Recently, I read an article on Scobleizer about the virtues of “ugly” sites. Comments such as “more sticky” and “generally more fun to participate in” were mentioned to justify the revenue driving power of “anti-marketing design”. That, and the notion there’s more street-cred (so to speak) in sites that look like my 5 year-old put them together. Why? Because they don’t look like blatant marketing ploys (just thinly disguised ones, in my opinion).
However, I believe that ugly is in the eye of the beholder and is often confused with utilitarian. Take Youtube, for instance. Sure—it’s not going to win any design awards but it’s clean and simple—exactly what it needs to be. The content is King (or Queen), so why distract people with a cool-for-the-sake-of-cool look? The point of Youtube is to make it possible for anyone to upload their video art/diatribe/commentary/rant and share it. Nothing more, nothing less. (Of course, marketers have taken advantage of this ‘everyman’ forum, but that’s another story.)
Fact is, a site needs to be well designed in all aspects. It needs to have a look and feel that ensures your audience can and will be able to use it. And that all depends upon what you want to accomplish and who you’re appealing to—from tween terrors to conservative CEOs.
That also means you have to take your audience’s level of online sophistication into consideration. Remember, just because you can use lots of gorgeous bandwidth hogging graphics and implement lots of cutting-edge social media, doesn’t mean you should (we all saw what happened in Jurassic Park, right?). Forums, blogs, reviews, etc., etc., are great. But if these features are just going to sit and gather cyber dust, what’s the point? Beware: a discussion board that hasn’t been touched since the Clinton era can speak far louder than your silent audience. Not to mention if it takes ten minutes for anyone to even see it!
And as for navigation…it doesn’t have to be your standard under the header, down the side (or both) affair. But it still has to make some kind of sense! If I need an instruction manual to figure out how to get to your home page, forget it! I can do without the built-in learning curve.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a relatively patient person who doesn’t mind a site that makes me think a bit by utilizing a ‘different’ navigational approach. But if your site makes me feel stupid or like “I’m not worthy”, then why should I bother? Perhaps, that’s the brilliance of sites like this. It’s some weird way of keeping out the undesirables. But if the majority of the population is made up of undesirables, who are you actually talking to? The Stephen Hawking’s of the world who managed to get past the intro page? Well, then good luck! Because unfortunately, most of the ‘chosen few’ are probably too busy creating black holes in science labs to visit your site. Either that, or the content better be freaking phenomal if I’m going to take the time to figure out the secret navigational handshake.
Ultimately, at the end (or beginning) of the day, you have to understand what your site is trying to do, how it helps to tell your story and whether it gives your audience appropriate opportunities to let you know if they’re getting it.
So if that turns into an ugly vs. pretty debate, please remember: “ugly” can be beautiful. There is beauty in simplicity—in just sticking to the nuts and bolts. And for the majority of sites, that’s all you really need. That, and great content worth hanging around for.
If you’d like to see more about the ugly sites debate, check out the following link.
Bye for now!