the sky floor

There’s Nothing Wrong With Convention

May 13, 2021

As I was driving home last night, I noticed that a recently installed traffic light at a freshly minted intersection had a different shade of yellow for its middle light than most in our area. The shade is a bit more vibrant. Brighter. It commands a bit more attention from a distance. 

Even though the color of this light was new to my eye, I still knew what it meant. 

You can thank ‘convention’ for the instant clarity you have when navigating traffic lights. A convention is how something is usually done, especially within a particular area or activity. Since 1912, we have been training our drivers to recognize green means go and red means stop. (Yellow has been around a little less time, but still a very long time now.)

If you want to revolutionize the mechanics of traffic over 100 years later, introducing entirely new colors to the traffic light isn’t going to have legs. A new color shade of yellow, sure. A new way to illuminate, even better. Traffic signals have been lighted via gas, halogen, incandescent, and LED illumination technology over the years. 

The point is, there is always room for innovation, but sometimes you have to understand the going conventions to get there. 

Do you know why most brand logos appear on the left side of the screen on websites? It’s because users are 89% more likely to recall the logo vs. right-aligned. 

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There is nothing intrinsically wrong with convention, and breaking convention merely to do it may damage your brand or idea. The key is to understand why something is the typical way we do it. With the left-aligned website logo, there is research to back up the practice – but there may be a time to throw that out for the sake of unique or new. 

You have to truly understand the conventions of your industry before you can break them – and there is nothing wrong with using them when they work! What are some of the conventions in your industry?