Does pretty count? MeFi is "moderately ugly" May 6, 2001 5:05 PM   Subscribe

Does pretty count? been thinking about the fabulous webby flame-post. I mean, having something to say is not the same as being a great designer (lance and derek excepted, damn their clever hides). MeFi is moderately ugly, as is peterme (wow, I'm begging to get flamed. Luckily my blog is uglier than both) and I suspect that crudely designed sites full of engaging brilliant content aren't ever going to win awards.... not that it's about awards; but seems strong design inspires worship and people with lives may not have time for both. I kinda fear that if beauty becomes a standard for bloggging, many step down. Then again, one could say that about webistes and geocities hasn't closed down yet. Wow, I think I just had a discussion with myself. whoops!
posted by christina to General Weblog-Related at 5:05 PM (12 comments total)

Moderately ugly? Hey! I thought it was pretty cutting edge for 1999 and more importantly, designed for specific reasons. I won't go into them here, because your post isn't asking what my design motivations were for this site.

Pretty counts as much anything else. People do their best with what they have. Some are good designers and crappy writers, some are great writers but can't design very well, many programmers can't design or write, and some can do one but not the other. Some are good at a mix of things and rise above everyone else.

It doesn't matter what single skill you pick, because one isn't any more important than any other.

Greg Knauss claims to be a terrible designer ( is currently sporting a lance arthur design), but his words alone are worthy of worship (not to mention he's an incredible programmer, but most don't even know that). There are plenty of other great blogs that are primarily text, but they require reading over a period of time, while visual stuff gets noticed immediately.

You could look at anything besides the web and see the same thing. Look at magazines, television, movies, anything where pure visual design and content come together, and you'll find a mix of opinions on which of component is more important (it always cracks me up that there's a Criterion release of Armageddon, probably the most pathetic script, but visually and technically good.).

Does pretty count? It's a question without a definite answer and we can talk about it until we're blue in the face and it will remain unanswered.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 5:53 PM on May 6, 2001

Of course it's not pretty! It looks like html... isn't that the definition of a beautiful site online?

Seriously, anything that looks like html and isn't in a size 1 font is considered moderately ugly as far as I can tell... I guess now we could end up in one of those discussions of what makes a website pretty. Which I actually find interesting, since common stadards of beauty are so very perplexing to me.

I can easily guess how you made your decisions: can hold any amount of text (vital!), easy to use, easy to navigate, fast loading, cross-platform, multi-resolution-friendly, easy to maintain.... and this site rocks and rocks hard and i wouldn't never say otherwise. And I also doubt that it will win any design awards despite deserving them more than some fixed width slow loading monster.

BTW your personal site is one of the most beautiful blogs I've seen in a long time, by anyone's standard of beauty (not just saying that, I lauded it april 23rd when i foolishly embarked on a redesign.) Every time I look at it I immediately feel ashamed at my mangled design, which is probably why I'm so obsessed with this question of beauty.
posted by christina at 6:44 PM on May 6, 2001

That is such a good question! I have to admit, the first time I laid eyes on Metafilter (following a link from Coolstop, which had given it a Cool Site of the Day Award in very early 2000), I said to myself, "Self, I says, you've gotta be kidding. What is so "cool" or great looking about this here Metafilter?" I thought it was rather plain, and where were all the cool graphics and thingies all over the place? But I quickly came to realize that the lack of thingies was deliberate, the color scheme was deliberate, the lay out was deliberate...all designed to place the focus squarely on the words, where it belonged. No competition from thingies anywhere. And Metafilter is beautiful, because it does what it was designed to do so well. And now, I can't imagine it any other way.

I still have a hard time not equating how good a site is with how it looks, but I'm getting better. I'm still intrigued by the tricks and deceptions and pretty effects that some people can attain with html, but its more for my own knowledge and education than anything else. No site gets a return visit from me, no matter how beautifully designed, if there's nothing under the surface.

