Hey, that’s a bit harsh!
Maybe not so much.
OK, I can see your point.
Myst, my spirit animal
First things first: what the heck is Myst? For you youngsters born after the first Home Alone was released, Myst was a wildly popular and award-winning computer adventure game created in the early 1990s. In addition to its no-instructions-you-figure-it-out gameplay, the game’s Dune meets Game of Thrones vibe made it an eerie and mystical experience (no pun intended).
So how does that describe my website? Welp, it’s definitely not flat. Yes, more and more developers are embracing corners with a radius and all manner of animated transitions, but I’ve perhaps taken it a step farther backward (?!) with gray backgrounds, text and box shadows, and subtly-floating elements that evoke the heyday of Windows 95. Or Myst.
In case you’re wondering, I’m very well aware of the state of my competition on the first page of Google. I’ve had an eyebrow or two raised at my unorthodox use of a sidebar and a general maverick-y approach to website design. But I assure you, there most definitely is a method to my madness.
I am The AntiZillow
I’ve been told by a friendly and accomplished developer that I should emulate Zillow in my design.
Why not? Take a look at just about every other real estate website on the first couple of Google’s pages and notice that they are virtually identical in their design. They all followed Zillow’s lead because, because, Zillow is the best! And we want to be like the best!
So now they are all Zillow wannabes. As a visitor, why would I be impressed with a wannabe if I can just go to its inspiration and search there?
We all know that Zillow is the 800-pound gorilla on Google. But some assume—like the peasants who assumed that their naked king was in fact wearing fabulous invisible clothes—that Zillow is the best real estate search site. That is far from the truth, although not necessarily through Zillow’s fault.
Zillow and the other big players are nationwide services, and their sites cater to a nationwide audience. Think of them as large department stores with thousands of different items for sale. You can certainly buy Stuff in a department store, but if you’re really looking for selection and quality, will you be happy in a big-box sporting goods or footwear aisle, or will you gravitate to specialty stores that will give you much better service and value?
It’s all about user experience
I developed my site with user experience and user interface in mind, thinking like a buyer or seller and asking myself what is it I’d like to see in a local real estate website. I’ve made it intuitive to use and focused on the needs of the visitor, not on tooting my own horn. Many positive comments from users lead me to believe that I’m on the right track.
So why the throwback look? First, I specifically do not want to be yet another Zillow clone. I want visitors to notice a different look and feel, enticing them to explore my site and discover how informative and user-friendly it is.
I also want to avoid a sterile, corporate look. Yes, it’s a real estate website. But browsing it after seeing my competition is like leaving a stuffy formal office and walking into a warm, cozy family room: equally functional, yet pleasant and inviting.
Skeuomorphism will rise again!
I cut my application development teeth in the 1990s and admit that I miss some of the old-school feel. But I know a secret: I’ve noticed that more and more website developers are drifting away from Flat and using the more whimsical tools in their design toolboxes. What’s old is becoming new again, as they say. I like to think that I’m on the leading edge of a return to a more Game of Thrones website look and feel. Or, to put it in its historical context, a Myst vibe.
Six months after publishing this post, I made several cosmetic changes to my site: Gone are the skeuomorphic RE/MAX logos and icons. Stylized flat buttons have replaced the Inca-inspired petroglyphs that once graced the Listing Manager screens. The original Bill Gates Gray backgrounds are now of a more pleasing and coordinated hue that would meet the approval of Martha Stewart. Boxes and buttons still float above their pages, but not high enough to pose a tripping hazard.
“Only fools and dead men don’t change their minds,” said John H. Patterson. I am neither.