CX Insights

How to Stand Out from the Crowd: Unusual Web Design

8 min read

In general, we don’t want to look unusual.

We want to stand out, sure, but for being successful. Just like the football hero, winning the final game with the winning touchdown.

We don’t want to stand out for looking unusual or being unique, because we’re afraid of being different from everyone else and being outcasted as a result.

While not always desirable, being unusual does make you stand out. (The Elephant Man, 1980)

However, if you want your website to stand out you may have to consider it… simply because it could make it a success.

“You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake.”

Although not originally intended, the above quote by the character Tyler Durden (Fight Club, 1999) also applies to most of the websites out there. Though no site wants to appear outdated, the best of what most of them do is through following the latest trends.

Tyler knows best. (Fight Club, 1999)

However, following the latest trends won’t make you stand out. To do this, you have to either deviate from them or better yet, start a new one.

Unfortunately, creating a unique website doesn’t have any clear building blocks. In general it’s easier to focus on something like Search Optimization (SEO) to increase traffic. However, if your site stands out from the rest and gets word of mouth and media attention because of its uniqueness, well then the amount of traffic will be off the scale.

A good example from the past is the million dollar homepage.

The Million Dollar Homepage did in fact generate a million dollars.

This site was conceived by Alex Tew in 2005, an English student who wanted to raise money for his University education. By creating a site with one million pixels and selling each for 1 dollar each for advertisement purposes, he ended up selling each and every one of them.
Of course, when he launched the site he had nothing to lose (apart from the 50 Euros it had cost to set things up) but it illustrates how powerful an unusual site can be.

The million dollar homepage is mostly a great idea accompanied by clever design, but you don’t have to go to such extreme measures to make your site stand out.

A website can still have the classic ingredients of having a header, a footer, a navigation menu and an area for content, but with a change in colour or layout can still act and appear unconventional. For instance, let’s take a look at the Jeep website.

Jeep knows how to present themselves somewhat differently than its competitors.

Jeep – a division of Chrysler Group – has at first glance a good looking, but somewhat traditional main page. You see a header, footer and navigation bar. However, the moment you click on a model from their line-up, you’re redirected to a highly informative webpage which you can scroll vertically. Each time showing dynamic or interactive actions like changing the car colour or rotating the car 360 degrees.

Unusual web design can also be accompanied with interactive design.

An example of a rather interactive site is the online exhibition ‘Century of the Child’ created by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.

The Century of the Child website makes you feel like a child exploring something new.

The main page gives you no explanation how to continue navigating, but it has a very intuitive design that makes you feel like exploring further, much as a child would do when presented something new. As a result the site might become something of an adventure for users, stimulating them to continue whilst keeping them focused.

The positive side of being unusual

Unconventional web design can make a site look distinctive, creating a unique look compared to other, more traditional websites. Even websites that follow the latest trends, such as Flat or Responsive Design, aren’t distinguishable among themselves. When you’re building a brand image it might even become more important, because an unusual website basically screams individuality. This is an important trade that differentiates you from your competitors. In addition, potential customers will notice you’ve taken considerable thought in presenting your brand. This could be the difference in them choosing you over a rival.

An unusual website can even make potential customers imagine using your product (to a degree). A good example is, a website specifically created for the new trucks of Mercedes.

Mercedes lets you “hit the road” with its perfect kilometer website.

Besides supplying you with information, the perfect kilometer takes you for a drive from the perspective of sitting inside a Mercedes truck. This way the whole experience feels unique, but at the same time familiar since you feel like you’re driving (instead of navigating) the website.

An unusual design can stimulate curiosity, or if it has a focus on exploring as with the MoMA website, then this will result in users spending more time on the site. They are also more likely to return or invite friends!

Additionally, even when a site is unconventional, it can still remain easy to use, easy to understand, and fun to explore. Usability doesn’t have to be thrown out of the window.

A good example is the British McDonald’s website, which is basically a tapestry of ‘McDonald’s Moments’ where you can click on the individual elements. You can navigate by moving the tapestry around with your mouse, but with a tablet it would be even more intuitive. As a result the site appears unique, but its navigation poses no problems.

McDonald’s is lovin’ their new website.

The negative side of being unusual

Your design may be unique and stand out, but the result might end up like a sore thumb if usability is neglected. For example, let’s take a look at the ‘Creative with a K’ website.

Creative with a K gets an F for usability

Unusual? Check.
Usable? Well..

Whether any visitors are encouraged or even able to learn more about this company is debatable. It must be noted though, that an unusual website that defies usability guidelines and is even generally hated by almost everyone can still be a success. Enter Ling’s Cars.

Ling’s Cars website is definitely.. unusual.

There’s no question that Ling’s Cars website is unusual. However, navigating the site is a nightmare, not to mention the number of seizures you’ll get from just looking at it.

This site has not gone unnoticed though. It’s even mentioned on Websites from Hell. However, the phrase: “there is no such thing as bad publicity” might ring true here. According to her own website, Ling states: “In 2012 I’ll rent over £50 million of cars.” She also has approximately 100k unique visitors a day.

How to explain this? Well as one reviewer puts it:

“Notice how the design […] comes across as ‘cheap’ thus living the promise of ‘cheap cars’.”

At any rate the site defies convention and is instantly memorable, which may contribute to her success.

What more can we expect?

Since we now have different types of devices (e.g. smartphones, tablets) to access the internet, some designers have discovered they now have even more tools to their disposal for creating unusual websites. Take the Norton mobile security website for example.

Norton makes you connect with your mobile for a rather unique experience.

The website is something of an interactive story in which you play a voyeur, watching other people’s lives who haven’t protected their mobiles with Norton security. What makes the experience unique is the fact that you can navigate the site with your mobile. With technology continuing to advance each day, who knows what more out of the box designs we can expect in the nearby future?


Distinguishing yourself from the competition is equally important for smaller businesses as it is for larger corporations. The difference between the two is that a unique design for you website is a bigger risk for corporations if it backfires. Bad press and alienation of your customers as a result is highly undesirable. A smaller or upcoming business however can simply cut its losses and start again.

That said, bigger businesses don’t have to come up with a completely off the wall website to be unique. Simply by being innovative in their brand story, and letting this reflect in their website, they can create something that stands out from their competitors That’s what ultimately counts.

Following the latest design trend will never make you unique. If you truly want to stand out, you may need to take a certain amount of risk. The higher the risk, the greater the amount of success you can have.

As a final note, unusual websites generally aim for a unique, positive user experience. However, meeting typical usability standards can pose a problem sometimes. We at Usabilla are curious to find out if unusual websites can deliver on both and set up a survey for this occasion. If you want to help out, please click here.

Randy Lek
Studying Applied Cognitive Psychology in Leiden, but doing my internship at Usabilla in Amsterdam right now. Gives me an excuse to visit the lovely museums they have there. =)