One of my favorite podcasts, 99 Percent Invisible, recently told the story of Victor Gruen, the man who invented the American shopping mall. Is he a sinner or a saint? Listen to the episode to find out.

Most interestingly, before Gruen invented America’s greatest cultural center, he figured out that stores could lure customers with big, bright storefronts. It’s now known as “The Gruen Effect”. From the podcast:

Gruen argued that good design equaled good profits. The more beautiful the displays and surroundings, the longer consumers are will want to stay in a shop. The more time a shoppers spend in a store, the more they will spend.

I couldn’t help but apply this to web design. Maybe this answers the age old question of “Why do all [responsive] sites look the same?” You know the formula:

  1. Full bleed hero with call to action
  2. List of three or so features
  3. Email newsletter signup form
  4. Social media links in footer

Maybe the Gruen Effect is secretly controlling Web Design. Your hero image is the big beautiful display meant to enrapture the user, make them click to enter or entice them to scroll. Lacking patience, you honor your users with a short concise explanation of what they can expect. The bottom of the page is the cash register, hoping to capture one final brand engagement before the user disappears…

It’s interesting that malls were the next logical step for Gruen. Malls are all bland, beige boxes. Giant centers of commerce, each indistinguishable from the next. Not compelling, but met Americans desire to drive to a destination. Once inside, you were intended to be wowed by the content, contained in a familiar setting.

Sounds familiar. I wonder what the Outdoor Mall or Luxury Condo with Shops Beneath of websites would look like…