Take the 2-minute tour ×
User Experience Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for user experience researchers and experts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

It's heresy I know, but look at DrudgeReport.com. It's raw, hand written HTML, it's plain, boring typography, it's something any UX or Graphic designer would scoff at if you handed it across their desk. But it works, and it works well.

Drudge's design has been fairly consistant and it's pretty much exactly what it looks like, it's raw HTML and it has barely been changed since 1997. Lots of mud is slung at it's design, but it's considered by some to be one of the best on the web.

Drudge's design scores great on conventional measures of usability: It's effective, users find stories that they consider interesting and stories are prioritized to indicate "big" news. It's always clear what's a link (underlined) and what's not. It's efficient, there's hardly any interface and a simple click on a headline takes you where you need to go. Arguably it's satisfying, it's a highly ranked site, though I don't have any user satisfaction surveys on hand.

So when can something aesthetically "ugly" give great UX and how? What else does deliver this ugly but beautiful level of effective plainness? Craigslist.com is another example of this, though arguably not as great from a usability standpoint. I don't often see sites like Drudge Report, but it's interesting to consider such an unconventionally minimalistic implementation and where it can be applicable.

Update: I'm not talking about just usability; it's long been known that you can have a super efficient and effective design and people hate it because it looks like crap. I'm talking about designs that look "ugly" but still leave the user with a good or even a great experience, experiences people enjoy for than just the bare functional reasons, but not because of pleasant, trumped up aesthetics either.

share|improve this question
1  
Is it "ugly" though, or simply "brutal"? In my mind ugly is when there there is a low level of coherence in the visual aesthetic, like when there is a mix of minimalism, high art photo assets, and powerpoint clipart. –  Erics Oct 6 '11 at 1:06
2  
CSS: Content Supersedes Style –  zzzzBov Oct 6 '11 at 2:27
    
I think you picked some bad examples. Drudge Report is ugly AND has pretty bad UX (fixed-width font, links crammed together, long columns of uppercase text). Similarly for CraigsList although it is a little easier to scan the links on CL. –  DisgruntledGoat Oct 6 '11 at 10:48
    
I consider Craigslist a bad example, it's mostly used for functionality rather than experience, Drudge Report has lots of fans and it certainly seems to work quite smoothly. The "bad UX" you describe is just what I'm calling ugly; despite those elements it is effective and popular. A lot of people seem to like it, rather than just use it because there's no alternative; there are thousands of alternatives. –  Ben Brocka Oct 6 '11 at 14:14
    
I believe You answered Yourself. :) –  user712092 Nov 6 '11 at 14:02

9 Answers 9

up vote 23 down vote accepted

A resounding “yes” from my direction.

Often, UX/usability is worsened because people want to make things "pretty" (animations, distracting graphics etc.)

Another example many will agree with: Blender. Highly usable, when you're used to it.

share|improve this answer
5  
I certainly agree many designs are harmed by a pretty look gone wrong and over design; but ugly is different than minimalist as well. Drudge and Craigslist are almost more simplistic than minimalistic. –  Ben Brocka Oct 5 '11 at 15:54
    
And regarding the blender example; I haven't used it myself but it reminds me of Notepad++. I enjoy using it and it just feels better than many "better" looking IDEs and editors, but that may be more from a more specifically usability perspective, after all it's for getting work done =) –  Ben Brocka Oct 5 '11 at 16:02
    
Seconded. Animations take time, which gives an illusion of UI unresponsiveness. –  György Andrasek Oct 6 '11 at 12:09
    
I do not agree with animations giving an illusion of "unresponsiveness". Granted, many designers MISUSE animations. However, animation give life and emotion to interfaces which, can make for an enjoyable UX. Let's say, for example, I am linking a user to an anchor further down on the page. Quickly scrolling the user (animation) indicates that this information was already available on the page, and I am simply taking them to it. On the other hand, a hard transition (no animation) gives the illusion that the user has been directed to another page, what if they then choose to hit "back"? –  Alec Schmidt Apr 17 '12 at 6:05

I agree with almost everything said here, designers (myself included) can often times give up something that's useful for something pretty, without realizing it. In no way am I advocating for design over a usable experience. However, what about the ability to scan information and information overload?

Personally, I find the page EXTREMELY hard to scan through. Since almost all of the text is made up of hyper-links, what's the point in underlining them? To me that just creates more visual noise, and make it harder to scan. Admittedly, I am nit-picking here, but here's the way I see it:

Reasons to Underline a link:

  1. Links are 'traditionally' underlined
  2. To differentiate it visually from the page content
  3. In a list of links, with the same leading, a user may hover on a link to take away it's underline. In this scenario the underline indicates the full title of the link, making it clearer within the list of links.

www.nytimes.com does a good job in differentiating there links with a COLOR, leaving no need for an underline. They then can use a thin line to separate each article without creating more visual noise. Links are blue, content is black and time stamps are red. This makes the page quickly scannable. I can see all the headlines (links), quickly read excerpts from the headlines I care about (black) and sift through fresh content via timestamp (red). The links also utilize the :visited state so that I can see what I've already read or visited.

