How Bad Design Increases Business

Sorry for you designers who read my blog regularly. Let me explain something though:

Better Design does NOT mean Better Website.

I’ll give you the background:

I’m looking to get HireAHelper designed and I know a guy who does a decent job of that sort of thing, actually he’s pretty much a genius when it comes to CSS/HTML/Photoshop and using the three to make unbelievable sites. He very much subscribes to the methods of building sites that people like the founders of HappyCog preach about. I would dare say that he might be better than people that are working there and better than some best selling authors on standards based web design.

So I’m thinking great, I have the ultimate hookup, I’ll use this guy to get me first class design for a fraction of the cost and it will help us in the long run. Well he flaked. He didn’t hold up his end of the deal he did two things that will deter me from recommending him:

1. He set deadlines and didn’t meet them.

2. He set more deadlines and didn’t meet them.

But you know why he got “fired”? The thing that made me put a stop to his work, decide that it was worth paying him for what he had done, then trashing it, admitting my mistake and starting from scratch with another designer? It’s reason 3.

3. He designed (or started to design) a site that looked great but didn’t accomplish the task at hand. It has the foundation of a site that would win awards for design… but not one that would keep customers. So I trashed it.


I know HireAHelper needs to “be” a few things in order for people to trust it. It needs to be established… not the website that was thrown together and has been live for 2 weeks. People need to “know” subconsciously seeing the site that it has been around for a while (even if it hasn’t) and that its reputable. Really great design doesn’t mean reputable. Lets look at some examples.

Ask yourself the question “How long has this company been in business?” when looking at the following sites:

Would you say more than 2 years for any of them? Why not?

Let’s contrast this with the following “Badly” designed sites:

Even if you hadn’t heard of them… would you question that they had been around for a while? Would you know exactly what they do?

Here’s my point. It’s MUCH more important to represent stability/reliability/trustworthiness than to win design contests.

Its even MORE important to get conversions that to focus on “semantic” html/css.

I have heard stories about HTML so bad it didn’t have the <html> tags in it, to be honest I would take the <html> tags out of my entire site, AND do the entire design in frontpage… NO… Claris Homepage even with 15 embedded tables per page and have NOTHING compatible in Firefox or Safari if ONLY TO GET .01% MORE CONVERSIONS.

The web is a marketplace. When people stopped respecting the rules of the market it crashed. They put priority on getting users with no revenue stream. They put priority on fancy trinkets of websites that didn’t produce income or even have a business model. That was Web 1.0 bubble.

This is Web2.0. Whether its a bubble or not is up to us. You can put priority on pretty design, and trendy colors (essentially this). Or you can put priority on getting more conversions, on making your “storefront” (whether you sell advertising, products, or services) more profitable. Even if that means putting an ugly sign up form on your homepage.

After thinking long and hard about HireAHelper‘s home page I have come to this conclusion… it’s worth it to pay for design ONLY if it leads to conversions. Right now I would pay twice as much for the designer (some college intern no doubt) who designed, as the “world’s best” design and branding company HappyCog if the resulting site was going to be like Why because my target audience (I’m not targetting “web2.0ers”) is a group of people who will associate the “bad” design with a reputable company. They think the site looks “professional” and not “like a college project” (while the exact opposite may actually be true).

So hears my warning to designers. Don’t design yourself out of a job. Put business first. When using your little key terms such as “increased usability”, “softer colors”, and “semantic code” you better have a reason for those things that points to more profit for your employer/client.

Look for “How Bad Design Increases Business Part 2” in the near future…

For now check out what these people have said about design as well…




14 thoughts on “How Bad Design Increases Business

  1. I will definately agree with you about HelpUSell. Their website is delicious looking and very efficent at helping people find information quickly. That color of red is wonderful. I learned some things reading your post. Thank you for sharing. I will be thinking about these things.


  2. I agree that the website should have a high conversion rate. That’s the prime objective. And there’s a difference between design and the words art and aesthetics.
    A well designed site WILL have a high conversion rate because the site designer took the time to research the audience and discover what will be effective. So while your first designer had technical skills in development and aesthetics, he didn’t do the most important part of any job: PLANNING. (And because he missed his deadlines, sounds like he didn’t really care that much.)
    I imagine a high profile group like Happy Cog would do the planning.

