Recently I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about ugly website design. Some members of the online marketing and design communities are claiming that ugly design outperforms attractive design. Give me a break! This is complete puffery. Good design is always better than ugly unless you’re looking to be an online freak show.
Good design is a delicate balance between form and function. Sites like Google, eBay and IMDB are all examples of ugly sites that have succeeded despite their ugliness, not because of it. The web has changed, their look has not. It’s a shame really. I appreciate the power of familiarity in developing a brand, however, I’d prefer a brand that doesn’t strain the eyes. The Brawny man got a makeover, why can’t Google?
The Blogosphere has been throwing Plentyoffish.com into the conversation. It’s a free online dating site that’s purportedly pulling in over $10,000 a day in AdSense revenues. Does this site succeed because it’s ugly? Nope. It’s a free dating service. If there were a fee, I’m sure you’d see a drop in those numbers. The free service is what draws the traffic. As the community grows, more links are clicked and before you know it, you have a very solid income. That is, until someone else does the same thing and makes it look nicer. Attractive (or unattractive) people will look that much better on a well designed and aesthetically attractive dating site. It’d be the same for real estate. If I see a realtor listing a nice home on an ugly site, I don’t feel like I’m going to get a better deal. In fact, I’m more wary of that realtor. And the effect doesn’t change if it’s a not-so-nice home on an ugly site.
There’s a reason we often aspire to nicer homes, nicer cars, and nicer websites. Image matters (as shallow as it sounds). Good design helps back credibility. Look ugly if you like, but don’t count on success because you’re ugly, with one exception.