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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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  • Maddox (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Douglas Simmons ( 628988 ) on Monday March 20, 2006 @01:25PM (#14957895) Homepage
    One good example not mentioned: Maddox's The Best Page in the Universe [] prides itself on a very simple design and he gets a gillion hits. Not to mention he only uses a subdomain of his ISP.
  • Working on site (Score:2, Interesting)

    by nywanna ( 960908 ) on Monday March 20, 2006 @01:25PM (#14957899)
    Sorry for the site going down - working on increasing max connections...
  • by Maximum Prophet ( 716608 ) on Monday March 20, 2006 @01:30PM (#14957954)
    Man, he doesn't come out and call Google ugly, but he implies it. He doesn't get it. It's really about the simplicity, rather than the aesthetics. Simple websites that provide people a real service *work*.

    I remember working for a major shipping company and the marketers were just discovering the web. People used our website because they wanted to know where there packages were. *Now*. The marketroids were looking at ways to keep people glued to the site longer so they could sell them more services. We had to constantly battle to keep the tracking as simple as possible so that people could get on and get off quickly.
  • by TheSkepticalOptimist ( 898384 ) on Monday March 20, 2006 @01:36PM (#14958015)
    Its the content.

    Slashdot ain't that pretty, honestly. But what draws people here is the content. PlentyOfFish is a dating service, that is free, and there are lots of people looking for love out there.

    The quality of the website can't be judged by how good or bad it looks. Just like a book cover or people, beauty rarely is the sole reason something is ever successful or popular.

    Some of the best looking websites out there don't get an audience because the content sucks or is irrelevant.

    If you have a website that is making tonnes of money, why bother wasting any of it to glam it up?
  • by javaxman ( 705658 ) on Monday March 20, 2006 @01:36PM (#14958019) Journal
    I'm sorry... a simple web page does not usually mean an ugly web page.

    What's so ugly about that web page ? The colors are pleasing, the eye flows down the page, the content is easy to navigate. What did you want, a stupid Flash splash screen ?

    My idea of an ugly web page is one with lots of dancing sausage, banner and other ads not only at the top but down the side, a web page where you just don't know what to look at, with an unpredictable mishmash of colors and unrelated content. I like a simple, fast loading web page better than some flash/javascript/rollover-magic animated slow-loading mess. Somehow I'm not shocked that a simple web page often does better than a complex one. The only people shocked to learn simple, organized groupings of information are more popular than some complex ones are graphic designers and such who are too impressed by their own tricks.

    Form fitting function- that's beauty in design.

  • by khasim ( 1285 ) <> on Monday March 20, 2006 @01:37PM (#14958036)
    I looked at the "Plenty of Fish" site and it did not look ugly to me.

    It looked clean and functional. It certainly wasn't "pretty", but it was far from "ugly".
    Sometimes simple design, even to the point of blocky quasi-socialist-realist functionality, works better even if it doesn't win awards for looks.
    Form follows function. If there isn't any requirement for cute effects, then why add them?
  • It's about USABILITY (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CarpetShark ( 865376 ) on Monday March 20, 2006 @01:47PM (#14958139)
    The simple fact is, people don't care for fancy graphics. That's nice to look at, but it won't make you come back day after day. What people want is meaningful content, that's easily accessible. People want the semantic web, and RSS feeds from sites all over the net, in a simple browser, not animations that take ages to wade through, and must be waded through differently on each site. Plenty of Fish is a good example of that, but OK Cupid is a better one, and the popularity figures will show the difference.
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Monday March 20, 2006 @02:11PM (#14958334) Homepage
    Marithe Francois Girbaud [], which sells good jeans, has an artistically beautiful web site. Interactive Flash pictures of jeans, with pop-up detail insets and info. Video of fashion shows. A long flash intro. Flash intros for each section. Cute animations. Menus of blank colored squares that display text only when the mouse is over them. Menus that move one way when you move the mouse the other way. A countries menu that starts out with a rotating 3D cube view of the world. Very cool, in an 1980s way.

    Can you figure out how to order something? How long did it take you? Keep trying. They really do sell online. Can you find the link? You'll find it quickly with Google (they have an ordinary Yahoo Store site), but can you find it on their main site? Don't give up. It will be worth it.