    Be careful…it may seem like “crappy” website are better suited for your company than well designed sites, but the fact is, your first website wasn’t well designed at all. It was Web 2.0-ish, and most good web designers will tell you that Web 2.0 is bullshit.

    But, if your company doesn’t warranted even good aesthetics, then it doesn’t matter. For example, there’s a company that makes super ugly websites for local tow trucks. I wanted to throw up when I saw the sites, but then again, I only needed to get a phone number and a price. I didn’t give a shit what their site looked like when I needed my car towed.

  3. hi, Mike, how are you?

    couldn’t agree more – the problem with a lot of web ‘designers’ is they don’t understand what design is. graphic design is about formatting information visually to communicate it in the best way possible to the target audience. web design adds an extra element on top of that: you don’t just want users to view/read/comprehend your site, you want them to *interact* with it. &, while aesthetics are really important, focussing totally on looks at the expense of everything else can stop your visitors from *using* your website in a way that takes you closer to your objectives.

    a simple rule of thumb when hiring a web designer is to go through their portfolio asking them questions about the objectives & briefs behind each of the sites & what they did to support/answer those.


  4. As, “form ever follows function,” is the first rule in design what you’re saying is that bad design doesn’t increase business.

    The unfortunate reality is that people get decorating and design confused. Decorating is about making things pretty, design is solving problems using aesthetics. If the design doesn’t solve the problem it’s supposed to then it’s decoration. Clearly, that’s a problem, but there’s really no call to dismiss the art (and artists) that can communicate the value of your business to your potential customers instantaneously.

    – Kris

  5. You’re spot on there, quite frankly one of our most successful websites is so ugly we’re embrassed by it – but we just won’t change it as it works.

  6. Mrs. Marv just said what I was thinking. Designers must understand the business objective for each page they design. Otherwise it’s decoration. I absolutely, fundamentally disagree however, that “bad” design “increases” business. Bad interface and business objectives can, but it’s not often the case that ugliness will attract more business.

  7. >>”Designers must understand

  8. Mike, you should read that as “I must communicate…” if you’re the team leader. 🙂

  9. Just look at MySpace — terrible design, terrible code… allows users to upload whatever ugly content they want. Yay.

  10. good Lord. I’m so tired of people pointing to Craig’s list and MySpace as examples of successful design. in both cases the need what they had to offer MADE UP FOR thier lack of aesthetics. Does that mean every start up shouldn’t care about good design? Well maybe so… if you really believe your product or service is filling a void or tapping into a market where you can’t HELP but be successful. Also… there’s just dumb-luck when it comes to success. None of this means that you *should* neglect design when starting a site or brand or product.

  11. the need *FOR (I meant to say)

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  13. The thing that is wrong with this entire article is that you are labeling all designers as worthless. You know that a designer made the Help-U-Sell web-site and the Net-Flix web-site, right? Obviously, especially for NetFlix it required someone with the skills you’ve listed above. What you need to learn is the distinction between bad/good design and pretty/ugly art. A good design does not mean polished aesthetics and a bad design does not mean poor aesthetics. In fact in design education one of the common things to do is critique designs which “appear” sleek but actual fail to function.

    I think the designer you hired was just a wannabe hack who equates Photoshop skill to good design. Undoubtedly technical skill is important to design but design is about solving problems and designers should be equipped with conceptual skill as well in order to do that. A good designer will create an appropriate design for the situation; so for you that may involve using unpolished graphics but a good designer will realize that’s what your customers desire. This is the difference between the designer and artists. Artists have a style they stick with, they aren’t here to serve the people while designers adapt their style for the situation.

    Also, those examples of “good” designed web-sites you listed look horrible even from an aesthetic sense. Those look like high school multimedia class projects.

    Instead of focusing on boutiques like HappyCog take a look at the swarm of credible award-winning design consultancies that do work for fortune 500 companies – they understand business. For example Frog and Smart design.

  14. Glad i came across this blog.Added “How Bad Design Increases Business Hire A Helper – A Movers Blog” to my bookmark!

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