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I created a forum for foreigners in Taiwan. I showed the site to some people last night. Some said that the logo (and design) has to be more 'attracting' or 'stunning.'

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I'm not very sure if this is really necessary. Will this distract users from the important information (the topics)? Do users really care about how 'stunning' is the design of a web app?

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I think a lot of regular users confuse design with usability. When the people said your design wasn't stunning, they might have also referred to usability. My personal opinion on your site's usability is that it's not very readable. Color is not correctly used to draw attention to important things. It seems like you're just using black and red for a zebra (on - off) effect. Color should have been used to draw attention to the thread titles. And things of equal importance should be the same luminance. Also, font size is not varied enough, so I don't know what to pay attention to. –  JoJo Sep 11 '11 at 6:01
    
@JoJo Thanks for the feedback. Could you please give me some examples of the points you just stated above (e.g. Which colours I should change and where)? –  janoChen Sep 11 '11 at 6:10
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@Jojo: while I agree with you in principle, it might be worth noting that janoChen uses red as an "accent" color as it is important in his culture. He did so for the thread titles and category names initially as well. He received feedback here (from me amongst others) that it was too overwhelming. While normally I would also color the thread titles and other "important" stuff, doing it with read just drowns out everything else. –  Marjan Venema Sep 11 '11 at 8:31
    
Something I just thought of was that it feels a bit horizontally unbalanced (if there's such a concept) - the titles are all the way to the left, and then there're two columns of fluff to the right. Perhaps try moving one column of fluff to the left (this site is an example of that) so the actual titles content are more in the middle of the view. Also a spin on what JoJo wrote, I feel it's hard to intuitively tell what to interact with and the red accent color is stealing a lot of attention towards not so important links and/or text. –  Oskar Duveborn Sep 11 '11 at 17:46
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I see you've toned down the red recently on TaiwanTalk. Now the titles have more prominence, which they should. You should make the title font size bigger. Right now, the titles are only one notch bigger than the other text. You shouldn't be afraid to make differences more dynamic. When you vary differences too slightly, it makes a design look weak and everything is shouting for equal importance. –  JoJo Sep 12 '11 at 1:50

7 Answers 7

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Appearance makes a nice first impression. If it looks really bad, some people will think it's a spam / phishing site and leave. If the site looks kind of bad, but still has good content, people will stay for the long run. Content is king. Appearance is not. If you have time to work on both content and appearance, then by all means, do it. But focus on content first.

Case study

Everyone I've talked to has said that Reddit looks like crap and Digg looks great.

reddit

digg

Both sites do similar things and are laid out nearly the same. But which site do more people use? The winner is the ugly duckling, Reddit:

reddit vs digg

Besides appearances, what's the difference between these two sites? It's content. Digg shot itself in the foot with its infamous v4. It drastically changed it's popularity algorithm so no content that people wanted to read ever got to the top. It also interleaved ads into the main content, masquerading as actual content. So poor saps will click those ads and get led to spam pages. Digg v4 is basically a land mine in a dung field - you wouldn't step into the dung field in the first place and even if you did, you'll get your foot blown off.

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Love that last metaphor... (although the +1 is for the whole post :) –  John C Sep 11 '11 at 14:57
    
You're right on track with the Content is King thing, unless you're focusing on an artistic target market. Whereas I as an enthusiast of art and design and creativity, can't stand to step foot on Reddit, might use Digg as an alternative even with the the V4 screw-up you talk about. If his client is a game or media development studio, he might want to spend more time on the UI than on the content. +1 Though, best answer. Best of both worlds is the way to go. –  user46819 Apr 16 at 2:34

It sounds like you need to qualify the terms used in the feedback that sparked your question. Can you get those people to show you examples of websites that they feel are 'stunning' or 'attracting'?

The aesthetics of an app or site, the way it looks, do need to form around the content, but they also need to fit the audience. Some audiences like more elaborate and glitzy aesthetics, some prefer something plain and organized, others want something stylish while still others love a retro feel.

It's very true that some products can overcome bad aesthetics or even thrive on an ugly look, but aesthetics are much more than a first impression. They will support or work against the overall experience you're going for, and that is defined by the product's vision and the relationship with the audience.

As Don Norman famously explained in Emotional Design, aesthetics are an aspect of usability, not something done after or instead of usability, and work hand in hand with the other aspects of the overall designed experience.

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+1 aesthetics are an aspect of usability –  Oskar Duveborn Sep 11 '11 at 17:47

Some said that the logo (and design) has to be more 'attracting' or 'stunning.'

You'll always get feedback like that. The key is qualifying and quantifying the feedback appropriately. Opinions are useful, but just opinions, and one needs to evaluate ALL the opinions and validate them before jumping to conclusions.

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Research has shown that there's a definite link between the attractiveness of an interface and it's perceived usability. It's known as the aesthetic usability effect and the underlying concept is that users perceive products that they find attractive easier to use than ones they don't. This is regardless of whether they actually are easier to use or not.

The underlying thinking is that because users perceive more attractive products as easier to use, they tend to make subconscious concessions and overlook many of the difficulties they may encounter. You can find out more about the effect in this post - Aesthetic Usability Effect

This brings to mind one of my favourite quotes, which comes from Shaker design philosophy -
"Don't make something unless it is both necessary and useful; but if it is both necessary and useful, don't hesitate to make it beautiful.”

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It doesn't need to be flashy to be stunning. It can be very simple, and still be beautiful. So a web app doesn't need to make you go wow, but the better it looks, the better for everyone, as long as it doesn't come at the expense of usability.

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Thanks for the feedback. But do you think I should modify the logo? –  janoChen Sep 11 '11 at 5:43
    
Your logo is not memorable. It's just some stock font. You should make it unique for branding. Either create a custom font or accessorize with a simple graphic. –  JoJo Sep 11 '11 at 5:47
    
It seems fine to me as it is, but I'm not a graphic designer. I'd ask the people on GD.SE. It does seem somewhat overloaded, maybe the horizontal dividers shouldn't be that pronounced, or shouldn't be there at all. It will give it some air. Then again, maybe in full screen it won't have this effect. –  Vitaly Mijiritsky Sep 11 '11 at 5:52
    
@Vitaly Mijiritsky I see. This is the live website taiwantalk.org. Does it look overloaded? –  janoChen Sep 11 '11 at 5:56
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I removed the lines and to me it seems much better without them. –  Vitaly Mijiritsky Sep 11 '11 at 6:38

For your visual design, ask yourself this: what does this design have to do with Taiwan? How do the graphical elements you use invoke the feeling of Taiwan(culturally speaking)? If you were to design a forum on "JapanTalk" how would you do it differently, and why?

If you can't answer those questions, then you were merely decorating instead of designing.

Do users really care about how 'stunning' is the design of a web app?

People, by natural like beautiful things. Of course this doesn't mean you have to make the design too graphic heavy. After all, for a discussion forum the design shouldn't overwhelm the content. I don't think the design has to "impress" or "wow." It just needs to be appropriate for the theme. Typically graphic elements have a very high diminishing return as people revisit the site.

Your design needs to reflect the nature of the site a bit. Since this is a cultural based forum, I believe you have a lot of visuals(associated with Taiwan) to choose from.

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Well, I didn't want to add dragons or something like that since I wanted it to be a 'modern discussion forum." So I decided to just use red, since it is an important color in Chinese culture. –  janoChen Sep 11 '11 at 6:25

No need to be stunning, but in the case of the logo it needs to actually work as a logo (make it more recognizable but kepping it simple).

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