Pretty design vs design that works

design that works

The almighty Seth Godin published a bold and contentious blog post this week stating that you can either have a pretty website or a website that converts. He wrote:

Pretty websites …are rarely websites that convert as well as unpretty ones.

…it’s a mistake to expect your pretty website to generate cash, to have the maximum percentage of clicks, to have the most efficient possible funnel of attention to action.

Listen, Seth is a clever guy. He’s also out to create viral (*ahem* controversial) content.

Let’s get something clear:

There’s a difference between pretty design and good design (a.k.a. design that works).

(Just as there is a difference between ugly design and bad design.)

What makes design good?

Insofar as web design, it comes down to usability.

  • It makes for a good user experience (UX) so that people can find what they need to quickly.
  • It makes for good information architecture (things are organized in a logical way). As Steve Krug puts it in the title of his seminal book, “Don’t make me think.”

In a nutshell, it shows common sense.

Pretty design could have polished typography and slick colors, some stunning photos, and that’s it. It can be like a hot guy reading a Garfield book: great to look at but otherwise completely useless.

Pretty design can still give the user a terrible experience if s/he can’t comfortably navigate it, if things aren’t easy to find (“Where’s that contact form?!”), and so on. (Think back to the last time you were on a date with a beautiful-looking person …who ruined everything when they opened their mouth.)

I believe that you can have a website that is both pretty and well designed — and that therefore converts. It’s not a matter of pretty vs good.

Rather, it’s a matter of strategy & purpose vs unplanned, uneducated, beauty-oriented choices.

Which one you choose will determine whether you end up with design that works for your business, or a hot but dumb guy for a date.

So whether you’re planning your first website or getting ready for a redesign, think about your website’s purpose. It is the planning that ought to inform the design, not the other way around. Think about how to design strategically.

Or get in touch with Website Superhero to lead the way, of course!

Both of my website packages include at least one one-hour Superhero Strategy Session, plus my Superhero Website Planning Workbook and a detailed intake questionnaire to get crystal clear on your website’s purpose and goals. Hellooo, strategic design a.k.a. conversions!

10 Responses to Pretty design vs design that works

    • So glad you enjoyed it, Sarah! And glad you loved that line. I was inspired in part by the years I spent as a child reading Garfield books haha.

  1. So true! I really liked this part the most! I believe that you can have a website that is both pretty and well designed — and that therefore converts. It’s not a matter of pretty vs good. I love having a pretty website and I wouldn’t have it any other way, but you’re so on target that it has to be well designed to or otherwise it’s a little like putting lipstick on a pig.

  2. I read this post and I understood it in a bit different way perhaps :)

    His comments specifically addressed emphasis on conversions. I took it as optimizing the design for conversions, even if this means making decisions that are not so great aesthetic-wise. Like, pushing the opt-in form to the top, instead of having a large, gorgeous header graphic.
    Hey, just because someone chose a big header graphic that pushes the CTA down, doesn’t mean the design is “bad”. Maybe this graphic makes a great impact on the person and makes them want to explore the site. Maybe aesthetics are a huge component of this brand, and they want to make this obvious.

    Accessibility and usability are sort of given in both cases – or at least I would hope they are if we’re website professionals here – but if you need to make a decision between pushing a CTA or take your time telling a story about your business, I agree with him that you need to choose your priorities wisely.

    • Hey Nela, Whoa, just saw this! I see what you mean, absolutely, and agree about choosing your priorities wisely. Thank you for stopping by!

  3. I totally agree – I think you can have pretty AND a well converting website – you’ve just got to resist the urge to overfill the site with information you don’t need! :)

    • Ah, excellent point, Nikki! Yes, that’s one of the key points to keep in mind when planning a website. Gotta omit those needless words/images/etc.!

  4. I agree. I have found this through my own site design (that is a constant battle of tweaking). Some things just happen to work for me better than how I may feel that they look. Things like my opt in form. I may personally, think it is tacky in the header but it converts there. I think it really boils down to honestly listening to the client and the audience. But, hey, why can’t it be pretty and smart? We are. :)

    • “But, hey, why can’t it be pretty and smart? We are. :)” Hahahah. I love it. And yes, it’s a matter of testing and tweaking, ab-so-lutely!

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