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I'm currently working on a B2B website targeted to the city I live in and I started doing some research and looking how big B2B portals (such as alibaba.com, globalsources.com, etc.) are designed, and how they deal with displaying information and organizing it. I realized that they tend to be very 'crowded' looking and repetitive, specially when showing search results. Many times the information provided is redundant and displayed in an illogical way, and sometimes it just shows too much options.

Many of these sites are more than a decade old, so perhaps it's because they've been adding features and dealing with tons of information at the same time, with no fresh start that it lead to such messy looking sites.

But it made me wonder, maybe it's not at all accidental. Maybe unconsciously a very crowded and full looking site gives users some sense of security towards it. Like it's used by a lot of people (which they are, but still) or that they have a lot of options that they don't even need (making it look that they are worth paying for), etc.

While minimalism and concreteness works great for services like Google, maybe it doesn't work for all kinds of sites, but maybe I'm wrong in this.

So my question is, when designing a website, should one always strive for minimalism, simplicity and non-repetitiveness? Are those characteristics inherently good?

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When you are building e-commerce stores with thousands or even millions of products, sometimes it is inevitable that the site is going to "look" busy. If you look at Amazon.com, they have so many millions of products to display, and there is a lot of content, yet they have A/B tested every single part on the website for years, so whatever they are doing now is giving them the best conversions.

What it tells us is that although the website is busy, everything there is serving it's purpose. To simplify any further would be hurting their sales, and although minimalism is aesthetically pleasing, there is no point if it interferes with business objectives.

That being said, there is a minimalism inherent in amazon's design, in that they have designed the site just enough to be functional. The site is plain white, with subtle use of gradients, and gray lines to separate components and sections of the site. There are no flourishes just for the sake of flourish. There is nothing to distract the user from the content.

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I should point out the Amazon homepage currently has a message to the consumers on it, but we all have a good idea what Amazon normally looks like. –  Rich Feb 2 '13 at 5:18
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I would not cite Amazon as an example of the result of usability (or any other form of) testing. It is out in the public domain that the UX expert who did a lot of the usability testing left because Jeff Bezos actually was "dictating" every part of the interface. Do have a reference somewhere, but can't locate it at the moment in my bookmarks (Chrome only searches titles unfortunately) –  Marjan Venema Feb 2 '13 at 10:02
    
Let me know if you find it, sounds like a good read! –  Rich Feb 2 '13 at 11:47
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The usability issue is "just" a paragraph (7th) in this rant by a former Amazon now Google employee, taken off line and then re-shared somewhere else. blog.launch.co/blog/… –  Marjan Venema Feb 2 '13 at 12:10
    
Thanks for that, amazingly good read. –  Rich Feb 3 '13 at 0:46
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Have you researched the exact domain that you're designing for? Sorry to sound obvious (no offense meant), but I've found that sites vary widely in what is deemed successful among specific domains.

I was on a team that did some work with alibaba, and have done some UI for similar domains. With a manufacturing listing site, a lot of users can sometimes be satisfied with even a cluttered UI. More elements can engage users with the feeling of confidence that they are sure to find what they need.

In the case of alibaba, the feeling among some users was that surely I'll find a vendor that I can work with, given the sheer number available.

That expectation gave users a higher tolerance for perceived complexity.

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Content will be the driving force of your site as well as all B2B sites, but not design and not even UI/UX - I'm afraid saying this here :-) So your first priority should be content. If it is interesting for people in your city they will come and read it regardless of design. Especially if the content is unique. You should seriously pay attention to design if you have competitors with similar content.

But even in this case you should look not on abstract designs but you should look at your customers. If all your prospective customers prefer green color it seems you shouldn't make your site totally red. If they hate simplicity should Google be good sample for you?

Content and then customers unless you make your site for web design contest.

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Simplicity is always good. Unfortunately, 'simplicity' is a relative thing.

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