May 3, 2006
In Never design what you can steal, I praised this amusing guerilla redesign of Jakob Neilsen's useit.com-- which is widely derided by the design community for its radically bare-bones layout.
Well, the design guerillas are at it again. This time, they've set their design eye on Craigslist:
I like the redesign. It feels more usable, better organized, and less cluttered. Heck, it even uses sparklines. But I can't get over the nagging feeling that redesigning craigslist is a waste of time. Joel Spolsky elaborates:
But there's a scary element of truth to [Napster's hideous user interface] -- scary to UI professionals, at least: an application that does something really great that people really want to do can be pathetically unusable, and it will still be a hit. And an application can be the easiest thing in the world to use, but if it doesn't do anything anybody wants, it will flop. UI consultants are constantly on the defensive, working up improbable ROI formulas about the return on investment clients will get from their $75,000 usability project, precisely because usability is perceived as "optional," and the scary thing is, in a lot of cases, it is. In a lot of cases. The CNN website has nothing to be gained from a usability consultant. I'll go out on a limb and say that there is not a single content-based website online that would gain even one dollar in revenue by improving usability, because content-based websites (by which I mean, websites that are not also applications) are already so damn usable.
Craigslist is the very definition of a content-based website. The content is such a strong attraction that you could probably change the stylesheet to use green text on a red background and usage would still continue to climb. The redesign is clearly a small improvement, but it's just a statistical rounding error next to the value of the content.
And that's why, sometimes, 'ghetto' is a valid design choice:
[MySpace] empowers people to get their message out and make connections. That's the only way I can put it. Same reason why Xanga, FaceBook and LiveJournal are crazy popular. Get a community together where people can communicate easily and you have yourself a winner. Ask Amazon.
Besides all of that, [the MySpace] site sucks and I never use it, but I know that doesn't matter much when I can enter a club and the first question out of a woman's mouth is "Are you on MySpace?"*
Happens more times then you would think...
Someone we know at a venture capital firm once said he'll only fund for two reasons: if it gets you laid, or it gets you paid. Design is important, but content is king. Make sure you set your priorities appropriately.
Posted by Jeff Atwood
I always see huge "WTF" pictures on your blog. I then refreshed and the actual pix are seen. WTF? ;-)
"Design is important, but content is king. Make sure you set your priorities appropriately."
As a developer of govenment websites I will agree with you. Our users rave about the ugliest, hardest to use UIs I've ever seen -- because the web apps serve up the data that they need in the format they need it in.
Hermann: I've run into that bug on other sites (Hanselman's blog to be specific). Clear your cache and it should go away.
"Hey Brendan - I think your first paragraph is the exact point of the article :)"
No, the point of the article seems to be "we would gain nothing from redesigning Craigslist." My point is that it would be *wrong* to redesign it.
On the other hand, if you've got the content and people use your service, why not make it look as good as it can?
Don't you care about how your data looks?
I agree with Scott. How long did it take DesignByFire to do this work? A few days, or weeks, perhaps? Time and effort well spent. Appearance counts and leads to a stronger brand, which translates to dollars. Aesthetics are appreciated by many people if even on a subconscious level. Making something look good that people spend a lot of time looking at is not a "waste of time."
Why is everyone always holding up Craigslist as a "bad design"?! I LIKE it. I think it is an excellent design. It's spartan, and usable, and completely lacks flashing flash ads. Sure, it's unusual to put so many menu items on the home page, but you get used to that and in the end, it works.
Please don't advocate redesigning Craigslist to make it "better".
(My only complaint about Craigslist is that I wish they'd write better HTML and CSS so that it looks a little less wonky on my phone--but they should do that without changing the look and feel on a desktop.)
Hey Brendan - I think your first paragraph is the exact point of the article :)
It's just a matter of priorities. Content is first. But *all other things being equal* (important condition), a well-designed site is more pleasant to use than a poorly designed one.
The cost can be subtle ... as in, people who don't visit a very poorly laid out site if there's an alternative, or if the content of the site is not worth the unpleasantness of wading through the design to get it. Me, I find Slashdot to be awful, and given that the content is often marginal, I basically never go there. I also have to say that many sites that publish .NET content are pretty awful, too bad.
I think the phrase should read, "If your content is king, then design isn't as important". If the service you provide has 98% market-share and you serve up something very specific then of course design doesn't matter very much, people don't really have any other option do they? When you're the only one selling tickets you can pretty much go out in your skivvies and people will still think you're the best ticket man ever, simple because you are the only one.
What about when you enter a highly competitive field though or your competitors have finally caught up and even surpassed you while you sat on your laurels? Then design becomes very important. I've known people that use Quicken vs. Money simply based on UI, or people that have recently switched from gmail to the new yahoo mail beta because it just "feels better". On the other end I know people that *don't* use IE7 simply because they don't like how it looks. Usability and design sometimes are the only things that distingish you when everything else roughly equivalent.
Personally I'll use a less powerful program if it's easier to use and "feels better". Our software teams use the project management tool http://www.basecamphq.com because it simply feels better and has a better design and therefore people actually use it. Even though it can't do a quarter of what Microsoft Project that program became worthless once people stopped using it.
Good design is often pearls before swine. But it isn't wrong to create good design unless you are talking in terms of maximum profits for Craigslist or some other similar situation where the quality of the design is a mute point. If all we care about is money this world is going to be very uncomfortable and hard to use (assuming that we are correct in saying that good design does nothing to effect market value) - that's a shitty end result. Aesthetics are valuable in ways that money can never be.
This design needs work.
THE LISTINGS PAGE
The listings are farther down the page than on the original. Plus, page 2 contains two search boxes. Which one are you supposed to use? That's dumb.
It's a shame to waste the screen real estate in the "Craigslist Austin" banner, but the subsections are clearer in the redesign.
I just want to be real honest right now. Real honest and just... thank you guys.. Seriosuly. Tahnk you guys.
Or, as my Practical Programming prof used to say:
"Make it work, then make it pretty."
"Good design is often pearls before swine."
Design would be more important if the majority of designers didn't go around thinking high-handed garbage like this.