But if you build a site with those goals and without worrying about aesthetics, you're going to wind up with an ugly site.
However that said, there are a couple of amusing cases I know about where deliberately making something ugly was an A/B testing win. Photoshop found that by setting ugly default fonts they push people to poke around the application to change the defaults, which results in a lot more usage of other features. Similarly Freshbooks redid their invoicing some time ago, and found that people overwhelmingly preferred the new version, yet conversions to paying customer were better when people were given the old version and forced to figure out that they could change it on their own. (And yes, most of the paying customers actually did change it.)
But in general aesthetics simply don't matter. And any theory based on the assumption that they do is wrong.
* was in Visual Basic 6
* was ugly as anything I had ever seen
* had an incredibly cluttered screen
but everyone raved about it when they left. Why? It was far and away the most usable software we had seen. Instead of thinking about the pleasantness of the screen, they were thinking about workflow. Every time we asked, "can it do X", it did so, and with far greater elegance than we had hoped.
Even with the clutter, it was easy to use. Now, when I look at designing a user interface, I think of it with completely different eyes.
Versions A and C have other navigation/messaging in the spotlight. Version B has the fewest distractions.
Poor illustration of the point, if you ask me.
This is like assuming your users are stupid. Strive for accessibility and ease of use, not ugliness.
But the closing statement in that paragraph is:
"It’s no surprise that the winning test lacks design elements or complexity, keeping it simple collects the sale."
So ultimately, I think we're all on the same page.
Simple & clear messaging trumps complexity.
I found this article to have better examples. In particular, the ChristianMingle ad -- same wording, different treatment, different results.
However since they offer a competitive product at very competitive prices people put up with horrible usability and service. So no, ugly design doesn't sell, cheap sells, and if you're cheap enough people are willing to overlook ugly.
HN is a nice example. Imagine if you let a designer loose on it, the disaster that would ensue. It would be eye candy for sure, but we'd all be leaving in a hurry.
Especially for stuff that is used frequently less design is usually better, 'b(l)ing' is for kids with too much money to spend on their cars. Tools have to be functional first.
They can aesthetically pleasing, but only if the form follows from the function they have. Once you can't remove stuff any more the design is optimal.
No. Or that is, it depends on the designer. I'd think most of the better designers would keep it clean.
That's when the design is minimal, not necessarily optimal.
Optimal is subjective: optimal for whom, performing what operation?
Having been on HN for a couple of years now (yes I've changed accounts - part of an experiment in aggressive commenting) I find that collapsible threads a la reddit seem to be really missing. There are other things I think reddit does more optimally too - like providing hints on formatting with one click (and no page change) of the post. I could go on (and on) but you get the idea.
I think the main skill that designers bring to the table is empathy. Unlike traditional artists, who can safely ignore what other people think, designers have to be interested in how something feels to their audience. This is important if you're building things for people who aren't like you and don't think like you, and you want to get their attention, get them to think what they're buying is useful and usable and yes, maybe beautiful if that matters, and the people who made it are trustworthy and reliable.
Design is about communication--it's a kind of language. Who could argue that words don't matter, only function matters?
A talented but inexperienced coder will write a meta-framework platform that will do the job, but be hard to use.
A good designer with lots of experience should be able to make a slick, but minimalistic, design.
How do business results show the benefits of empathy?
1. Value -- a good designer will take the time to understand the the target audiences. Many target audiences aren't looking for value, they're looking for status or something just as intangible. Implementing a visual design which communicates something the target audience isn't searching for is closely akin to pricing your product incorrectly. In fact, design approach is almost completely analogous to retail product price stratification.
2. Trust -- this again depends on audience. Sometimes "labor of love" is the most relevant trust mark, but in other cases it's "well-established" or "industry leader."
3. Accessibility -- this is kind of a 'duh' for any experienced web developer. Most design-oriented site you go to are built for modern browsers only, but that's because all their visitors are using Firefox. Any good web designer still knows how to fix an IE6 margin-doubling bug, for example.
4. Flexibility -- um, it really is possible to design sites with good UI and flexible content. Would anyone here make the argument that Craigslist would have failed with proper whitespacing, appropriate font selections, and logical visual hierarchies? Those can all be accomplished with a single stylesheet.
