Why I love ugly, messy interfaces — and you probably do too
Jonas Downey
3.1K173

I couldn’t disagree more with this article, because in my opinion it conflates aesthetics with usability, and messiness with complexity. “Beautiful” and “fresh” might be empty marketing words addressing aesthetics, but the important thing is the design. And design is only partly how it looks, it’s mainly how it works.

A design should be as complex as needed and as minimal as possible. I don’t get how you could compare the website of a furniture store (compliments) with the website of a complex flea market platform (craigslist) or even a social network.

If compliments’ website was anything but minimalistic, it would arguably be badly designed. Because why would you go to the website of a furniture store in the first place? To a) see their products/catalogue, b) find their nearest physical store, or c) find out more about them or contact them. Three reasons, three functions that need to be addressed. Their menu consists of exactly these three aspects. There’s just no need for more.

Now I can’t comment on craigslist because I’m not from the US. To me, in terms of functionality it looks somewhat okay, although I really don’t think aesthetics should be optional. But that music thingy (synthesizer or whatever) is a great example for complexity without messiness. There’s a lot going on there, because there needs to be a lot going on. But if you look at all those dials and switches, they are logically positioned in a matrix. The user can probably easily find the things they need. It’s not messy.

Facebook is complex by definition as well, because a social network tends to have lots of functions. But Facebook has some degree of messiness. The main aspect of the website is the feed/wall, so that is centerstage. But on the left there is the crap bucket column. It has all your important stuff, like Feed/Messages/Photos, but then there is a lot of stuff that I have no idea about. Why is there a link “Sale Groups” in my Favorites even though it’s definitely not my favorite, I never used it!? “Apps”, I have no idea what’s listed there. Some junk. The crap bucket is continued on the right column; sure it’s mostly just ads, but up top there are important events that are listed there without any visual separation from the other stuff. Other important events however are displayed even higher at the top of the page (friend requests, messages and notifications). In between the important events and the ads there is some interactive widget where I can see trending stuff and some random games and WHY IS THIS EVEN THERE. Facebook has to be complex, and most things are implemented well. But there is some messiness that is not necessitated by the complexity. And it’s not good.

Photoshop is complex and possibly complicated because it tries to cater to everyone. It’s the iTunes of the productivity world. It could definitely be sleeker, but still: there is a lot of logical grouping. In your screenshot, a lot of the panels have either been opened on purpose, or can be closed. But all of them are clearly labeled and aligned in a clear pattern. I’d absolutely call that “clean”. In contrast to some Microsoft products for example, where icon placement feels like throwing spaghetti against a wall (look at this example from the Windows Explorer for example: Microsoft put in so much stuff that they had start plastering icons outside the menu bar and into the window chrome).

A good design can be complex. But it should never be more complex than needed. And with a good structure, there’s no need for messiness.

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