The Write Stuff – Blog

Feb 14 2011 Why Looks Matter!
Web design - why it matters

Let?s face it ? looks matter.

It?s not that we?re all horribly shallow or vain, but when it comes to pretty much everything in life (from a spouse, to a new couch, or a car) if it?s easy on the eye, you won?t hear too many complaints.

Consider this…?have you ever rocked up to a job interview or client presentation in your tracky-daks and very best ugg-boots? Of course not. We primp and preen and do our damnedest to look the best we can.

So does looking fabulous actually make us any more competent? Or is that ?ber-stylish couch any more comfortable than the daggy one at home with the well-established butt imprints?

Hell no!

But the truth is this:


Which is why a rather lively discussion of sorts was sparked after a web designer on Twitter posted a link?which led to a site loudly proclaiming:?Your Web Design Does NOT Have To Look Good.

In a somewhat ironic turn of events, the web designer was arguing that quality content was far more important than the design of the site, while I (purveyor of quality content) was arguing that good design is?every bit as important?as the content.

When I was asked for an example to substantiate my claims?of good content losing out to poor design, I had fortunately (?) stumbled across such a site only hours before.?Despite great content?- which I really did want to read – the design of the site was so poor that I left with no intention to return (at least not until the design was improved*).

The site in question??Comedian?Wil Anderson’s.

Unfortunately for Wil, his web designer chose to use white text on a black background, which is almost an instant migraine waiting to happen for anyone brave enough to attempt reading the content. I actually abandoned the site mid-post, as my poor eyes were screaming for respite.

The reality is, even if you have awesome content (as I?m quite sure Wil does), if your site design is liable to cause a brain haemorrhage with harshly contrasted text, flashy ads -?or it’s just plain ugly -?people won?t stick around to read it.

According to this article from?, first impressions of a website are made in a mere?one twentieth of a second! Certainly not enough time for your audience to read your content and decide if it overrides poor design.

If your website looks like the equivalent of a seedy 1970?s motel room, people aren?t gonna want to stick around!

The one thing we could all agree on, however, was beautiful web design lacking good content was much like a beautiful girl offering dialogue amounting to nothing more than ?OMG..!!! Like, I can?t believe, like, how totally hot I look in these jeans!!! Like, don?t you just totally agree?!!! (oooh? shiny!?)?.

At the end of the day, it?s equally important to have a visually pleasing site which?invites your audience to explore further and read your valuable content. A site lacking in either is not doing anyone any favours.

And Wil? if you?re reading this? love your work, but for the love of small, fluffy kittens ? PLEASE DO SOMETHING ABOUT YOUR WEB DESIGN!!! (Seriously! Even light grey text over the black would be a massive improvement).

Thanks, from?@the_copy_chick

*NOTE: I’m delighted to report that although most of Wil’s web pages remain black text on a white background, the blogs are now white text on a black background. Huzzah!!

Posted in Communication, Marketing, Websites by 14 comments

14 Responses to “Why Looks Matter!”

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Farid Zaki, Anna Peterson. Anna Peterson said: Bugger the Valentine's Day blogs. Let's explore why looks matter. […]

  • Reply Belinda Weaver February 14, 2011at 5:46 pm

    I expect your Tweeter has seen so many fancy sites that lack any substance in the copy, it has tainted his view (and I know who it is so I know it’s a he 😉 and I can see where he’s coming from….

    But I agree with you Anna. I think the design is your ticket in and the copy makes you glad that you stayed. Put good copy in a bad design oioioioi. It’s too distracting. Click on Click OFF!

  • Reply Ivan Lutrov February 14, 2011at 6:31 pm

    I’m the bloke who posted the Twitter link you mention above, and yes, the irony of a web designer promoting content over looks, and a copywriter asserting they’re equally important, is rather delicious.

    My experience has shown that it’s only the website owners who get hung up on the way their site looks. Sure, web designers care too, but that’s because they’re trying to please the client.

    Clients often have absolutely no idea of why they even want a website, other than it’s because there’s pressure on them to get one. And because they often think that a website needs to impress people, they then associate it with a brochure.

    But here we are, more than a decade later into web design, and nowadays just having a “pretty” website won’t cut it. People don’t care about your website unless it can solve their problems.

    I think it’s interesting that you promised not to return to Wil’s blog until “the design was improved”, though. I’m not a reader of his blog, but I’m willing to bet that he has many more readers than your blog and mine combined. My point? His fans read his blog, despite the “poor design” because they’re interested in his content.

    About the only thing I find offensive on Wil’s blog is his choice of white text on a black background, so I guess we’re in some agreement there.

    But I’ve seen too many business websites which look “pretty”, or even “awesome” (terribly abused adjective), the fact is that many of them just don’t work. And they don’t work because they don’t solve people’s problems.

    That was my point all along, but as you and I both know, things can get “diluted” when you’re confined to a 140 characters.

    • Reply Anna Peterson February 15, 2011at 10:52 am

      You make great points Ivan, which I totally agree with – particularly about looks alone not cutting it. However, I don’t believe that just great content alone is enough either.

