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Site Graphics and Multimedia Design Forum

I Noticed an Unusual Trend
Understated website design that stands out

 8:33 am on Mar 23, 2011 (gmt 0)

I've noticed a trend of several major websites, highly successful that have stuck to extremely understated and somewhat dull looking 80's design styles.

Could this be a hidden advantage in standing out from today's glossy over inked web? I mean if you are the only website with this style while all the others are trying really hard perfecting every bit of graphic - you are remembered right?

Or am i wrong?

I can give some examples:

The Drudge Report
Berkshire Hathway - Warren Buffetts Site
Webmaster World



 4:33 pm on Mar 23, 2011 (gmt 0)

As designers and site owners, we tend to think the look of a site is important.

I never thought it was. People don't care about your <rhetorically speaking> flashy design. Ask yourself: have you ever gone to a web site that is so cool looking you simply had to go back regularly just to bask in it's coolness?

Second question: the ones that are uber cool and slick, or have awesome programming or Flash - do you even remember what the site's topic is about?

Why do you come here? It's certainly not about design (don't kill me Brett. :-) ) You come here to solve problems - that's all you <rhetorically speaking again> care about, not design or pretties. You come because this site solves problems . . . and every web site, at it's core, should solve some problem and address it well. Unless your problem is a lack of design sense, visual design has little to do with this.

If you see the trend, maybe some site owners are getting it. I'll add one to your list, far more famous than the two out of three you stated - craigslist.org.

These are not my ideas though, I learned them solving my own problems. :-) Web Sites That Suck (checklist part one) [webpagesthatsuck.com]


 10:59 am on Mar 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

obviously there are exceptions if you are the likes of Roberto Cavalli, not sure it would be appropriate to go for the 'webmasterworld look'

It's quite amusing though to see so some webmasters and companies try so hard to get more traffic with fancy templates and yet they are achieving exactly the opposite.


 8:42 pm on Apr 11, 2011 (gmt 0)

I have some old sites that are old, and look it, just because I never found they urgently needed updating. For sites like amazon.com and craigslist they usually want the site to work for the lowest common denominator, including dial up and old browsers, so they avoid the bells and whistles. Awhile ago when I was working as a product manager in a silicon valley startup, a large percentage of the support calls we got were from users who had lower end hardware, OS, etc. so you had to decide whether to support them or just punt (i.e. tell them to upgrade their system). Notice how microsoft has never punted and even many dos programs can still run on windows 7. Apple on the other hand, regularly dumps its old users and says, your old programs will not work on our new stuff.

But I think looking modern and up to date can get you more business (assuming of course that you aren't the industry standard already, like some of the aforementioned sites)


 9:10 pm on Apr 11, 2011 (gmt 0)

quite simply another way of looking at is to use the word emphasis - for every degree of emphasis you put on design, be it ink, colour, flash or fancy logos - you taking emphasis away from the reason why the person is using the site or interface - like rocknbill says to solve a problem. I always look at the Times newspaper or the Sun for a first point of call for layouts - newspapers are the champions of engaging people, to read further...


 9:29 pm on Apr 11, 2011 (gmt 0)

KISS ( or the lack of it ) is highly relevant to Panda..and will continue to be in Google's +1 as it was and continues to be in "preview"..attractive means to the LCD..that searches for your terms..not attractive to you...many many people don't "grok" this ..and are paying the price.


 9:38 pm on Apr 11, 2011 (gmt 0)


great word! i had to look it up and i like it!

i'm a great fan of amazon myself - surely the biggest ecommerce store in the world, i've always thought if it's good enough for them it's good enough for me - after all doubtless they spend a fortune researching what works best (a fortune i can't afford to spend myself)


 10:27 pm on Apr 11, 2011 (gmt 0)

topr i had a very similar strategy modelling from amazon until i came up against the following argument from a designer... His words below just to make us think a bit more about that :)

Firstly, you obviously appreciate the success of amazon and how effective their method is. With your sites best interests in our thoughts, making an Amazon-clone could be damaging on several levels for your site. a) if on a long shot amazon noticed and took offence the could report your site to google and damage your reputation and listings, b) some potential customers WILL notice the similarity and make an instant judgement about your business (is it reliable, are they trustworthy) . We believe it is fine to take inspiration from an existing site, but we know that customers prefer to experience a unique journey when visiting a website.

I think there are 2 initial considerations to take into account when thinking about the design.

Firstly, what will be the primary aim of the site. Is it a webshop with information about the products (mainly for SEO but also gives the site a more credible and reputable standing), or is it information driven site with the option of purchasing the products.
Most of this can be answered by your physical business model, ie. are you holding stock or buying as orders come in, do you have dedicated support staff etc

Second, who are the intended audience/shoppers. If you are envisaging single sales (small orders) from households/private individuals then it is best to go for a niche style design which would reinforce that you know what your talking about and lead people through to a sale.
Alternatively, if you are pitching more to a corporate (large orders) audience then they would be more interested in an easy sale with best cost savings for multiple purchases. So a design that has less fluff, and a more corporate flair would be suited.

