The things I’m learning from having an ugly design

A couple of weeks ago I went into WordPress.com, clicked on “Themes” and selected the one that looked the most plain that I could find. Why did I do that? Because I wanted to get everyone back down to the most basic theme I could. I wanted to get rid of the branding. The friendfeed widget. The advertising. The cool looking fonts. And get it back down to just the fundamentals.

I did that for a few reasons.

1. I wanted to see if it would have a major impact on traffic. It did not.

2. I wanted to see who would complain and who would praise it. Some complained that it was too unprofessional. Others complained it’s hard to read on high resolution monitors (the text goes all the way across the browser). Still others missed my “brand.” But something else happened. Other people said they really liked this new theme. In pressing in more I think they liked that it was different than, say, TechCrunch or Mashable and that it had an anti-advertising stance on it. Also, some people said it was more readable because I got rid of the advertising and the friendfeed widget.

So, what I’m wondering is why have a nice design at all? Why not just go with a plain theme? Especially if it helps you focus on my content more?

Just some ideas as I continue working to rebuild my blog. Regarding that, we’re moving my blog over this week to a Rackspace hosted server (hopefully, we had some problems figuring out some problems due to some custom stuff that Automattic did for my WordPress.com-based blog that you’re reading here). I’ll stay on WordPress, but will be on a standard install which will let me use all sorts of plugins and try some fun things out. As soon as that gets moved over we’ll start iterating on the design and “pave the paths” here.

Thanks for putting up with the dust and dirt as we rebuild the blog.

223 thoughts on “The things I’m learning from having an ugly design

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  7. There is the answer that people can zoom for more readability (Firefox and IE7 have fancy zoom goodness now), but I think a permanent bump on font-size is a good idea. It will improve readability, but here is my real reason:

    Guy Kawasaki 10-20-30. Yep, the PowerPoint rule, but on websites. 10-20-30 makes PowerPoints easier to read and less noisy. Make it easy for your people to find and digest your content. Bigger fonts reduce what you can put on a page and suddenly you have a box to work inside. Suddenly you have to decide to tell your story in half the words. Or even better, no words but a single picture. You get a boundary to work within. Such boundaries inspire the most creativity in people. I tell you that you can only use 33 lines to tell your user what’s up, and you write a tighter story. I tell you that you have only 15 minutes to present a business and you have DEMO. I tell you you only have 140 characters to announce something and you have Twitter.

    Bottom line, bigger fonts make for clearer boundaries on how much to present, which really makes you focus on what to present.

    Long post, but I am absolutely passionate about the play between design and content.

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