Patrick’s Truth

Can an ugly interface provide a good user experience?

Patrick Star, supporting actor in Spongebob Squarepants, thinks so. He believes that just because someone is ugly doesn’t mean they can’t be proud of how they look. Can this sea creature’s belief work for UX? Lets find out.

The pictures below are examples of an ugly websites:

This site’s lacks consistency in font color and the black background highlights all design flaws.
Small font and body makes everything feel closed off.
Lack of visual appeal could turn off users before they fully experience the site.

These sites are functional and users can get what they need from them, some people even enjoy themselves (re: Reddit) while using it even though it’s an eyesore. Additionally, Husky Health website’s painful simplicity leads to an easy way to navigate through its’ site- which can be a huge plus for users who are new to the world of insurance and are trying to easily gather information. However, just because they might be useful doesn’t mean that a user will stay and revisit the site; if you depend on web traffic to keep your business going, an ugly page will hurt you.

There is a reason why popular websites look good: they want users to come back. Some sites’ primary concern is spreading information, so they skip over the aesthetics, which is why Wikipedia’s bland website is ranked #92,955 worldwide and the NY Times is ranked #180 (based on SimilarWeb projections). And yes, you could argue that Wikipedia, Craigslist, and Reddit look the way they do because they are striving for simplicity, but simplicity can be beautiful when done right. Askattest is a perfect example of a minimalist success and these Reddit redesigns all keep the sites’ core features, but makes them more visually appealing. As Norman expressed in Emotional Design: Why we love or hate everyday things, “ attractive things make people feel good resulting in a positive emotional state.” If you have a good looking site, the user will have a better experience even if your website is about the benefits of owning brooms.

Ugly isn’t just about the websites appearance, it can also refer to the way a user has to navigate a page(s). It also helps if the website gives back accurate and timely feedback so the user isn’t left confused about what they did or didn’t do. Furthermore, some websites could look captivating but take away a users freedom in using the site, like blacknegative does by forcing users to drag their mouse left or right to switch pages. This causes aggravation in users who want a simple way to navigate websites.

Confusing page layouts, difficult navigation, bland sites, or just a plain ugly design might not completely ruin a user experience by themselves, but two or more will definitely make users hit the back button faster than they clicked on the link. However, having an ugly interface won’t be the last nail in your good-user-experience-coffin, but it also won’t breathe any new life into your site.

So is Patrick right when he tells Spongebob to be “ugly and proud?” Kind of, but just remember good usability does not make up for a lack of aesthetics (UX Myth #25).

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