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The Surprising Truth About Ugly Websites 468

nywanna writes "After seeing the example of Plenty of Fish and the reports of the site earning over $10,000/day in Adsense revenues, I quickly realized that there are a lot of ugly websites that are extremely successful. The reason for this, according to the article, is that ugly websites do a few things that beautiful websites tend to lack."
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The Surprising Truth About Ugly Websites

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  • ICQ (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MacBoy ( 30701 ) on Monday March 20, 2006 @01:20PM (#14957837)
    The old ICQ website still tops my ugly list. It had multiple columns and went on forever. Info overload.
  • Well... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Donniedarkness ( 895066 ) <[Donniedarkness] [at] [gmail.com]> on Monday March 20, 2006 @01:22PM (#14957859) Homepage
    Maybe it has something to do with the actual content of the website?

    I'm sure that an ugly porn site would probably bring in more money than a pretty site about overpriced potato chips that you can ship from Pakistan.

  • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Monday March 20, 2006 @01:22PM (#14957860)
    "I quickly realized that there are a lot of ugly websites that are extremely successful"

    Example #1: Slashdot itself.

  • Google. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by babbling ( 952366 ) on Monday March 20, 2006 @01:22PM (#14957862)
    ... and when one of those websites that is usually ugly but full of features becomes beautiful, they are even more successful. Google, for example.
  • Flipping through the various examples in The Zen of CSS Design [amazon.com] , for example, I am amazed by how gorgeous some of the effects are, but I know that I'd be quickly worn out if I had to use any of these on a regular basis. Sometimes simple design, even to the point of blocky quasi-socialist-realist functionality, works better even if it doesn't win awards for looks.
  • by Kurt Gray ( 935 ) on Monday March 20, 2006 @01:24PM (#14957887) Homepage Journal
    Running the web dameon as root, now that's ugly.
  • Ugly, or Simple? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ackthpt ( 218170 ) * on Monday March 20, 2006 @01:25PM (#14957892) Homepage Journal

    Put the snob in the backseat for a moment and consider there's a difference between Ugly and Simple. Back in the early days there was a site [webpagesthatsuck.com] where I learned the fundamental difference between Form and Function, the bottom line is, as it always has been, Keep It Simple, Stupid.

    My designs tend to have a very small footprint and require minimal bandwidth. While I was building light weight search engines, the clod who over-saw our website put a massive graphic on the home page. Those, like myself, still on 2400 baud modems at the time had to sit and wait for that The Bob damn thing to load.

    Years later I was working with United Airlines Air Cargo and some brain at the top elected to replace a very simple, not pretty, but very simple interface with javascripts galore, whizzy graphics and image mapping, all in a kind of Black on Black, which would have Hotblack Desiato break out in a sweat, dead or not. It didn't work and they'd spent big on it.

    This isn't really an ugly site. On the other hand /. ... hmm.

  • by RunFatBoy.net ( 960072 ) on Monday March 20, 2006 @01:27PM (#14957925)
    I am constantly suprised at the amount of traffic Craig gets with his horrific design. It's cluttered, the colors are lacking, and lacks any personality. It's just a big blob of links.

    But then I remind myself that above all else, it's functional and has enough content to trump any bad design decisions. Content will always trump design. Even bad design.

    -- Jim http://www.runfatboy.net/ [runfatboy.net]
  • by EddieBurkett ( 614927 ) on Monday March 20, 2006 @01:27PM (#14957926)
    Why do I have a feeling that this was all just an ad for plentyoffish.com? I mean, why not get a bunch of undersexed males to visit a page promising free matchmaking with plenty of pictures of cute women? The whole 'story' about ugly websites is really inconsequential. (And plentyoffish isn't all that ugly, IMHO.) I'm starting to get the feeling we've all fallen for this hook, line, and sinker.
  • by keilinw ( 663210 ) * on Monday March 20, 2006 @01:29PM (#14957949) Homepage Journal
    I've seen plenty of "pretty" websites that are absolutely worthless. This only goes to show that aesthetic appeal is NOT the most important factor in website development. Function -- comprising primarily of layout, usability, accessibility, platform, type, etc -- is the CORE of a good website design. Also, don't forget about content!

    It is almost like a pyramid with content and functionality being the foundation for a good website. On top of the pyramid is the "polish" or aesthetic design. I'm sure that we'll all agree that aesthetics and human computer interactions (usability, flow, etc -- the stuff that Apple is notorious for) are also very important.... but, like anything else, it is a blend of form AND functionality. What good is a website if it ONLY works on Opera? What good is a great UI if there is not functionality? You get the point.

    Now what would be quite interesting is to apply these concepts to people! As we all know, looks aren't everything! But hey, that certain polish certainly makes a difference.

    Matthew K. Wong http://www.themindoffmatthew.com [themindofmatthew.com]
  • I mostly agree (Score:5, Insightful)

    by drhamad ( 868567 ) on Monday March 20, 2006 @01:31PM (#14957966)
    I mostly agree with the article, but I'd rephrase it. This is not about "ugly sells" but rather about "simple sells." Having flashy pages simply distracts from the message. But having nicely formatted text can be nice. eBay or Google may be "ugly," but more accurately they're simple (although I sort of disagree about eBay). Google doesn't load up its page with tons of junk, as does Yahoo... and that's probably why I use Google.

    One thing I really disagree with is the articles talk about trust, how people feel they can trust an ugly website more than a nice one. Here, personally, I think that if somebody can't afford nice webdesign, they can't afford good web security. That being said, this is where my rephrase comes in again - simple and clean design leads me to trust a site more than does flashy sites.

    To be fair, the article does talk about simplicity a lot... I just feel that it points to ugliness instead of simplicity as the driving factor, and that's not quite correct. Simple sites may be ugly, but they don't have to be - and if they're not, simple and clean is better than simple and ugly.
  • MySpace... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by moosesocks ( 264553 ) on Monday March 20, 2006 @01:34PM (#14957991) Homepage
    The one site in particular that sticks out in my mind has having particularly bad design is MySpace [myspace.com]. Total information overload, poor organization of content, and horrible horrible backend code (servers are slow as molasses, and my sessions are frequently expired inexplicably).

    I understand that it's a 'community' site, but I honestly don't feel a part of that at all. It's difficult to build a huge online community unless users can selectively segregate themselves into groups. This is part of the reason why Facebook and Flickr are both extremely successful.

    Granted, there are ugly sites with truly great content [aintitcool.com] that balances out the fact that the site's rather ugly. Likewise, there are a host of very pretty sites that are lacking in the content department.

    Although I used to consider myself more of an content guy and the type of guy who uses the command line for most tasks, I find myself gravitating toward sites that although they may not offer as many features, are easier to use, and are visually appealing. Flickr is probably the best example of this. With CSS, there is no excuse to have a poorly designed site. CSS makes it ridiculously easy to propogate an attractive design across your entire site. If you already know basic HTML, you can pick up all the CSS you need to know in a few days. Likewise, CSS also means people can finally stop using Photoshop as a design tool.

    With CSS, formerly ugly sites can make themselves pretty [dansdata.com] with very little effort. Slashdot went to great lengths with their stylesheet to make sure they preserved the old ugly layout.
  • Working for Google (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jdavidb ( 449077 ) * on Monday March 20, 2006 @01:34PM (#14957997) Homepage Journal

    I think there are some very good points here. I've always valued functionality over form and beauty. (I own ten year old cars, for example.)

    But it's interesting to me that he defines success as making a lot of ad revenue. My websites do not exist to get me revenue. They exist to build communities. Somebody else might have yet another definition of success for his website. I think the general principles raised are true no matter what the purpose of your site is, but I find it interesting that some people don't see a point for their site other than "make a lot of money carrying Google ads." More power to them if they can ... it means they are providing something people want, financing it through advertizing, and making a bundle along the way. It's just not my purpose in having a website.

  • by tehshen ( 794722 ) <tehshen@gmail.com> on Monday March 20, 2006 @01:37PM (#14958030)
    My personal website is all divs and styles, without any images. Any website that strays too far from this is, to me, ugly (and looking at some of the posts, I guess others are of the same opinion), especially if it's linking to ads.

    I know people who are jumping on Bandwagon 2.0 and insisting that all websites should be AJAXified (ugh), and must have flashy graphics and rounded corners, and if you don't do that then your page is all boring and ugly.

    There are also art people who spend all the time making their page look nice and don't actually put their content first. Their page might not be ugly, but it's not usable either.

    Then there are the people who think HTML is ugly and go with Flash. Bastards.

    The point of this long post is that a page may be 'ugly' to you but 'nice' to someone else. To all those people citing Google or Maddox as examples, 'simple' != 'ugly' - you may like it, and it may not be too flashy, but there are plenty of simple and ugly websites out there. (Green text on green background anyone?)

    Not to mention, that the people who spend more time offering services and writing content than caring about the design might actually have more of a clue of what they are doing.
  • by sehryan ( 412731 ) on Monday March 20, 2006 @01:42PM (#14958078)
    Those sites weren't that bad looking when they were first set up mid- to late-90s. The problem is that they are *so* popular, that changing the interface, even slightly, could result in tremendous user backlash.

