I went to a random word generator and had it generate 10 words for me. I put those words into a search engine. I looked at the first result for that term. I decided that if I got any About.com sites, I would get a new word - as no matter what I think about About.com's beauty or lack thereof, my opinion is biased. I also decided to only accept one page from any given site, so if a site came up for more than one word, I went back to the word generator and asked for another. I evaluated them based on principles of design and my aesthetic.
Here are the 10 sites in alphabetical order by the word I searched for.
At first glance it was hard for me to distinguish the difference between the actual advertisements and the calls to action strewn all over the page. There are no contrasting shapes - equally sized rounded corner rectangles. It gets a little more interesting lower down with the three columns, but they make those blur together by using the exact same 100x80 image to the left of a buletted blurb and a "more" link. Then there's the color scheme - too much red at the top followed by almost no color as you scroll down. Even most of the car photos are of black or silver cars.
My Verdict? Ugly. And someone should tell the designer that rounded corners don't turn an ugly design into an aesthetic one.
Wikipedia's biggest problem is the use of emphasis in the designs. There is too much! Design emphasis are those elements that draw the eye - and in Wikipedia's case, this means links. When I looked at this page, the first three paragraphs had 19 links. Many of them were single-word links directly adjacent to other single word links. The only way you can tell that "Nobel laureate Toni Morrison" are links to two separate pages is to mouse over them. And that's just annoying. Add to that that the most eye-catching thing on the page is the warning that the content may not be reliable, and it pulls the whole design into question.
My Verdict? Ugly. I remember when browsers started supporting images, and that was good. Why doesn't Wikipedia?
Emphasis in design is supposed to help you get your readers to where you want them to go. But it shouldn't be at the cost of the site's brand identity. The thing is, the brand image is actually very nice. But the logo is completely subsumed by the ugly banner screaming "Sign Up". What does a star have to do with chess? Then there are the icons splashed all over the page - really? Your logo looks so good, and then you put it with a pair of lego people in front of a checkers (pardon me, chess) board. And your "cellphone" icon looks like a calculator with an antenna.
My Verdict? Ugly. And lose the woman's chest as your advertisement for "Openings for Tactical Players" it's sexist. At the very least, let her have a face to go with her body.
And then we come to the scariest design of all of them. This site doesn't have much of a design at all. The colors don't work well. It's not balanced, with the columns being close together or far apart depending upon where on the page you are. There is nothing particularly emphasized. And the buttons are hard to read because they are all exactly identical. If the designer just added some explanatory text to the page and converted all the buttons to bulletted lists of links, the page would look better (and load faster!).
My Verdict? UGLY. Just because you design a government website doesn't mean you shouldn't have pride in your work.
What is it with red and black color schemes? Did someone read that red draws the eye and so decided that that should be their accent color on all pages? It's like how all corporate pages must be "IBM Blue" to show they are serious and, well, corporate. Oh, and another thing that's a really annoying Web design technique: the overlay ad. My screen shot of this page shows you the first thing I saw when I came to this site. Not the nice title or feature stories. No, it was this annoying HP ad. So while the site design itself might be okay, this initial overlay turned me off right from the get go.
My Verdict? Okay, but in my normal viewing habits I would have never gotten past the initial Flash advertisement, which was ugly.
This is a page where the advertising completely destroys the design. While the colors are faint and somewhat faded looking on the site design, I can't bring my eyes away from that obnoxious banner ad at the top. The site as a whole is cheapened by that ad.Only after my head is starting to pound do I notice the blue headline "have". And below it some definitions, but I can't read them because they aren't visible in their little scrolling box. Why is that box so small? There is about 438 pixels worth of blank space beside it that is just white. Of course, there's that little "Word Click" advertising button, oh wait, that's CONTENT or at least instructions for the page.
My Verdict? Ugly. There is such a thing as too much white space.
Phew, after that last page, my eyes were starting to burn, but luckily at first glance, the Nation's website isn't too bad. Then I start trying to read the page. Holy cow! Most of this text is tiny. It's a really bad design decision for a designer to create a page that gives their readers eyestrain. There are three things on this page that are easily readable:
- The site title
- The main headline
- The two ads (at the top and on the right)
And even those headlines that are bigger are hard to read because the font is too tight or the color has almost no contrast. The content on your site should be at least as legible as the ads. People don't visit websites to read ads - we have TV for that.
My Verdict? Okay once I increased the font size twice.
Simple is good. So many pages are ugly because they try to cram everything they possibly can onto their home page. This White Pages page does the opposite. There are even two ads on the page, but they don't get in the way. The balance is good - the two boxes look nearly identical, and yet you immediately know what each is going to do. Even the banner-ad-like section at the bottom isn't bad (and the cellphone they use actually looks like a cellphone!). They should be very careful about what ads they allow in that top banner slot. Ads can ruin a perfectly good design.
My Verdict? I like it, but one ugly ad on the home page could move it from fairly pretty to pretty ugly in 3 seconds.
Does Flash have to equal ugly? I know it's possible to make nice looking Flash animations. I worked with some designers who built some gorgeous ones. But why do most of them just add seizure-inducing movement and distracting changes right as I'm reading the contents of the first section? Depending upon which Flash screen you're on, this page alternates between bone-crushingly ugly and almost tolerable. But what is with the striped gradients? It looks like a drawing student was practicing perspective drawing, and forgot to remove the single-point perspective lines from the ads. I kept hoping that the text in the ads would pull a Star Wars and start fading off the screen.
My Verdict? Ugly. Oh, and pick a font, why don't you?
I mentioned above that many corporate sites feel the need to be done in shades of blue, and the same goes for government and political sites. But blue can be overdone, as this site shows. It might not be so bad, except that in the middle of all this blue is a big yellow box. It is possible to create a site with a monochromatic color scheme that isn't ugly. But you need to find hues that look good together. The dark blue clashes with the light blue in the boxes and it all clashes with the link color blue.
My Verdict? Ugly. P.S. if you're going to go with a monochromatic color scheme, stick to your guns and don't add red and yellow as random accents.