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Making websites too pretty can affect usability but these 5 websites have taken ugly to new extremes. Has it paid off?

Making websites too pretty can affect usability but these 5 websites have taken ugly to new extremes. Has it paid off?

The calculator isn’t the most beautiful thing in the world but when you press your fingers into its buttons, it can do some wondrous things. Or take Crocs – the butt of many jokes – but the first choice of shoes for people working in the medical profession. That’s the thing when it comes to the user experience vs. usability debate: products don’t have to be beautiful to offer a great user experience.

Let’s look at 5 examples of when UI design goes out the window in favor of websites which look bad but work great. It’s said that form follows function but, really, the two have to work together.


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Craigslist

Typing Craigslist into your browser will take you to a page so stark and so barren you might believe you’ve been transported to the early 90s. To a time before fleshed-out brand guidelines, engaging graphic design and proper information architecture. And you’d be right.

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But it is this stripped-back, bare-bones quality of Craiglist that gives the advertising giant its popularity. Through embracing unconventionality, Craigslist has maintained global reach among people who wish to flog their wares. Why, though?

It could be attributed to the cognitive load (or lack thereof), according to UXmatters. That’s right – the site is so empty that this engenders a level of trust and freedom among users. These are important facts when making transactions online and Craiglist’s minimalist approach means its users are the ones who make the decisions, on their own time, with no extraneous distractions.

Should you use minimal UI design in your next project?

Drudge Report

Visit most news websites and you’ll be bombarded with a cacophony of big imagery and bold headlines. Drudge Report is no different in that sense. You get bold headlines and you get imagery, but you also get a web experience that takes minimalism to a whole new level.

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It’s been around since 1996 and still contains the out of date HTML to prove it. But Drudge Report tells us what design isn’t – it isn’t flashy buttons and or hero images or even, gasp, responsive design. And despite that, remains hugely popular.

What makes Drudge Report’s UX design so special is the freedom to choose what to read. All the text, links and headlines are formatted in the same manner so no one story is given preference over another. This means the user is free to glance the website on their own time and make the decision to read what interests them most.

Jason Fried wrote that the chaotic presentation of the information almost mirrors the business of a newsroom and this in part explains the excitement of what Drudge Report offers.

Reddit

The self-styled front page of the internet has some dire looking UI. But what does it get right? While aesthetics may not be prioritized at the Reddit offices, there are many things that the websites does get right despite its ugly UI.

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There is ample space dedicated to the content. Reddit is driven by user generated content. That is the website’s modus operandi so its fitting that most of the website is dedicated to just that. Big plus.

It’s minimal. This works in Reddit’s favor – with so much content it would be nigh on impossible to create a system that could accommodate so many users. It might look a little rough around the edges, but simplicity is what plays a big role in why Reddit is so successful.

It’s not all dire on the UI design front, though. Subreddits benefit from customizable CSS so if you wanted to spruce up the UI, you can.

Wikipedia

Wikipedia is another website that doesn’t have the most flamboyant of UIs but has great UX. In fact, many of the websites listed here, including Wikipedia, prioritize functionality. But does Wikipedia’s lack of design hinder its readability?

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Not entirely. Wikipedia must be accessible to a very wide audience and that’s why the pages are designed the way they are. If it were adorned with colors and lots of images, not only would this slow down the loading time of the page but it would make it more difficult for the website to have a large appeal. If there’s one thing Wikipedia does well, it’s legibility.

Ultimately, we must remember that it’s an encyclopedia and not a dating website, so flashy UI components are not needed here.

Amazon

Amazon’s been in the online retail game since the early 90s. The humble online bookstore is now one of the world’s tech giants but it’s UI leaves a little to be desired.

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Amazon uses a carousel, which has been known to divide opinions within the UX design community. Users can often scroll right by a carousel, even if it has the best offers in town. But, if Amazon is one thing, it’s consistent and the homepage usually has between 3 and 4 carousels on the go. Thankfully, when you’re making your own designs, there are alternatives to experiment with.

A small UI change could cost Amazon millions and there’s a chance expensive tweaks might not improve profit or usability. Sometimes when it comes to bad UI, if it isn’t broke – don’t fix it.

Fancy giving Amazon a run for its money? Here’s how you can make your own ecommerce website.

 Conclusion

UX designers must keep in mind that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and ugly UX can still be good UX. While these websites above may be stripped back and minimal, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have bad UIs. The majority of them have simply maintained their original UIs – which at the time were precisely what the internet was ready for. A website may not prioritize aesthetics but that doesn’t mean that the website is bad or ugly. Just look at our list – they might have unconventional UIs but that doesn’t stop them from being used by millions of users daily.

Emily is Marketing Content Editor at Justinmind

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