I don't see any of these being the case in this site. The links are all underlined, essentially ALL of the text is underlined as a result, this is hard to read. To add to the noise, there are borders in between each link. Wouldn't it be more clear if it was JUST the borders and no underlines?

Another thing that I don't agree with is that there is no :visited link state. I think in a site like this, it's VERY important. I would assume frequent visitors would like to be VISUALLY informed of what links they've already clicked on instead of sifting through the content over and over. This is a huge part of scan-ability in my opinion. An example of my reasoning:

I wake up in the morning, have a few cups of coffee and browse around on the Drudge report, click a few links that interest me, then go to work. Later that night, I come home and pull up the site again to see what news has been posted throughout the day. IF THE :VISITED LINKS WERE DIFFERENT IN COLOR: I could easily see where in the body of the site I was browsing earlier, and as a result, visually see all of the content above it as "new" without needing to read it.

To me, sites like Reddit and Google use the :visited state to the best of it's ability to do what it was meant to: Inform the user that they have visited this link. Especially in a "News" setting where there are many similar headlines coming all day long that may only vary by a few words.

What interests me is that the design has stayed the same for so long, and that is frequented by so many users. Does this mean that the design is good, or that the users have 'trained' themselves to use the site?

I'm not saying it's a horrible experience, at all. I do prefer utilitarian design when it comes to fresh content consumption, but I think this does have a few major flaws that could easily be remedied without diluting the experience.

share|improve this answer

I think wether something is ugly or not depends entirely on the person looking at the page. Someone who is color blind for example may not be a big fan of a site like 8thcontinent.com even though it's a clever design.

The bigger question when it comes to usability and more specifically your question about design (in regards to ugliness) is how easy the website is to use. As mentioned in another comment, sometimes designers/developers like to put too much animations, notifications, etc... on a page which can distract people from the content.

Ugly itself is not why drudgereport.com is successful. My guess is that the two following reasons are why Drudge Report get's so much love.

  1. It's Consistent - It hasn't changed much over time, so users don't have to worry about learning a new UI every 6 month's or a year like FaceBook.
  2. It's Easy - Everybody can easily find what they are looking for. The content is covered over with so many ad's, videos, bells, and whistles that is sometimes gets in the way of what you are trying to look for. (like MySpace was a few years ago).

Whitespace is an important factor in design. Use it to highlight your content and keep the page simple.

The best example of a simple website with no major graphical designs is Sofa Software. While the company was recently purchased, the site is still up and you can see how an "ugly" design can make a beautiful site!

share|improve this answer

I can't see what the site is about. Following the UX/Theming I still can't see what it is about. Reading a couple of text blurbs I still can't see what the site is about. Looking at the theming it looks like a cheap school pamphlet.

A simple improvement to make it look more like a newspaper should improve the uptake of new visitiors!

share|improve this answer

Absolutely. Utility drives people to use your product; usability retains users, makes them more productive; and beauty engages them and makes them advocates of your product. I wrote a blog post on this a while back.

However, all other things being equal, a beautiful and usable interface will trump an ugly and usable interface. Simply because people ARE able to find value in an ugly interface isn't a good enough reason to tolerate it.

Finally--beauty is in the eye of the beholder. One man's ugliness is another man's gold.

share|improve this answer

Ugly is, of course, a matter of taste, but if we take it to mean unpolished, unfinished or disproportionate and clashing, I believe it can be good UX provided the ugly strengthens the overall direction and theme of the product. Taking the Drudge Report example, the ugly design suggests unvarnished news, straight from the source and free of the polishing that would otherwise diminish the truth.

Ugly design can make people feel like they haven't spent money on aesthetic work, even though the ugliness is itself an aesthetic choice tuned to evoke that feeling.

In some cases, what we call ugly is simply unadorned or industrial. Rugged laptop designs, and for a long time, the super-tough Brenthaven laptop bags, were decidedly ugly and insisted that they were letting no aesthetic choice interfere with the mission of durability.

If the audience believes that pretty diminishes the value, then ugly is good UX. Whether it hampers usability or other aspects of the experience is a different matter.

share|improve this answer
    
I believe another example of your point is a Land Rover. It could be curvy like a Porsche but that would not look right for its purpose. –  Zan Lynx Oct 6 '11 at 1:27

Content is king...

Is this true? Well often it is, but not always. Sometimes it is not all about the content, because the content simply does not hold the intrinsic value.

Perhaps it might be reworded as communication is king. Because if a website cannot communicate its message, there is no point in it being there at all. In order to communicate, there is an important prerequisite - people have to come and read it - which usually means it needs to be a good resource.

Let's say you visit a beautifully designed website and take away the pretty layout, the colours, the attractive images and logos, and strip it down to bear bones elements that are simply communicating the messages.

I bet a lot of the time you'd be left with a fairly minimal set of messages, and marketing would probably be horrified at the low number of really useful messages left sitting there on the screen, a bit lonely looking. Yep - it's the designers worst nightmare!

