Design is a tricky thing – while most people don’t realize it, it is very subjective. Everyone thinks they know what looks good, but in reality they only know what looks good to them. While there are general rules to design (such as balance, contrast, etc, etc) for the most part people simply have a preference as to what looks best.
For Example: You might be inclined to like lots of white space, and love a clean yet elegant design. Someone else however – will think the same site looks basic, boring, and overly simple.
If there is any question, look through the voting and commenting on website galleries. These galleries are only supposed to showcase (in theory) revolutionary or exceptional design. Yet – the average vote for most designs is barely above 5 out of 10, or 3 out of 5. Comments bash color scheme, layout, style, etc
Want more proof? Ask anyone what their favorite color is, do you think there is going to be a common answer with a large sample size?
In an industry where even the best designs will probably only appeal to 50% of the viewers, how do we cope?
My suggestion is to focus less on VISUAL design, and more on USABLE and CONTENT focused design. While harder to sell, ultimately no one is going to go to a website to see what the design is… they are going to perform a task, or to access the content. While a good design might be more memorable, even some of the most popular websites have lack-luster designs (myspace is the classic example).
If designers spent the extra hours muddling over what glitzy detail on content development and usability testing instead, they would likely find it a better investment.
Easier said than done, since most designers come from an Art background, and are very visual people themselves. However the Internet was not built on visual appearance. Want proof? Look at how most sites looked when the Internet first gained popularity. The lack of “design sense” sure didn’t slow it down.
What did give it steam was the function of the Internet to change our daily lives… we need to go back to those roots.