    Basically, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
  • by kfg ( 145172 ) on Monday March 20, 2006 @01:53PM (#14958191)
    And beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

    A brownstone building is plain, but beautiful. Glueing an Italiante facade to it because those "architectural elements" have come into fasion does not make the building more beautiful, it makes it false and decadent, simply justifying Santayana's claim that "Fashion is something barbarous, for it produces innovation without reason and imitation without benefit."

    Adding commercial "art" to a website to make it "beautiful" simply does the same; and I'll take Shaker furniture over baroque, thank you very much.

    It has come to my attention that James Kunstler's blog (Clusterfuck Nation) has been attacked for looking "unprofessional," which rather took me aback, as I considered it one of the few truely professional looking sites left on the web. It's more than plain text, but it is simple and elegant. It gets the job done and does it in way that is graphically pleasing to the eye without being loaded up with fashionable crap. It looks professional. What it doesn't look like is commercial and pandering to whatever happens to be in vogue in commercial psuedo art on order to sell something.

    YTMV, of course, but isn't that rather the point?

    KFG
  • Re:Google. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jandrese ( 485 ) * <kensama@vt.edu> on Monday March 20, 2006 @02:00PM (#14958237) Homepage Journal
    So a feature is only a feature if it clutters up the front page?
  • by thepotoo ( 829391 ) <thepotoospam@@@yahoo...com> on Monday March 20, 2006 @02:00PM (#14958248)
    I don't understand why people don't like the look of slashdot. I've been visiting this site for several years and I'm not sick of the layout.
    It works.The design is simple, fast (most of the time), and works in any browser.

    Often, I hear people say OMG DIGG IS TEH PRETTIER: I'd rather have a site which is fast and easy to navigate than a site which is all eye candy and takes an hour to load.

    just my 2 cents.

  • You got lucky (Score:5, Insightful)

    by munch117 ( 214551 ) on Monday March 20, 2006 @02:02PM (#14958260)
    I got the full article, and trust me, that was even worse. I had to switch off all colour and font sizes before it was bearable to read.

    And then there's the content. Like when he accuses IMDB of having "not even bothered" to change the browser-default font.

    In other news, nobody has yet bothered to hit me over the head with a pickaxe. I kinda appreciate that, just like I appreciate that imdb.com doesn't try to override the font that I have carefully selected and configured to be my browsers default.

    Perhaps the reason why all these supposedly ugly websites are successful, is that the author has a messed up idea of "ugly".
  • Ebay (Score:4, Insightful)

    by olddotter ( 638430 ) on Monday March 20, 2006 @02:07PM (#14958304) Homepage
    ebay has got to be the posterchild for "first mover advantage." Not only is the site ugly, but the user interface is one of the worst I have ever seen in my life. Yet they are one of the most sucessful websites ever!!

    There is a whole dot-com economy around making ebay easier to use. See ChannelAdvisor [channeladvisor.com] for example.
  • Re:So? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by kattphud ( 708847 ) on Monday March 20, 2006 @02:10PM (#14958329)
    If you wanna be happy for the rest of your life Never make a pretty woman your wife So from my personal point of view Get an ugly girl to marry you!
  • by saltydogdesign ( 811417 ) on Monday March 20, 2006 @02:11PM (#14958336)
    Point of fact, simple != ugly, and beautiful != complex. You, and the O.P. are creating false dichotomies. If conveying information is the most important feature of a website, the best design would be the design you don't even notice.
  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Monday March 20, 2006 @03:14PM (#14958869) Homepage Journal
    Also, the architects I know scoff at the main character, an architect whose vision is so sublime he is persecuted by his peers and by the ignorant public, and he would blow up a building rather than see an imperfect version of his vision created.

    Real architects design buildings for clients, not as an exercise in ego-gratification. If anyone's ego gets gratified, its the person with the checkbook. Also, they're usually aware that actual people have to live and work in their designs. A friend of mine who is an architect likes to boast that no matter how far out his ideas are, you can always find the bathroom easily.

  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Monday March 20, 2006 @03:24PM (#14958948) Homepage Journal
    A brownstone building is plain, but beautiful. Glueing an Italiante facade to it because those "architectural elements" have come into fasion does not make the building more beautiful, it makes it false and decadent,

    I agree that plain and functional can be beautiful. But so can ornamented. As counterexamples, consider the Tower of Pisa, or Notre Dame Cathedral. Which building is "better" -- the Empire State or the Chrysler?

