Designing Inside Chaos

I've been looking at a lot of screen shots lately that a variety of people have sent me. The design of some of the websites and web apps have been outstanding with just the right subtle balance of muted colors, nuanced typography, and sophisticated rendering of accent visuals. But I'm almost not able to see those designs at times because I'm virtually blinded by the distracting clashing browser themes/personas. All the work that went into the website and app designs seems to be wasted and lost due to the overpowering visual distraction and chaos around it.

That got me thinking about how often that may happen to great designs in the wild. I therefore asked my Twitter followers and Facebook friends to tell me whether they had changed the default theme/look of their primary browser. The results indicated that 69% of them had modified the theme/look settings. Some also indicated they had systems that automatically changed their theme/persona weekly. While I'm sure that my friends and followers have good taste, it got me thinking about what types of themes/personas are in fact available. I checked out what was available and captured them into the collage shown on the right. As you can see, there is virtually every color combination, visual flourish, and even typography. Browser makers are attempting to provide more user choice and allowing users to customize their electronic environment. Designers, however, need to figure out how to design inside all of this visual chaos.  

Many designers aren't even aware that their designs are often living within this world of visual chaos because they typically use Macs. And how much can you customize the Safari browser on the Mac? Well, you can't, without getting additional 3rd party tools to hack the system. I would suggest, therefore, that designers come up with designs that take into account the range of browser theme/persona customizations and that they also move over to a PC everyone once in a while to see what their designs will look like in the majority of browsers in use.