Your Website Showcasing Your Supercool Office Space is a Cliché.

Empty architecture website design
>>The formula: an empty room, a logo, and a headline. Website done!

This is a plea for an end to hip websites featuring photo shoots of cool “creative spaces” and not much else.

You know what I’m talking about: Parallax websites papered with empty reception desks with brand signage; macro shots of artisanal light fixtures; den-like flex spaces with artfully cast-off iPads and headphones; and perspective shots of touchdown workstations with knife-edge aligned Apple displays and funky task chairs.

Your homepage is now a cliché.

I hate to tell you: Empty office and creative space images are the 80s stock photography of the two-thousands. They’re like shots of businessmen shaking hands, or a smiling group of perfectly ethnically diverse people…only with Aeron chairs, artful blurs, and office kitchens with kegerators.

They aren’t as bland and cheesy as those 80s stock photos. But they are just as lazy, meaningless, and formulaic.

Now if you are an architect, interior designer, cabinetmaker, or boutique hotel, you get a pass. Because what you are selling truly is that empty architecture and a potential client’s ability to visualize themselves in it. So that is totally on brand.

If not—if you’re an agency, web developer, tech company, law firm, etc.—tell me, what exactly is it that you’re trying to communicate to your website visitors?

What your website featuring photos of cool (but empty) architecture says about your brand:

  • We are all gone to lunch. Again.
  • Every day’s a holiday here.
  • We spent a ton of money making this a cool “creative space.” So, you need to look at it. A lot.
  • People aren’t our greatest asset; it’s fancy office chairs.
  • Unfortunately, this is the only way we could figure out how to differentiate ourselves.
  • Look at the great foosball table that your last big invoice bought.
  • The rumors of our insolvency and layoffs are entirely untrue.
  • Your deadline is so important to us. Really.
  • We produce ideas. See them? They’re everywhere.
  • You too can sit at one of these clone stations and write code.

Seriously, though. Be truthful. What are your photos saying? Why are they there? Are you providing any clue as to the purpose of your website; what you are on this earth to do; and how you add unique value for clients? Because I see it all as little more than a placeholder to fill up space because you didn’t have a concept or a strategy.

Stop being lazy. Even if it fills the wireframe.

I know why web designers want to use cool empty architecture. It’s filler. It’s striking. It’s textural. It’s (insert here): urban, hip, edgy, dimensional, etc. It’s frequently an easy and inexpensive solution to a company whose work is intangible or difficult to demonstrate. And it’s not so busy that you can’t set type over the top of it.

And parallax. It’s just perfect for parallax! Somehow even though static architecture on its own is a little boring, if it’s parallax and things are sliding in front of it, behind it, or through it, somehow it makes it better…doesn’t it? (Nope. It’s still lazy.) 

It’s drag-and-drop. It’s an easy way to fulfill the wireframe. It’s so much better than having type scrolling through people’s heads. And in addition to being good for parallax, it’s absolutely golden for responsive design. But…and this is a big but. But what’s interesting is that many of these websites are for developers and agencies that scream “content!” to their clients. So take your own medicine.

If your point of difference is just your interior design, you might want to get digging into your brand and strategy.

Even if you’re a co-working space or in some form of hospitality and you are “selling the space,” in fact you are selling the experience. And your images would probably say more about that experience with people in them. Wouldn’t they? After all, if I’m looking for work share, I’m not really just wanting to buy desk space and a seat at the coffee bar; I’m wanting to join a community.

I’m not saying you can’t have your cool space and fun design and culture reflected on your site. It may very well be a part of your process and customer experience. If so, show it in use. Make me understand how it potentially makes my work with you better.

So stop wallpapering your website design with empty rooms. You are not Houzz or 1stDibs or Airbnb. Unless you are planning on selling me that conference table there should be a damn good reason you are filling my browser or mobile device with it edge-to-edge.


For more on brand strategy, read “A Basic Guide to Branding.”