  • by dal20402 ( 895630 ) * <[dal20402] [at] []> on Monday March 20, 2006 @02:21PM (#14958417) Journal
    Usability = content + design.

    Every so often I'll think to myself "Wouldn't I just really rather read the unadorned RSS feeds for my favorite sites?" But I always end up going back to old-fashioned browsing.

    The best sites use design to aggregate information in such a way that it's easy to see what the site judges to be most important, so that the user can see plenty of information at once, and so the pages load quickly. Just saying "screw design, it's about content" is too simple.

    It seems to me that, by and large, design (of non-link-farm sites) has gotten way better over the last couple years. Web design has gotten most of the way from just another IT responsibility into a real profession equaling other kinds of design in difficulty and prestige (and in user happiness when it's done right).

  • by saltydogdesign ( 811417 ) on Monday March 20, 2006 @02:26PM (#14958460)
    I beg to differ. Craigslist is decidedly *not* horrific design. It is a very simple 5-column layout like you might find on, oh, a newspaper classified page. This is a familiar format to most people. The use of color is very plain and very simple, namely: blue = a link. There's a spot of red for emphasis, and yellow for the same purpose. The meaning of each column and each subcolumn is abundantly clear. There's quite a bit of text on the page, but there are sufficient margins and padding to keep it readible (and the san-serif font helps).

    There's nothing horrific about this design. Actually, it is quite functional -- a fact you appear to be aware of while ignoring the fact that, for the purposes of Craigslist, functionality is what good design is all about. And if you think nobody gave this any serious thought, you are a dolt.

    This gets to the heart of what I find annoying about many Slashdotters: there's a shared opinion here that design is something that is done solely for aesthetic purposes, and that designers are by nature too wrapped up in pretty pictures to do anything worthwhile. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Design is about enhancing the strengths of any material, and while those strengths are often informational, this is not always true. I don't think anyone would argue that Myst would be a better game if the developers had stripped out all the graphics, just as no one would argue that Craigslist would be improved by the addition of a bunch of images.

    Take a look at the world around you some time. If you live in a city, almost everything you come into contact with every day was touched upon at some point by a designer. That's not to say there's no bad design out there, but until you become aware of the designed-ness of your environment, it is far to easy to assume that "bad" is dominant.
  • Uh, Broadband? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AoT ( 107216 ) on Monday March 20, 2006 @02:29PM (#14958486) Homepage Journal
    Or lack thereof, seems a major part of this. How many "pretty" websites use a retarded and slow loading flash "interface", in quotes because it's more of just a face which refuses to really interact. All this and the rise of the much touted AJAx, which has done nothing significant to improve my experiences on websites.

    The majority of people in the US do not have broadband. Shit, I have broadband but share it with others in my house. Sometimes it doesn't run so fast; but craigslist almost always will load in a few seconds.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 20, 2006 @02:30PM (#14958490)
    What does it take for a website to be beautiful?

    #1) No javascript and no java and no activeX (and it must work without cookies, if it uses them)

    #2) No large files

    #3) Only very small images

    #4) Obvious navigation buttons

    Anything else?
  • by filterban ( 916724 ) on Monday March 20, 2006 @02:42PM (#14958595) Homepage Journal
    You should read The Fountainhead, if you haven't already. It is both an excellent book and a great way to explain what you're talking about.
  • really (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ( 653730 ) on Monday March 20, 2006 @02:57PM (#14958720)
    Seriously. I mean, it's last "overhaul" was going to CSS. And what did we get? The SAME shit again.

    Sadly this is very true. Slashdot is pretty much 90's design, the usability is very poor...

    Starting with the main page []. OK, I log in. So now I see my username at the left with links to my preferences, journal, etc. Then, I look at the right username again. Sorry guys, can you just keep all user-related info in the SAME place? (Hint: usability is also the reason why many people uses livejournal and blogger instead of slashdot journals to blog)

    Then look at every commentary (ej, yours []). Below your comment I see this link (with center alignment, I don't know why) " Re:Slashdot is successful too... by ericdano (Score:1) ". Where on earth is that link pointing to? OK, so everybody knows it's the parent, but where is the interface saying that to you?

    And the answers to that commentary are just below. Can't people just add a "Answers to this commentary", or something?

