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.