      If I’m needing to choose between two competitors (with equally valid and useful content), my inclination would be to choose the one with the nicer looking site. Fair? Maybe not.. but that’s the reality. To me it shows there’s been some consideration about who I am as the end user and what appeals to me.

      It would be nice if we could all look beyond the aesthetics, but shape, form and colour are all integral to how we process the world and therefore the decisions we make.

      And regardless of how much of a fan I may be of Wil Anderson, or how many other readers he may have of his blog – I seriously can’t bring myself to induce a migraine just to read his ever so witty comments. Guess I’ll have to wait for the next installment of Gruen.

      • Reply Ivan Lutrov February 15, 2011at 11:18 am

        I would imagine that most of us would choose the “nicer” looking site, including me. But “nicer” is subjective, and therefore, almost impossible to reach consensus on.

        All other things being equal, sites with lots of graphics are not nice, for instance. Neither are sites which use sharply contrasting colour schemes, lots of “bordered boxes”, or text which is too small to be legible.

        Your definition may vary.

        I’m speaking of business sites, of course. For personal stuff, it doesn’t matter so much.

        My point was not about whether “looks alone” or “content alone” is enough. It’s not. Looks translates to style, while content translates to substance. Substance wins.

        My conclusion is therefore that looks purely exist to support content, which therefore logically makes content more important.

        • Reply Anna Peterson February 15, 2011at 11:59 am

          I think we probably agree on most points – only where you conclude content is MORE important than design, I would argue it is EQUAL.

          After all, if considering the analogy I made earlier about the two competitors with similar content and going with the one with the preferred design, then design would become the most important factor… but I think that would be probably the exception, rather than the rule.

          If both sites were equally pleasing aesthetically, then content would decide it hands down.

          Thanks for sharing your comments – I think if anything, it just illustrates what fickle beings we humans are! (And the importance of knowing your target audience, rather than trying to be all things to all people.)

  • Reply Anna Peterson February 15, 2011at 9:12 am

    Thanks for the comment Belinda. And sadly yes, there seems to be all too many businesses who appear to think that good looks alone will get them by… who’ll spend a fortune on a pretty site only to hobble the copy together over a weekend.

    I think any business who takes themselves and their site seriously needs to understand the delicate balance between the first impression of the design – and the lasting impression of the content.

  • Reply Mihad Ali February 18, 2011at 11:10 am

    Great point guys. Balance between the two is key.

  • Reply Tiggerito February 19, 2011at 12:26 am

    Looks and copy are both in the formula, but…

    Probably most important is that copy is what makes people come to the website in the first place. Initially because the search engines crawled it and found the website relevant, then because it attracts social interaction and links.

    Looks can’t do that.

    So the day one thing is copy, once you start getting traffic then looks may get important. Or more exactly, how the looks encourage visitors to do what you want them to do.

    Initially, a basic website with the right features is all you need. Later you can add fancy graphics. Look at mine, and I’ve got more work than I can deal with!

    Obviously, poor design decisions (white on black) are bad. Normally I see that effect because the website owner paid too much money and attention on the fancy design and nothing on usability and content. The website developers and graphic designers are often to blame for encouraging this.

    • Reply Anna Peterson February 21, 2011at 11:22 am

      Great point Tiggerito… certainly SEO adds a whole new context to the argument. After all, if no-one can find your site, usability and appeal do become somewhat moot points.

      I guess for me, a great site is one that strikes all the right notes with engaging, SEO-friendly copy and appealing design. Like a 5-star meal, having high quality ingredients prepared by a master chef and plated to perfection lifts it from just another plate of food, to a memorable dining experience.

      Thanks for your input.

  • Reply Nick Morris February 26, 2011at 5:27 pm

    I think the problem is that ‘design’ is far too broad a term. I would agree that some aspects of design such as page structure, navigation, text-background contrast and other decisions that are directly related to the usability of the content could approach equal importance as content.

    However, people often think of ‘design’ in more of an artistic way, where its the window dressing of the website. This seems to be the kind of thing that clients think of if you talk about design. I think these aspects of design are far bellow content in order of importance.

    In terms of the all out design vs content battle, a page that has content but no design can still be quiet useful, in fact in some cases no design is better than bad design, but a page with design and no content is useless.

    • Reply Anna Peterson February 26, 2011at 5:37 pm

      Hi Nick, again some really interesting points, particularly about “design” being a very broad term.

      I guess having spent a number of years working in design/marketing studios, I can’t help but consider the practical elements of design, as well as whether or not something just “looks pretty”. I even consider the actual layout of the content a design aspect.

      I think I’ll have to agree with you that no design is probably better than bad design though.

      Appreciate your thoughts.

  • Reply Adrian Brien Auto December 08, 2011at 9:36 am

    Good one. I think a lot of people don’t realise what “good design” really is. A lot of people just go a personal preference and artistic appeal but really they need to think about what is proven and tested to work the best and get the best results.

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