    And the centered "table" with information about the moderation. Do I really want to know the details of the moderation? Maybe if I've moderation points (I don't). What I don't understand is why that table is centered and far from the place where moderation is show (top of the commentary)

    Oh, and now let's go with the search field. Did you know slashdot has a search field? It has, it's just in the LAST place where you'd want it to be, in the top BOTTOM of every page.

    And the left "menu". There's SO MUCH unuseful crap there that it hurts.

    Oh, and the icons at the upper top of the page which represent the topics of the recently posted stories. It's just me who thinks that icons mean NOTHING? Even if you know what the icon means (and I doubt the computer icon means something to somebody in a computer-related site), if you want to tell users what have been the latest stories posted why not put some text about the stories themselves? Icons don't tell me if I want to click them - there're mozilla stories I want to read and there're mozilla stories I do NOT want to read so I just never click those icons

    Hell, I'm not even a usability expert, but it's clear that slashdot does NOT looks good. I know there's a page where you get the list of the stories recently posted by all users for example, but I have NO idea where to find it. Sometimes I find it but I quickly forget it because it's not obvious at all.

    There's a reason why sites like digg are gaining users: Is not that they're better, they just don't make you suffer to use them. They use javascript (slashdot could keep generating non-ajax code depending on the browser or keep a "old browser" compatibility page somewhere), etc.

    And if it takes two years to modify the slash code to make slashdot usable just like it took years to make slash to use CSS, it means the slash code is crap.
  • Re:ROOT?!? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by HappyDrgn ( 142428 ) on Monday March 20, 2006 @03:17PM (#14958895) Homepage
    I wonder if they are still using the default mysql root password of '' too?
  • Re:really (Score:3, Interesting)

    by killerkalamari ( 528180 ) on Monday March 20, 2006 @03:36PM (#14959044) Homepage
    Funny.. none of that stuff really bothers me, except the seach box, but I found that Google searches better, since Slashdot doesn't search comments.

    The only major usability thing for me is when I click to page 2 (or the next page), and have to then scroll past the stuff I'd already read. I realize why it happens: lots of people posted at the top while I was reading page 1, so it pushed page 1 stuff into page 2. However, if I wanted to re-read I could always click refresh. What I want to read are the new comments on "page 2".

    This would be easy to fix: the "page 2" button can point to a message id that was at the top of page 2 when MY view of page 1 was created. Now, when I ask for "page 2", it won't really give me page 2, because it may then decide that I'm now really wanting to read in the middle of page 4 (based on the id), and show me the middle of page 4. That wouldn't bother me in the slightest, because I would be continuing to read from where I left off.

    Could this please be an option?
  • Re:Well... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by hey! ( 33014 ) on Monday March 20, 2006 @04:02PM (#14959254) Homepage Journal
    Maybe it has something to do with the actual content of the website?


    I think the big problem with TFA is that it's overselling it's case. The PlentyOfFish web site is not going to win any awards for it's beauty, but it isn't really ugly. What is good about the site is that it has a business model that requires low commitment from users (no credit cards or fees) has a clear function for which users will seek it out, and places that function right smack in front of your face the first time you bring it up. It's easy when you are trying to be clever to lose sight of the obvious.

    It is possible that a slightly amateurish look makes people view it as a kind of hobbyist site, and therefore makes them trust it more. Possible. But this kind of judgement call is best made by a professional -- a marketing professional, not a design professional -- backed by data.

    Aside from that, I'd say KISS is the best principle; remember what you want people to do with your site and feature it prominently. I don't know how many sites I've found where it's impossible to find out about a company's products, or how to buy them.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 20, 2006 @04:16PM (#14959392)
    The first thing you learn in design school (I went to SIU) is "form follows function."

    Jacob Nielson's site, [], is a good place to start. From his latest article:

    Growing a Business Website: Fix the Basics First
    Offering clear content, simple navigation, and answers to customer questions have the biggest impact on business value. Advanced technology matters much less.

    He then lists "the biggest issues that led to lost business value in some of our recent consulting projects."

    Also from Nielson's latest: "the biggest design flaws destroying business value typically involve Communicating clearly, Providing information users want, and Offering simple, consistent page design, clear navigation, and an information architecture that puts things where users expect to find them."

    In short, as Nielson puts it: "Content rules. It did ten years ago, and it does today."

