updated: September 23rd, 2009 / Ross Johnson / 9 Comments

Interfaces are not allows supposed to be “pretty”

I just want to rant real quickly. There are many cases where an online/web application is not supposed to have a “pretty” interface. As designers and even developers it is easy to get excited about making a particular application interface look really slick and neat, thinking that it will be one of the great selling points of the application. I am not saying that this is illogical or untrue, just that in most cases the design gets taken too far and really doesn’t help the project at all.

With successful sites like Mint and Basecamp its easy to assume that great design will help push your product. And to some extent sure, it will. After all if nothing else some listings in css galleries would at least help get the word out.

However the truth is that those sites have mildly slick design and most of the focus is instead on usability and simplicity. Want more proof that the web 2.0 look is not always the solution? Consider the success of Delicious vs Magnolia. One is pretty ugly by most peoples standpoints (and by ugly I mean simple, plain, boring, I actually love the simplicity as a designer) the other is beautiful, colorful and engaging. Yet magnolia fails to gain the popularity over delicious, because delicious is quick, easy and confusion free.

In short I will be pushing harder as of late to keep my interfaces simple and easy despite those who just want a pretty picture to drool over.

Anyone have any examples that prove me right or prove me wrong?

9 thoughts Interfaces are not allows supposed to be “pretty”

  1. I once read that the most important in a website is content, then comes interface, and then comes design (graphics).

    My favorite example is Google Reader. It’s got that “old” Google look, with blue underlined links and basic typography. But it’s so easy and intuitive to use. And because it’s a RSS reader, it’s (and must be) focused on content. I don’t need any fancy graphics (gradients, vivid colors, multiple images) because it would only focus me away from what I want : the content.

    Netvibes used to be my RSS reader. It looks very nice, but the interface was too slow. Navigating from one feed to another took too much time. That’s why I switched to GReader.

    Pretty interface can sometimes help the user, but it must not disturb him. Websites like Delicious are content-focused. It’s not selling a product, it’s providing content.

    I talked about Google Reader. But what about Google itself ? It never changed because it’s easy : the website name is in big blue, your search query is in bold, the site description is in black… Adding images would only make the pages look heavier and less readable.

    Sorry for my english, I’m french.

  2. Well said @jthomas, you illustrate my point exactly.

    If the user is on the site to perform tasks then the interface should be simple and content/action focused NOT graphic focused. Netvibes is a perfect example as I too found the same situation to be true, slow and cumbersome. Where GReader is fast, easy and simple.

    That is the difference between brochure ware and web applications. Keep the designs simple, find subtle graphic tweaks and keep it at that.

    ross
  3. I have to quote you here.

    [.. With successful sites like Mint and Basecamp its easy to assume that great design will help push your product ..]

    Never heard of Basecamp but having looked at it I am very surprised that you associated this site with “great design” their logo is nice but what a horrible website (stylewise)..

    Maybe you wanted to say that Basecamp is an example of a successful but not pretty site ?

    christophe
  4. So true – as a designer it really goes really hard to accept that – I am always wanting to create next design better then previous – but I need just to hear in clients..even if I didn’t enjoy all they want.

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  6. I’m actually very guilty of doing this exact thing.

    I come from an animation background (Animation for video/tv & 3D animation), and of course, the better, more “wow”/awesome the design/graphics, the better off you are in those areas. I have just over 4 years experience in doing this.

    However, I recently moved into multimedia, where everything is very different. I’ve had to learn that content is everything, and your designs must compliment that content. Often this means it must be a reasonably simple design. I’m still over-complicating the design from time to time (read as “often”) as it is very hard to “reset” 4 years worth of doing things a certain way in just 6 months.

    This is a great blog, which I discovered a few months ago, and your opinions and tips have helped me along quite a bit. Great post.

    Keep it up!

    Tosh
  7. As an artist of sorts, I kind of agree, any design or prettiness must be focused on the content, the stuff surrounding the content, be it pictures or text needs to be functional above all.

  8. Did you mean that interfaces are not ALWAYS supposed to be pretty, or is that some definition of the word “allows” that I’m not familiar with?

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