I use the word "skin" quite liberally here to also include website design, and assuming that all usability aspects (wording, placement, readability, input element choice, etc.) have been addressed and comply with UX principles.

The word "friendly" can mean easy to use (cognitive component) and simultaneously makes the user feel comfortable (affective component). "Friendly" can also mean acceptable according to today's [often unspoken] graphic requirements?

From a website designer's perspective as he or she coded in the year 2003, websites in the mid-late 1990s were considered absolutely horrendous - from graphic styles and quality (glaring background images, hard bevels on tables, etc.) to textual "infractions" such as "email me", "click here for", or "please sign my guestbook". In 2003, we started to see these messages disappear, and started to see a lot more white space, subtle drop shadows, bold colors, gradients, and rounded corners.

However, that 1990s look seemed to make a come back at the peak of the "MySpace generation" around 2006. Since then, I have read books on web design stating that such a look is acceptable (and dare they even said recommended) if your audience is likely "tech unsavvy". They recommended the 1990s look to websites for pet breeders, family-owned establishments (WHAT!?), novelty shops, ethnic restaurants/grocery, independent jewelers, etc. They claim that such a look makes the likely audience "at ease" and "emotionally comfortable", thus such designed websites are people-friendly.

Does this still hold true? Can we still design such "friendly" websites with "ugly skins" as long as they conform to UX principles?

  • You also have to consider the audience of the product. What you most probably consider a sober looking site, may be just plain boring and horrible, not to mention inaccessible to some other people.
    – PatomaS
    Feb 24, 2014 at 0:06

1 Answer 1


In some situations, it might be desirable to have a website that looks less professional, and more fallible:

  • A poorly designed page might give the reader the feeling that they are experiencing the work of another human, an amateur at web design. If the user is looking for a family-run business or an independent artist, then this may offer an indication that they are in the right place! They have found somebody who puts more effort into their product than into their website.

  • A slick minimalist modern design may be easy to use, but it can also give readers the impression they are interacting with a faceless corporation with no personality.

I think it very much comes down to the expectations and disposition of the user. Consider the consumer who prefers the farmer's market to the supermarket, hand-carved furniture and wool, and likes to deal direct with the manufacturer.

(Disclaimer: I have no evidence or sources for this. It's pure speculation based on the question.)

  • 1
    Agreed. I often think some of the 'click for default' themes look like someone who didn't care chose the easy way out. That said, I'm still glad the Geocities era is over. Feb 23, 2014 at 23:53
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    Ah, so we still design old-school style websites in certain circumstances. Not exactly my style, but I'm still willing to do it for the reasons provided. OK... will all of this still work with mobile devices, though, because I think everyone expects a sleek UI for mobile? Feb 24, 2014 at 0:31
  • If it is the case that some users prefer to work with a business that has "personality", perhaps we can compromise somewhere in the middle. Keep the UI slick, but show pictures and bios of the employees accessible from the front page? Feb 24, 2014 at 1:47

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