Uniformity in Products; Why Everything We Buy Looks The Same

Uniformity in Products; Why Everything We Buy Looks The Same

Laurance Lieblich '22, Writer

Design can define a product. It is the first thing a customer sees, and if iconic enough, the first thing they think of when thinking about a brand or even an entire product category. The design of a product influences if a customer will commit to a purchase or not, which is why years can be spent designing before it is made public. The simple and most known design basics are that a product must be practical and functional,  maintain some level of uniqueness, and solve an issue the customer has. Despite these simple, potentially even obvious factors that go into every design process, there has seemed to be a general trend in the last few years of a more industrial look, with simple geometric shapes, minimal colors, and more overall uniformity across all types of products. This piece will explore a few reasons why this is the case.

One of the biggest reasons starts with the product before it even leaves the production line. Most products today are created in mass and must be streamlined for the largest possible customer base. Products are becoming more standardized as their designs are becoming more refined and optimized. The smartphone is a perfect example of this, seeming to have been approaching its most optimal form for the last few years. Today, many phone designs are a large, almost full-sized screen in the front, with minimal bezels, and a flat back. Legendary designer Johnny Ive, responsible for the design behind some of Apple’s most famous products such as the iPhone, iPad, and AirPods once described the future of iPhones as “a single slab of glass”. In the last few years, this has increasingly become the case.  Just look at the front and back of these three flagship phones as of 2022. 

On the front, all three have a large display with an equal-sized bezel around, with the differentiation being the notch on the iPhone (center) compared to

 the hole punch on the Samsung S22 (left) and Google Pixel 6 Pro (right). On the back, there is simultaneously more and less creativity in the approach of the phone’s design, with the Pixel differentiating itself the most. The pixel, with its horizontal camera bar, contrasts with the more vertical counterparts on the iPhone and Samsung. Lastly, all three have a minimal logo on the back, with both the iPhone and Pixel having it centered. Overall, the trend technology companies seem to be headed towards is a uniform look, a full-screen slab of glass on the front, with a metal-encased slab of glass on the back. Many in the design industry cite Apple’s continuation of the notch as a way to differentiate an iPhone from its competitors, which if proven correct, certainly completes its intended task. But at the end of the day. Phones are small, portable devices that fit into pockets and do not need to be marred by complex and sophisticated design.  So here is another example: 

On the left is an air purifier from Molekule, and on the right is the Bang & Olufsen Beolit20 portable speaker. Both items fall into completely separate product categories, with different purposes, customer bases, and uses. Yet, despite this, both products feature a very similar handle, a light-colored wood or wood imitating material, with a circular hinge and a minimal geometric shape. Both products also feature a silver and beige color language, with circular ventilation on the top or sides.

The definitive answer as to why so many products seem to be designed so similarly in 2022 has many answers. One lies in the sources of inspiration. Many designers today use the internet for references, and almost every platform on the internet uses algorithms to determine what is shown and pushed to the forefront. If a design trend becomes more industrial and minimal, those photos or products will be pushed to the foreground, allowing for further iterations on said designs. The problem arises when the continued cycle of views and clicks only maintains similar content, leading to a stagnation in inspiration. The algorithms that run the internet do not reward creativity, only popularity, leading to a major lack of radical new designs. The increased scale and manufacturing also contribute, with almost everything in stores today being mass-produced, making it difficult to completely change certain features, which is why products such as phones and cars have smaller annual changes. Overall, products are becoming more widely available, workers with specialized skills are becoming increasingly harder to come across, and design is reaching closer and closer to a singularity of form and function.




One final example I would like to highlight is in an organization not often associated with design, NASA. The rockets used on the original Apollo missions during the late 60’s and 70’s, the ones used to send men to the moon have a surprising secret; it is unknown how to recreate them perfectly. At the time, each rocket was hand-built by engineers with decades of experience, and as a result, each was slightly different. Each of their little problems or quirks was memorized by engineers or written on scrap paper, which is long gone. In a world of increasing automation and scale, unique design becomes less prominent in society as it moves towards a more uniform, and similar state.