Looks are only important in the beginning. So, pretty does count. For about ten seconds.
posted by the webmistress at 7:47 PM on May 6, 2001

I'll go with the old stand-by that form should follow function. I think if your site's about your writing, then making it pretty probably shouldn't be as important as making the writing good. What I like about MetaFilter's design is that it's straightforward and makes the text the most important element, which is, I think, as it should be.

Pretty is relative, anyway. :)
posted by amyscoop at 8:32 PM on May 6, 2001

I don't find MeFi ugly in any way. Functional, yes, text (content) heavy, yes, not seeking to be consciously pretty, yes. But the colors work well (maybe less well than 2 years ago, heh), the navigation bar is attractive without being big on graphics, and pages load with a quickness. What's not to like?

I recently redesigned, and I got 2 votes saying bravo, and 1 vote saying they liked the ultra-simple way it appeared in Netscape better than either the intended CSS design or the previous table design. In other words, this guy preferred my weblog as basically text and nothing else. I can appreciate that (one reason I went CSS is the graceful fallback), but I look at my weblog every day, too, and I wanted something I was proud of.

Does a cool design inspire worship by legions of followers? To some extent. But content keeps 'em coming back.
posted by dhartung at 9:18 PM on May 6, 2001

Hmm. For me, MeFi is just so much prettier than its ugly cousins Plastic and Slashdot, and so much cleaner than UBB community interfaces. It also looks pretty damn good in most browsers and is beautiful in its functionality. You know, like the Eames chair of online community (hey Matt, how's that for a tagline?)
posted by judith at 9:38 AM on May 7, 2001

Amen, Judith. There might actually be great content at Plastic, and I'm fairly certain there used to be at Slashdot. But I can never make it past the gaudy, overly-encrusted interfaces to see what's shakin'.

Let's hear it for fewer features! Yay!
posted by anildash at 10:57 AM on May 7, 2001

I have to say I have never thought MeFi's color scheme was particularly attractive ("modestly garish" is a description that springs to mind), but you'll notice that hasn't stopped me from visiting the site a lot... I mean, 24 lines of green text on a black background is ugly too, and it was all I knew for years and years of my online experience. Didn't make it any less magical.
posted by kindall at 2:23 PM on May 7, 2001

I too don't find MeFi ugly in any way. One of the main things that I liked about the site when I found it last year was the look of it. It was a clean page of text. No annoying graphics to put up with. No multiple tables to deal with (I tend to keep my browser windows really narrow). The sparseness and subtlety made me focus on the content.

Maybe if this wasn't a message-based site then the case could be made that it needs a peppier look. Most of my past computer-based reading has been on BBSes/Usenet/Compuserve Forums. I still find it frustrating to read threads at places like Slashdot. The great design of MeFi lets me read a lot of content with little keyboard/mouse input. To me, it's not ugly.
posted by gluechunk at 3:24 PM on May 7, 2001

I've long ago learned not to knock other web designer's choices of colors... It bothers me when people knock mine. And they do... every time I do a redesign, or even a tweak...

You can't please everyone, so you got to please yourself.
posted by crunchland at 8:08 PM on May 7, 2001

i think that too much pretty actually detracts from your site. hasn't it been said somewhere that using sex (i.e. a beautiful woman) to sell a product often does not leave the viewer with so much of an impression of the product as it does on the advertisement?

in any case, i really think that too much prettiness is distracting. or, at least, it certainly can be. what i imagine as good design is something that makes me say, "wow, what is that?" versus "gee whiz, that was neat." or rather that interest and impression are two separate ends of the same means. or so i think.
posted by moz at 11:10 PM on May 7, 2001

I am shallow. I admit that I will often bookmark sites based on the design. Unless the writing is really, up front, obviously amazing, I won't remember it the next day. Sometimes I do miss the early days, when I used a crappy browser and everything was ugly... If I had my current standards I would have missed out on so many wonderful writers... Pbot/afterdinner/alexis massie, for instance, and all that her sites exposed me to. But these days... I'm less easily amazed. I think the web has shot my attention span. And I mourn it.
posted by fujikodunc at 11:14 PM on May 21, 2001

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