“The best websites are useful and ugly” touts this article. It lists eBay, Google and Craig’s List, among others, as perfect examples of wildly successful and aesthetically unappealing websites. Beautiful and useful are not mutually exclusive terms, however.
There are several articles on the web that showcase selections of ugly but successful websites. They also tend to make a key point – that not every type of website can be ugly and yet successful anyway. A certain quality is expected of brand websites or stores selling high-quality products. In these cases, good design is employed to exude confidence and a strong image, which assures clients of quality.
An interesting argument crops up in many posts defending ugly but successful websites: that customers trust them because they look like an average person could have made it. They are afraid of polished designs which imply that a marketing team just waiting to suck out all of the customer’s money was employed by the website’s owner. On the other hand, a non-appealing design can also turn clients away from a site. It suggests that the site owner is not serious about their company and craft if their online presence does not look polished and professional. Sometimes it may even look outdated.
Google or eBay are not successful because they are ugly and I do not believe they would be less so if they were designed more appealingly. They are successful because of their purpose, because of what they do. Content plays a huge role in making a site successful. A good design can support a good site – as long as the desire to create the loveliest, most creative site doesn’t eclipse such important concepts as user-friendliness, accessibility, functionality, etc. Everything in moderation.
A lot of careful research and planning is done by a designer before the creative work is started. A site planning guide is listed here. It’s important to begin with the basics: figuring out what is the site’s objective is. Then, the audience should be considered, because it will tremendously affect the look and feel of the resulting design. Older people and children, for example, might need bigger type to read comfortably. A site directed at high school students would have a different look and feel than one aimed at businessmen. A business-to-business website would have another aesthetic from one directed at general consumers. How visitors access the site is also something to keep in mind, since more and more access the web on their phones. Simple and clean looks better on a phone screen. If the website will have flash elements, it might also benefit from a non-flash version. And so on.
Designers should remember the purpose of the site they are designing for, first and foremost. It’s important to stay focused on making design complement the content, so that it is presented in the best way possible. The resulting work will be beautiful and functional at the same time. There is a reason why there are so many helpful articles and tutorials written by designers and for designers – to give a site the best chance at success. How something is designed is a huge component of that.