    I think the real lesson is that when your vision is screwed, trying harder doesn't help. Unless you know what you're doing, less is more.
  • Re:slashdot (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tsa ( 15680 ) on Monday March 20, 2006 @03:34PM (#14959020) Homepage
    Apparently if you make a website that is easy to navigate and understand, this website is by definition ugly. Thanks Taco, for making your beloved website so ugly we can read it well!
  • by Xugumad ( 39311 ) on Monday March 20, 2006 @03:57PM (#14959218)

    Moving past the "The article is really ugly, it's just an error mesage" jokes, here's some issues with the article:

    1. Mis-placed Google ads. What are they doing just under the title? Sure, it's eye-catching, but I don't want to have to scroll down to get at the article I've asked for.
    2. Fixed width. The page doesn't fit horizontally on my browser! Why? Well, lets start with the fact that someone decided that 450pixels is how wide I want the article. That's a really bad sign. Also, what's with the wasted space on the right hand side - for goodness sake people, stuff the Google ads in there! I can expand my window, but heaven help anyone using an 800x600 display.
    3. I'm scrolling, and suddenly some freaky Flash app is offering to speak text! Why on earth would I want a Flash application that speaks text I have to enter myself into the box? It, and the newsletter signup are apparently so incredibly important they need a quarter of the horizontal width of the page!
    4. It's all Arial. Arial, and other sans-serif fonts look very pretty, but are optimised towards small sections of text. Large blocks of text, such as article text, should be done using a serif font like Times, for readability.

    Getting pickier here... the header (blue on blue) is hard to read. Links are the wrong colour - as a user, brown-ish red means a link I've already been to, not a new link. It may look pretty, but it breaks user expectations.

    Look at the "Rate This Article" at the bottom. It uses numbers as links. Great, I just love single character anchors.

    The problem with web design is that too many companies hire people who came from advertising. The web is not an advertising medium - you can advertise as part of it, but fundamentally, if I'm reading your site, you have my attention already. Stop trying to get my attention, and focus on letting me get to the information I want as quickly and efficiently as possible. I'm am not here to drool over how many hours you spent deciding my web browser is 900 pixels wide, I am here to acquire information and move on to something more enjoyable.

    Having said that, actually ugly web sites are bad. If your website looks like you just discovered the header 1-5 buttons in Dreamweaver, and would have used a blinking marquee if you knew how, I'm going to avoid it. Bright yellow 24pt text on a light blue background is going to give me a headache. Plain websites are fine (Slashdot), efficient websites are ideal (GMail), but pretty sites I have to wrestle to get anywhere on, or ugly sites that look like they were created by a colour blind five year old are bad.

  • by zmollusc ( 763634 ) on Monday March 20, 2006 @03:59PM (#14959234)
    Fashion is a way of standing out, of being noticed.
    Erm................ shouldn't that be 'Being fashionable is a way of NOT standing out, of going unnoticed'?
  • Re:You got lucky (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Pneuma ROCKS ( 906002 ) on Monday March 20, 2006 @04:07PM (#14959299) Homepage

    And it wasn't such a good article, anyway. The author seems to assume that an attractive website has to be elaborate or complex. The main conclusion is that the success of the size depends highly on simplicity and delivering the right message. I may not be a professional webmaster, but simplicity is one of my primary aims when I design a website, and I believe that beauty lies in simplicity.

    On the other hand, there are sites that are simple and ugly. This one is a perfect example indeed. But that's an inevitable side effect of having endless threaded discussions of variable lengths. I think the site delivers, and you eventually forget about the design and focus on what the next Soviet Russia joke should be. That's good design in my book.

  • by colinrichardday ( 768814 ) <colin.day.6@hotmail.com> on Monday March 20, 2006 @05:06PM (#14959785)
    But as Roark asked, should one build in order to have clients, or have clients in order to build? Which is the means and which is the end (if either)?
  • Re:You got lucky (Score:3, Insightful)

    by KDan ( 90353 ) on Tuesday March 21, 2006 @02:56AM (#14962288) Homepage
    Agreed. The article is a bit soft in the head. And he calls himself a designer? "Functionality is more important than design". Well dumbass, I have some news for you: "Design" is about making the functionality stand out, not about putting pretty bells and whistles everywhere. That's not design, that's prettyfying. A site that's well designed can only be so if it has a purpose. That's why you don't say that the Mona Lisa is well designed. It's not a fricken utility.

    Sheez. I learnt this back in 1998 when I was dabbling in web design... Sure took this guy a while to catch up. Thanks for sharing your epiphany with us though.

    Daniel

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