It can always be tricky to pitch the design without knowing how you are planning to operate but I hope these give some thinking room for you. Another thing that would help in terms of the design phase would be to know the scale of the business, ie. how many products, what geography is being targetted (just uk? europe etc).


 11:08 pm on Apr 11, 2011 (gmt 0)

Have a care to those who wouldst bewitch with flummery and fine raiments, regard not the richness of the chef's tabard nor the gilding of his bowls but pay good heed to the quality of the meats that he doth serve within them, that they be sustaining and advantageous to your health and that of your guests.

see ..lots of long words ..like your designers "speech"/"advice" ..amounts to ..

decide your market..and customers ..design to it/them.

Hope you are not paying him by the word while he tries to work out what the brief entails.

what is "corporate flair" when it is at home ?..

Amazon use an inverted L with tabbed nav on the top..( the rest is their "add ons" )..love to see them try to patent that one and have it stand up to "prior art" even in the USA..you like it ? tweak it..

disclosure ..I've taught design at University level..probably before your designer was at junior school..they are good at MBA / Marketroid speak though..so as long as they aren't rolling reading or listening to it into the final bill ..let them continue ..

But..big But ..if you are in business already and don't already know what you do , who your market is , where they are etc ..and what will be the best way to reach them and make them react how you want ..and need a "designer" to make you aware of those things..you have more problems than the design of a website to worry about..in my experienced, considered, opinion..;-)


 11:17 am on Apr 12, 2011 (gmt 0)

Spot on deducing the sources age.

Quite simply my old boss used to say 'get on the street and start LISTENING to the customer' from here I think it does not matter whether amazon comes into it or not.

Meanwhile these guys are glued to their screens prettifying logos and layouts on Photoshop, time which could be much better spent learning how customers think and behave on the site... I have to admit though these opinions do take the throttle down a notch on my actions of getting prototypes out there....


 11:59 am on Apr 12, 2011 (gmt 0)

Regardless of endeavor, the best approach has always been the most simple and direct to get from Point A to Point B. Define that and the battle is half done. Execute it and the battle is won. For most applications K.I.S.S. is the best.


 1:42 pm on Apr 12, 2011 (gmt 0)

Depends on your user profile, if a significant number of users have dialup, it is better to keep it simple. When I joined this forum, I only had slow dial up connections.


 8:35 pm on Apr 12, 2011 (gmt 0)


Please could I ask how i can optimize KISS for Panda? With reference to your below statement.

KISS ( or the lack of it ) is highly relevant to Panda..and will continue to be in Google's +1 as it was and continues to be in "preview"..attractive means to the LCD..that searches for your terms..not attractive to you...many many people don't "grok" this ..and are paying the price.


 8:49 pm on Apr 12, 2011 (gmt 0)

sorry i just had to respond to this:

>>making an Amazon-clone could be damaging on several levels for your site

amazon are the leading b2c ecom store in the world and i admire them for it - using a design based on their simplicity and straightforwardness is not a clone.
using some of their ideas - like similar items, customers also liked these, and the positioning of various elements - makes good sense.

>>but we know that customers prefer to experience a unique journey when visiting a website.

this is total BS (certainly in the case of an ecommerce store), it is well proven that users like familiarity: navigation at the top and the left, search box in top right, etc. etc.


 11:03 am on May 8, 2011 (gmt 0)

I also think that any designer who is pitching you their services with a little bit of sales knowledge will use an angle to *highlight* the existing problems with your website - thereby making their services more attractive while giving an *impression* that they know what they are talking about.

I always look to the experience of people with decades behind them, young designers I don't think have seen enough of the world yet to make an accurate judgement although they may have some good ideas.


 8:01 pm on May 8, 2011 (gmt 0)

Delayed answer:
Ask yourself: have you ever gone to a web site that is so cool looking you simply had to go back regularly just to bask in it's coolness?

No, but as a user I have often landed on a site that looks so horrendous-- sometimes to the point of being physically painful-- that I left instantly, without lingering to find out whether the site contains the information I'm looking for.

Advice to young designers: Ask your (grand)parents to look at the site... unless you are absolutely certain nobody over 24 is interested in your product. If they flinch visibly, better rethink the design.


 10:57 pm on May 8, 2011 (gmt 0)

lucy, was the site simple ugly or over inked ugly...? I am betting on the latter...?


 12:01 am on May 9, 2011 (gmt 0)

Unfortunately I don't have one specific site in mind. There are just too many. But the quickest way to make me scream and run is the simple matter of color choice. I haven't yet arrived at the point of telling my browser to always use my colors. But when I do, I am absolutely certain I will soon come across sites designed and coded by people who have taken the extra effort to override this preference, because they know my wishes better than I do.

In the case of one site that I sometimes have to go to, I take care to set my monitor to grayscale beforehand. (This may be specific to my eyesight. And they've got a good and valid reason for using that particular color.) And I'm still battling with Lynx to default to white-on-black, since that seems to be the only thing it's willing to change. Ouch.

The fact that my own site's overall background color makes highlighted text impossible to see-- assuming the user's default highlight color is the same as mine, which may actually not be the case-- has nothing to do with anything. Uhm.

What does "over inked ugly" mean? Google wants me to think it has something to do with tattoos.

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