5. Function -- this really is the point of design. Most good designers would tell you that. Design without utility is bad art. I love user interface design because I can build things that look good and work well. The two go hand-in-hand.
I may be reading too much into the comment that "in general, aesthetics simply don't matter." If that's really true, do you have a good explanation for Apple's success? How about Nike?
Many successful websites (Google, craigslist, ebay, wikipedia, myspace etc) are both highly functional and divergent from "good design practices".
What I find troubling is that I don't believe any of those sites would have been constructed in their successful form by a design professional. We don't fully understand how people's perceptions are shaped by the presentation of information.
Having appropriate whitespace/fonts etc produces a clean looking site which conforms to a very particular aesthetic which has no proven connection to the success of a site and may substantially harm it.
I think Mint is a good example of design driving success. Mint is largely built on the Yodlee platform, but they made the interface their primary focus. I don't get any information from Mint that I can't get on my bank's website. But since signing up for Mint, I check my accounts twice as frequently, classify all of my purchases, track my financial history, and set budgets. I didn't have to wrestle myself into these habits, either -- they came naturally because Mint made them easy and available. And honestly, I would never have trusted my bank account information to a site that looked like early-days eBay.
A more professional-looking (clean) website is also more important for a services business (accountant, health care, restaurant, etc.), where your website is a representation of your business.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6x0cAzQ7PVs <<= (I think that's the talk)
I don't buy that un-categorically "if your website looks BMW-fancy your visitor is going to assume BMW-pricing". Rather than opining one way or another about what look is "right" for sites, I'd be interested in the process of finding that look.
Although now I think the same 'pretty' process is happening with the Ajax realm...
Just because you can have a nice looking mouse over or cool looking dynamic (but confusing and useless) navigation bar doesn't mean you should.
Clean and simple is beautiful.
But my favorite example - plentyoffish.com - isn't exactly "clean" IMO.
It's amazingly ugly and crowded with colors and text, but the usability remains true to user's expectations.
I think that factors into the genuine feel of it - feels like one guy did it because he wanted to help people find a love connection . . .
Google (my favorite example, although they are morphing from this in the last year or so), Craigslist, and Twitter all kept it clean and simple.
Those darned designers and their ascetic ways...
"We’ve battled designers and CMO’s day in and day out for nearly a decade but overwhelmingly following the 5-rules laid out above drive results that simply win."
aesthetics are not bad, although the tone of the article makes it seem like ui designers are bashed when they shouldn't be. both practices serve their own purposes, and usability should not be confused with ui design.
For some situations maybe you want to say "this is really expensive" and in others you want to say "this is really useful." In either case you are designing.
Plus, some of them (Drudge and MySpace) don't have ecommerce "conversions" which is what the rest of the article appears to talk about.
bad way to close a biased post that doesn't acknowledge the value of design; design is form AND function. the real problem here is that designers have been shelved by inexperienced (read: affordable) i-downloaded-photoshop-and-forget-to-learn-the-fundamentals.
"They scaled to huge numbers of visitors with tiny staffs – keeping your site flexible enough so the CEO can change the homepage content may not be ascetically appealing, but it sure does beat a static beautiful website.
A website that’s easy to change, update, and experiment on is better than one that relies heavily on advanced CSS, Flash, images etc that you can’t change quickly. "
Since when are good design and flexibility exclusive ? Where do you see any sign of such a trend on the internet ?
Ugly design is still design though, it works in one context and fails in another. But that doesn't mean you've freed yourself from the tyranny of aesthetics, you're just using the aesthetic that works.
There's a great temptation for programmers to conclude that if they can't do something by themselves, it must not matter, and anyone who claims otherwise is probably a corporate drone or something. Maybe this works in some cases, but that doesn't mean it's not also a mistake.
It's like that joke about the guy who lost his keys in the alley behind a bar one night. His friend finds him on the sidewalk looking under a street light, and asks him why he's not looking in the alley. The guy says "It's too dark in the alley, I can't see a thing!" The moral of the story: when faced with a difficult real-world problem that you don't know how to solve with your current skillset, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to try to change the problem into a different one that you do know how to solve. Maybe you don't need good design, but if you do, you should get a designer, and ignore blog posts about how pretty things are for girls.