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SoKyBiz 19th August 2006 09:11 AM

Ugly Sells - How Ugly Websites Can Still Sell

Ugly sells.

That's right ugly websites are surprisingly effective in making money. As a person who puts business before technology, a profitable website is a website is an unbelievably attractive website to me.

The Surprising Truth About Ugly Websites
by Mark Daoust

This is a great article about usability of a website versus attractability. As a web developer who is "artistically challenged" I enjoyed this very much but it also underscores an argument that I had with a shoe store.

A few years ago I was persuaded to help some friends of mine build a full blown shoe store online. I mean the works, from accounting to inventory. It was a project to say the least and it was right after 9/11 so I was flying allot of Air Evac missions with the Air Force at the time.

My "friends" (who are not friends anymore) and I had some heated discussions about all the time I was spending on the backend, forms and scripting. They would suggest that I spend more time on the colors and graphics instead of all the computer mumbo jumbo. I would try to explain the importance of database security or compressing database calls into as few requests as possible only to receive the proverbial "dear in the headlight stare."

I spent countless hours in the back of a C-9A at 35,000 feet with my laptop in my lap creating a backend that looked and felt like QuickBooks just so it was easier to understand. I wrote a genius script (yeah, I partial) that allowed the product managers the ability to use check boxes to create all of the SKU records for a pair of shoes.

Doesn't sound like much? Did you know that one pair of shoes can have nearly 5000 SKU's? If you count the brand, model, color, size, width all add up to a PILE of database records. I created one call to the db to look for existing and active products, put them in an array and populated the check box grid. The manager could check the unchecked and uncheck the checked and when they hit enter, all the inserts and updates were batched through the array. SAH-WEET.

But just like you just skimmed through that description, they didn't appreciate it either. (LOL)

I spent my time creating easy and accessible ways for the shopper to browse the shoes, update their order and check out no matter if they were on a 14,400 modem or on a fiber optic pipeline. I spent my time creating a tool that would optimize the product photos so the would load quickly as well as convey product information in the alt tags and file names.

Oh I was proud of this application.

The site sold a pile of shoes too. Well, as many as it could with only one popular brand.

The point of this was post was the time I invested in the usability was 'unappreciated' by the others in the business which created a good amount of friction. I was enticed by a huge 7 digit carrot and a promise... I ended up with a hole in the ground where that carrot should have been (nothing) and a broken promise from my "friends."

I always felt that I was over critical of unusable websites because I knew how to improve them... it would appear that consumers appreciate the work of the man (oops... person) behind the curtain because they are spending money on ugly website THAT WORK!

Whew, I was just going to post the link. Happy Saturday to ya and good luck in your ventures.

Logan 19th August 2006 03:07 PM

Its an interesting article/topic to me. Over the years I have encountered many ugly sites.... and yes I have been truly amazed by some conversions of some very 'poor' sites based on typical standards. I think the article does a good job, as it identifies that there are factors such as 'trust' and 'functionality' that are important with these ugly sites that work. To me, that hits the spot. Its not about the site being ugly or not - a site can be 'not ugly' and still convey trust and provide functionality for the user. While ugly sites can do good, good looking sites or ugly sites just don't perform if they don't provide the trust and functionality part. That's the crux to me, and not the 'ugly' quality specifically.... although that may send a message/play a role with trust and functionality.

By the way david ... good work on that project. I believe you regarding the endless permutations of shoes ;)

One scenario I encounterd was a very successful client site. They had a great looking site that converted like wild fire. Sales were booming and they wanted to move in the direction of establishing an additional separate website presence. Our goal? Serious - Create an ugly site to compliment the other. It worked.... but I have to admit it can be difficult to try to create an ugly site if you working with a designer who takes a lot of pride in their work. He was told after the first mock up it wasn't ugly enough ... and that progressed throughout development - it was a bit strange.

SoKyBiz 20th August 2006 03:31 PM


Originally Posted by Logan (Post 25068)

By the way david ... good work on that project. I believe you regarding the endless permutations of shoes ;)

Thank you sir... thank you very much. </elvis>

Not ugly enough??? That musta been a hard pill to swallow. ROFL.

Logan 20th August 2006 07:45 PM


Not ugly enough??? That musta been a hard pill to swallow. ROFL.
Serious - that is what they said. Now that I look at the site it still isn't that ugly but it does use a color scheme of brown, mustard and a peutrid red. I think the designer was trying to say something in the subtle ways they do.

netuser 30th November 2006 07:29 PM

It is not ugly sells. It is that the sites provide values, regardless of their ugliness. IMHO, I think in general there is a negative correlation between ugliness of a site and how well it sells.

JWDesignCenter 4th December 2006 04:44 PM

coming from a designer's standpoint on this, I have to agree to some point. Not that ugly sells.. no. But taking the time to make the site work from the back end is the most important factor. No matter how you dress something up, if the service is crappy or the products aren't what they seem to be, no business will make it. If however the service is phenomenal and the quality is there, then the design is just icing on an already delicious cake.

Design should showcase your products or services... it cannot however (or usually cannot) stand alone.

Crimson Fox 4th December 2006 05:53 PM

I think you're confusing design with making a site look pretty.

Design has far more to do with usability, heirachy and branding than making it 'nice to look at'. If you can make a site more accessable and easier to use through the design (which is the true purpose of design) then you're are only going to be adding to your sites sales.

Logan 5th December 2006 01:44 AM

Based on my own experiences with ugly sites, the 'trust' factor conveyed is important. I am sure value is also as mentioned, but a pretty site that doesn't convey trust and value is at a disadvantage versus an ugly site that does. I think the important thing to realize is that people don't buy 'because' of the design but many of the factors mentioned. If you have these factors "other than design", people will still have a propensity to buy. Based on my experiences plain/simple/ugly can convey just as much trust versus a superjazzed design... at the sametime a superjazzed design can also communicate lack of trust/value/etc.

Cruzin 24th December 2006 02:03 PM

Usability beats pretty any day!
Hi, I'm so glad to hear people talking about this topic. First of all, I'm almost totally blind so I have no idea which sites are ugly and which ones look good. All I know is, I get REALLY frustrated when I go to a site and my screen reading software can't tell me what's on the page. Sometimes the site is just plain hard to navigate because there's so much stuff to go through on the page before you finally get to the info or link you want. And I know this is true even for people without disabilities.

I built my own website using a design template. Although this was hard to do because of my blindness, I've tried to make my site as usable as possible, both for people with and without disabilities. I don't know if my site's visually appealing or not, but I know at least it's usable. Sure, I still have a couple bugs to work out, but people have given me good feedback so far.

The internet can be a really good source of information as well as shopping and access to the world in general, especially for people with disabilities. But your online experience can become a nightmare when designers create websites that might look pretty but are next to impossible to use.

I don't think a site has to be ugly to be usable, but it would definitely help if designers focused first on the usability of their sites and then let the visual attractiveness be "icing on an already delicious cake".

OK, enough of Maria's B____ Session. I hope I haven't been too tedious here. Thanks, and have a great holiday.

jlaing 29th December 2006 05:36 PM

In my opinion usability and good design are tied together. Good design usually enhances usability:
-Makes important elements stand out.
-Creates a sense of focus and direction.
-Communicates function clearly.
-Is familiar to the user and doesn't break their normal expectations.
When I make things that are easy to use they often look well laid out and attractive. And that's coming from someone who spends most of their time writing code :).

I would suspect that most ugly sites that succeed do so despite being ugly not because of it.

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