Pretty Websites Do Not Automatically Win Popularity Contests

I don’t know if I’m speaking for all my fellow digital marketers when I say that I love love LOVE it when I find an article about website optimisation in the mainstream news. So when I stumbled across an article on the Guardian website I did a little jump for joy. The article in question is Jack Schofield’s Web Design Trumps Graphic Design. What got me excited about the article was the recognition that pretty websites are not necessarily usable websites. Schofield highlights the very plain fact that the most used / popular websites on the internet are ones that would by no means be in the “Top 10 Best Most Beautiful Websites” countdown.

The examples he gave to prove his point were Amazon, Craigslist, Digg, eBay, Expedia, Facebook, IMDb, MySpace, TripAdvisor, Yahoo and Wikipedia. None of these sites would win a beauty contest but they are no doubt extremely popular sites.

My work revolves around website optimisation which in part includes making clients’ websites more usable for visitors, to help them seek out information, find contact details for the company in question or perhaps make a purchase. All websites are designed, built and tweaked according to compromise. Compromise between the client, their digital marketing agency and the web developer. Getting the right balance between a pretty site design and a site that is usable is the holy grail. Schofield sums this up nicely: “most people don’t go on the web to look at sites, they go to use them…appearance is usually less important than usability, readability, reliability, speed, and the quality of the content”.

It doesn’t matter if your site has some really great flash or some really nifty graphics, if visitors can’t use it, the content is not up to scratch or all your brilliant design efforts cause it to be as slow as a sloth, you will not reach your goals and your website will be up the proverbial creek without a paddle. So, in order to provide a great site for your customers which encourages them to convert, the rule is to think logically and not to get caught up in fancy designs when something simpler would be far more effective.

4 Responses to Pretty Websites Do Not Automatically Win Popularity Contests

  1. Thanks for your comments. It’s very true, there is a real toss up between what looks good and what is usable. That is why the balancing act is so tricky. You don’t want a website to look outdated (or to put it less mildly…ugly!) due to the implementation of simple, usable design but at the same time all website designs need careful consideration to ensure that the final design does not compromise on usability to negatively impact upon a company’s goals.


  2. Very interesting, but I guess there will always be a toss up between attracting links and actually maximise the activity of existing users.

    It’s no surprise that those horrendous ebook websites do so well, as they keep it simple and focus on the ‘goal’ as opposed to providing lots of visual noise that get in the way.

    But I think Schofield has summed it up really well in that people want to “USE” sites as opposed to “look at them”…. but I’m still of the mind that it takes a good blend of usability and design. Take the Skype website, Apple and even WordPress as examples.


  3. So very true! Craigslist is one of the best examples of a very ugly site and yet it is very popular, and more importantly, functional.

    Great new look by the way.



  4. So true! At least the days when you had to sit through a (what seemed like ) twenty minute flash movie to get at any real content are now over.

Leave a reply

What do you think? Please leave a comment below

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *