Functionality and usefulness are far more important to the
success of your website than how nice and elegant it looks.
The first time I saw the Grand Canyon was a truly memorable
experience. The depth, distance and hazy rainbow of colors were
like nothing I had ever seen before. The great Colorado River
looked shoe-lace-wide down below.
We spent a day driving along the Grand Canyon and then up into
the equally magnificent scenery of Utah. But along with the
otherworldly beauty what also struck me was the poverty that
surrounded the Canyon.
For all its stunning beauty, The Grand Canyon would not be a
great place to live. Certainly, you would have a hard life if
you lived in the middle of the Canyon itself. And, given the
steepness and inaccessibility it would be hard to imagine how a
city the size of New York could develop there.
The things we think are the most beautiful are often the least
useful in a practical and functional sense. Mount Everest is
beautiful. Gold, jewellery and diamond rings are beautiful. Do
certain things increase in beauty as they lose practical
There is no question that certain designs can be made both
beautiful and functional. But for other design challenges, the
more beautiful the design is made, the less functional and easy
to use it becomes. This is particularly true for websites.
Ryanair, eBay, Amazon, Google, Craig’s List, My Space, and
YouTube are ugly websites. They are also hugely successful
websites. When I show audiences the Ryanair website, there are
audible gasps. I see people recoil from its sheer ugliness. Yet
last year, Ryanair flew 42 million passengers, and the vast
majority of them booked their flights through Ryanair.com.
Have you noticed that the Web has started to grey? There is a
severe outbreak of grey text syndrome, particularly in blogs.
Web design is falling into the trap of caring more about how a
page looks than how it reads.
Few would dispute that it is harder to read text on a screen
than in print. Most would agree that black text on a slightly
off-white background is easiest to read. It could also be argued
that font size for webpages should be slightly larger than font
sizes chosen for print.
So, why do an increasing number of websites today use small font
sizes and grey text? The answer is simple: small fonts and grew
text look better. They blend into the overall design of the
page. They are more elegant and visually appealing.
The problem with larger font sizes and black text is that they
stand out. They can dominate the page. This is exactly what
makes them easier to read. Black text in a large font stands out
from its background.
When I ask people to look at a website like Ryanair their
instinctive reaction is often to say that it is ugly. If you ask
most people to look at the most successful websites, they would
also probably tell you that they look ugly.
The fact is we don’t spend our time looking at websites. We
spend our time reading and using them. There are three things a
great web design must be: useful, useful and useful.