due to laziness or ineptitude; it is intentional. Most business websites these days are graphic-light, often having little more than a logo and perhaps an image or two off to the side. Above and beyond that, they may have some button links which are only graphics in the sense that they were created by a graphics program.
These websites are clean, presentable, and best of all they are what people expect. They are the respectable web standard, the baseline for web design.
But they are not unique. Changes in colors and varying graphics do not make a site unique; they make it a separate site. A website worthy of the term unique has to do more than make the changes allowed by the forms it works within; it has to use different forms entirely.
This isn’t a matter of an interesting graphic, cool bit of code, or elaborate flash intro page. It’s a matter of designing your site with the intent to stand out. It’s about going beyond the safe, well-traveled path of white backgrounds and file tab links and setting up your site to catch the eye. You don’t want a visitor to come away with different information than every other site in your field; you want the visitor to come away with an entirely different experience.
But it’s not all about ingenuity. Creativity is key, but that creativity has to be tempered with the user’s experience in mind. A site where the links are made to resemble airplanes trailing banners and fly around the site randomly is certainly unique, but it’s also a lot harder for the visitor to travel about your site. This is the precarious balance of unique web design; making your website both look and function in original ways, but still be just as easy to use as a run-of-the-mill, black-text-on-white-background website.
With risks come rewards, and leaving the safe, easy path is always risky. It is the norm because it has been proven to work, and if you design such a site you know that your site layout will never be a hindrance to the user’s experience. But the question becomes, will it be a benefit? Often not. Generic site design won’t improve the user’s experience because it is exactly what the user is used to, exactly what the user expects to experience. The bland and basic layout fades into the background where it’s supposed to be, and the user goes about exploring the site with no starting impression.
Unique web design offers you the chance to create a starting impression that your competitors are avoiding. It gives you a chance to make the user come to a conclusion about your website before reading the first line of text, due simply to the layout and the graphics. All you have to worry about is making that impression a good one.