Ugly Design Works

This is an interesting debate. I think I might not share it with some of my colleagues for fear of inciting a mini-riot Ugly Design Works… Most Web Designers Miss the Point. I do think there’s some truth in it though (eBay anyone?).

It reminds me of a quote from Tim Berners Lee about how “the Internet will always be a little bit broken” as reported by David Weinberger (I think I first heard it in his book Small Pieces Loosely Joined). In essence, because much of the web is made by real people it’s always going to have flaws. The argument then continues if you try to make a website too polished it feels like it’s trying to overpersuade people and they react against it.
The tricky bit for me is how you deal with corporate websites, yes they’re made by real people. But then so are TV commercials, and you don’t expect errors in those. Or, perhaps, if the rest of the TV environment was made up of public access channels you would?!?

And what about websites that need me to feel safe and secure? I’m not sure I want my bank website to feel as if it’s “a little bit broken”. Hmmm. I’ll have to ponder on that one. Feels like another chapter of my Emotional Architecture piece that I’m still promising to write.

6 thoughts on “Ugly Design Works”

  1. Whoohoo another spin on the age old debate of style over substance…

    Friggin semantics!

    Why do people keep trying to seperate graphics and communication, design and usability, style and substance?

    To be successful the equation has to be balanced.

    The great news that equation hasn’t been solved yet, and probably never will!

    If something is ugly, there has to be something to make up for the lack of beauty, hopefully a great idea. But then the ugliness lets down the idea…

    … and around we go again!

    ( I’ve just realised I’ve fallen for it again, why do I always get drawn into these arguments! )

  2. Well yes, you can see from the comments on the site I linked to that the debate over there has definitely turned into ‘the old classic’.

    But I was trying to make a comment about whether slick design (and that includes stuff that’s 100% usable and would tick all of Jakob’s boxes) can actually be a negative because people feel like we’re trying too hard to sell to them.

  3. If the audience perception is that “it’s all too slick” and that “you’re trying too hard to sell”, then it’s not well designed… for that audience… Design isn’t about prettiness, it’s about audience ‘fit’.

  4. Agree. But…

    What if the audience is say, an eBay audience? It’s so broad that surely you’ll have a huge range of opinions and user types. Which means that you have to tend towards some kind of common denominator, right?

  5. I see it like this.

    There have always been two types of designers: Problem Solvers and Pure Stylists.

    And as you’ve said, this argument ( the article ) is older than cave painters vs the designer of the wheel i’m sure.

    Problem Solvers ( or product designers ) have several more tools in their box, style is only one – and are primarily concerned about function. i.e. what needs to be achieved, or, asking themselves ‘what’s the real problem here?’, rather than ‘how could this look?’.

    so the digital product designer would consider the following in creating his functioning, ( functional ) solution,

    – Communication – what it needs to say and how to convey it;
    – Aesthetics – who it needs to appeal to ( essentially a KEY part in communication, even if you choose a bare ‘functional’ aesthetic to connect to your audience );
    – Usability – all products need to be used, goes without saying!
    – Technology – obviously!

    .. he’d use all 4 elements in varying guises according to the problem and motivation. i mean, online service / app, vs a blog, vs a fashion shop, vs and email ( online DM ), vs a brochure-online-showcase. All VERY different objectives. They all work differently, but all 4 tools are essential regardless.

    That said. Style is pretty hard to ignore. It is impossible to conceive or make anything that is styleless. Even bare functionality is a style in itself. The entire modernist movement for example!

    So the product designer would be well armed to know what it is his aesthetics are communicating ( or indeed what messages they are muffling ) if his product is primarily in the business of communication.

    Digital ‘product’ design is no different in method to designing the Dyson, the London Eye, or the Guardian. Aesthetics are just as much part of the function as the technologies or materials. Digital products ( or experiences lets say ) are made of type, code and pixels, rather than steel, plastic, and mass production methods – no difference.

    Digital design therefore is not the same as designing for say, a record cover. That is ‘Graphic Design’ or Pure Styling. .. some might say ‘Art’.

    But that is another dull, well trodden argument caused by vague definitions!

    Anyway, my point was! …
    That deciding to strip the aesthetics of a site down to functional basics, purely because there are one too many gradients, or visually unimaginative ( or time strapped ) ‘designers’ around, seems exceedingly reactionary to me. And a decision itself motivated by style. Ironically!

    It’s possible to design a product that works without dumping every element of aesthetic consideration.

    You just have to use your brain a little.

    Any designer should be doing that.

  6. It just seems a bit anti for the sake of being anti.

    I can totally understand it though; it’s a bit like estate agents, if they’re too slick, you don’t trust them, if they’re too shabby, they look unprofessional.

    So, which brands do we trust then?
    Does anyone ever really trust brands?
    Do we ever trust anyone online?

    Oh look, this site looks ugly as sin, but its got the little padlock and is littered with security endorsements, must be trustworthy…

    I feel a little experiment brewing…

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