You might be taking away a lot of the aesthetics - but that's all it is. It's like looking at the core content of a pure CSS website. For some, removing this skin over the top of the content will bring the website down to a more approachable level. There's no pretending to be something it's not, there's no subliminal messaging - no feeling of being persuaded to do something.

By doing this, you've removed a number of social, visual, cognitive, expectational and ethnographic barriers - a good thing. Ok, not pretty, but good going!

Now if you are a marketing person, you'll quickly realize you can increase the density of useful messages on the screen and get a corresponding increase in effectiveness of the website - ie.. greater communication per unit area.

Result: There's any number of marketeers who make ugly websites, but even marketeers can see there are limits in effectiveness of communication with increasing density of information, so simple mark-up and small amounts of whitespace still get used to highlight and separate messages. This prevents a ugly working website from becoming an ugly non-working website.

Let's be fair; marketeers aren't stupid. They can see when a change to their website starts getting less visitors or making less money - they'll be watching it like a hawk. In actuality, your ugly (but working) website is probably very finely tuned!

Wikipedia is not a pretty site, but it's functional, it communicates well, and it's been designed within a tight specification because it's what works for the people who use it. Functionality is king.

Wikipedia, Craigs List, The drudge Report - they all are highly functional, highly communicative, and indispensable resources for many people. They don't need aesthetics - if they did, they wouldn't do their job so well.

So when it comes down to it, perhaps the holy grail of web design really is achieved when there is special and exclusive meeting of the three kings: content, communication and functionality.

share|improve this answer
    
I must be missing it. The Drudge report looks like a mess of black text and underlines to me. This forces me to scan through EVERY line to find something I'd like to read. There is no structure for me to quickly scan through the headlines. Literally ALL text is underlined, negating the purpose of underlining anything. No :visited state to indicate what I've already read!!! The drudge report also most likely has a 'politically invested' following. Who's to say their users aren't happy about the content curation? –  Alec Schmidt Apr 17 '12 at 5:50

Ugly can be good UX. No single UX factor is a universal deal-breaker, and you can have good UX even when some of the criteria aren't good - it depends on the product. But an ugly website that provides good UX will provide better UX after it's made more beautiful.

A distinction must be made between visual appeal and brand/trademark appearance. Craigslist's appearance became part of their identity, but if it was launched today looking like that, noone would spare it a second glance.

Another distinction must be made between business success and good UX. Success can be the result of a myriad factors, of which UX is only one, and (unfortunately for us) not the crucial one. DrudgeReport is successful in spite of its UX, not because of it.

share|improve this answer
1  
I'm not sure I agree with your final point; users understand how to use it, they use it effectively, it helps them and every step of the way is pretty much a great experience, it's just ugly. It seems to me that Drudge does provide a good UX to it's users, perhaps in no small part because of the "ugly trademark," changing at this point would almost certainly harm the UX. Like a cheap beer just because it's not great to the "greats" doesn't mean some people can't love the heck out of it. –  Ben Brocka Oct 5 '11 at 18:47
    
I only saw it yesterday for the first time (not an American) - and I can tell you it was a horrible experience :). It has no visual hierarchy, very poor readability (everything is underlined, half of it is all caps), no section headers, a horrible layout (the media list or whatever it is under the content on the left, with the search stuck in the middle of it), everything looks the same. I had absolutely no idea what's going on there. –  Vitaly Mijiritsky Oct 6 '11 at 9:20
    
@VitalyMijirtsky those are all certainly reasons I don't use the site, but I've never heard a user complain about it (and here in america it's quite popular as a news aggregator). It's an ugly pile of headlines, and for whatever reason people use it and they like it. The mystery of why is exactly why I asked the question =) –  Ben Brocka Oct 6 '11 at 14:17
    
I think @vitalyMijiritsky has a great observation. The curation of the content may play an important part of the user's love for the site. An example: An amateur internet user but enthusiastic political scientist absolutely LOVES certain news programs. If said news programs had a website in which they curated content, that user would most likely enjoy said content, regardless of the UX. –  Alec Schmidt Apr 17 '12 at 5:58

I think this calls for a distinction between UX and "usability."

An ugly design can certainly be usable, but does it always provide a good "user experience?" Would we be happier with Drudge Report if it looked better? Maybe...

I'd say it depends on the product. A "news ticker" style site doesn't have to look good--people want to get the information and get out. A car is a good example of the opposite. There are plenty of ugly cars that do their intended job very well, but having a fancy car certainly improves the experience.

share|improve this answer
    
I'm well aware of the distinction, and I confirmed I believe Drudge has great usability, but I think it has a great experience at least for it's audience as well. –  Ben Brocka Oct 5 '11 at 15:49
    
I'll agree. Sorry, didn't mean to ignore part of what you said! I still think it depends on the product. I'm with you when you say that Drudge has a great UX in addition to usability. –  Joel Salisbury Oct 5 '11 at 15:56
    
I think the whole site calls for a definition of what the site is about and what "UX" actually is - in the context of this site. –  xmjx Oct 11 '11 at 6:07

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.