    -mcgrew(.info for my ugly site:)
  • by drew ( 2081 ) on Monday March 20, 2006 @04:17PM (#14959401) Homepage
    This guy seems to have a very odd perception of ugly. While I will grant that Plenty of Fish may not be the most attractive page ever, I would have to take issue with many of the other sites listed in the article. Craig's list is most certainly not ugly, and neither is Google (he doesn't outright call Google ugly, but he certainly implies it). And while I do see room for improvement on imdb, I see nothing wrong with their choice (or rather, lack thereof) of font. He seems to associate simplicity and functionality with ugliness, which is many times the opposite of the truth. Unfortunate, because he makes good points about functionality and targetting the right audience and then throws it all away when he calls sites that do these things "ugly".

    To borrow a thought from a previous thread here, he probably thinks Microsoft's redesigned iPod package [] is prettier than the original as well.

    After having read the actual article, I am left with the distasteful impression that this article is nothing more than a cleverly disguised ad for an ad supported dating website.
  • by kfg ( 145172 ) on Monday March 20, 2006 @05:14PM (#14959842)
    consider the Tower of Pisa . . .

    A very simple arrangement of functional repeated elements, although each element is ornamented, with a degree of taste.

    . . .or Notre Dame Cathedral. . .

    Gothic means "ugly." Ironically the term was coined by the baroque.

    Which building is "better" -- the Empire State or the Chrysler?

    A Cape Cod Salt Box.

    Unless you know what you're doing, less is more.

    Conversely, if you really know what you're doing less is the most. Scandinavian Modern is simple and elegant, it is also cold and lifeless. In a word, inhuman.

    Shaker is simple and elegant and yet the spiritual inspiration comes through in every simple line. Traditional Japanese archtecture and furniture is so simple you can hardly even see it, but it goes past the mere spiritual to the sublime. If your posts, beams and plain white walls are themselves inherently beautiful extraneous ornament can only detract, not add.

    During The Depression, Lee Wulff, the inventor of the fishing vest, sought to support himself by tying trout flies. He noted that he caught about 90% of his trout with a simple bit of fuzzy grey wool wrapped around the hook. He figured he could sell a lot of these, because he could sell these most effective, but most simple and inexpensive to make, flies for half the price of the fancy flies available in the stores.

    But he found he couldn't sell them until he had doubled the price and added a bit of tinsel to catch fishermen.

    Despite the fact that it was the simple mind of the trout that determined what was attractive, literally, and they had no sense of fashion.

  • Chain of events... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by spamguy ( 691996 ) on Monday March 20, 2006 @05:48PM (#14960129)
    1. Read about Plenty of Fish. Desperation to avoid being single overtakes common sense.
    2. I register.
    3. First AIM message appears 30 minutes later. Girl is not my type.

    Oy, this will be an interesting girl search...

  • by cobras2 ( 903222 ) on Monday March 20, 2006 @11:57PM (#14961845)
    These are the same people who say that text consoles are ugly and GUIs are cool...
    Some programs just plain don't need a GUI.
    Some websites just plain don't need to be fancy.

    As a bunch of people have already said, simple != ugly... now, in some cases, it wouldn't hurt the site to add some graphics to it, or maybe make the design a little more complex; if you do it right you can probably make it look nicer *and* retain all of the ease of use. But, again, mere simplicity is not the same thing as ugliness.

    And personally, I far far prefer a well designed but simple layout to an overly complex layout. Like for instance, about 95% of the 'news' websites out there - that whole thing about cramming the article into the center 30% of the screen and then putting advertisements, links to the 'most popular' news stories, and whatever else all around it (or even worse, *in* the middle of the article), splitting the article into 150 3-sentence pages so that you have to keep clicking on 'next page' all the time, etc.. that's just plain not useful.

    (And yes, I know that a lot of that, especially putting the ads in the middle of the article, is on purpose; but that doesn't change the fact that it's incredibly annoying)

    Designs should enhance the site, not get in the way of the site. You can make a very pleasing design without making it override the function; in other words, you don't have to think of it as 'function over form' but rather as 'function *and* form'.

    And of course, the whole subject of ads at all is a big one.. I haven't seen very many sites that have advertisements on them (except where the ad was designed specifically to go on the website in question, rather than being a generic google ad or something like that) that actually made the ad *fit* with the rest of the site. Almost invariably, the ads made the site uglier.

Today is a good day for information-gathering. Read someone else's mail file.