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April 11, 2008 / Toby Dayton

As The Blu Dot Guys Say, “Good Design Is Good”

blu-dot.jpgI have received a couple of comments from readers on my posts this week regarding the design of Craigslist. A few people have remarked that Craigslist deliberately and intentionally removes all design elements from their site and that their now-trademark aesthetic is 100% anti-design. While I agree with that sentiment entirely, the comments go on to say that to comment on how hideous the site is is beside the point. And with that, I vehemently disagree.

The point I was making (and it isn’t beside the point because it is specifically and precisely MY point – not Craigslist’s point, not any one of my reader’s point, nor anyone else’s, but mine. And because it’s my point, it can never be beside the point), is that Craigslist’s aesthetic is an absolute abomination. It may very well be beside Craigslist’s point. Actually, I am certain it is, and my guess is that that was what my commenters meant by it being ‘beside the point.’ But again, MY point is that it’s atrocious. Craigslist would agree. They want their design to be atrocious and they are extremely happy to continue to be a phenomenal success in that regard. But my point is that the site’s aesthetic is still atrocious.

And that sucks, because, as the geniuses behind Blu Dot say, good design is good. And I’d like to think that, everything else being equal, good design will always win out over poor design, at least eventually. Apple used to be the great exception to the rule (because their world-class, far-superior-to-anything-else-in-the-universe design wasn’t winning for a long time), but they too are now further proof of the universal law that good design wins. Craigslist is now perhaps the leading exception to the rule (though it would actually be the corollary to the rule – that bad design will always lose, eventually. Microsoft used to be the great exception, but they are now beginning to lose badly). I would say, however, that in Craigslist’s case, not everything is equal. But ignoring the fact that free creates a massively unlevel playing field and creates enormous leeway for horseshit design, I don’t like the fact that poor design has as much mind-share as Craigslist does.

That’s my point.

[tags]Craigslist, Blu Dot, John Christakos, Maurice Blanks, Atrocious Design, Aesthetics, Anti-Design, Good Design Is Good, What’s Your Point[/tags]

3 Comments

  1. Gunnar / Apr 13 2008 12:59 pm

    disagree. the problem with most design is that due to the ego of th designers – they don’t know when to step out of the way. design exists to mediate the interaction between the user and the content/context. clearly craigslist has nailed it in this case minimalism is fine. their users want CONTENT. why should some egomaniac designer try stand between that? look at google. minimalism works fine. look at the stock page in the newpaper – ALL content. give me the ticker, price and trend. thanks have a nice day no more ‘design’ required. just the facts ma’am-style design is a welcome relief

  2. Toby Dayton / Apr 14 2008 9:34 am

    I agree that design exists to mediate the relationship between the user and the site/content they are looking for. Not only mediate, but, in a perfect world, enhance. Sites don’t have to be, nor should they be, overdesigned. Design should never detract from functionality or the seamless delivery of content. Ultimately, the best sites find a perfect balance between design and functionality – where, in fact, the design enhances and improves the functionality. But Craigslist has absolutely no balance whatsoever. Their fanatical insistence on absolutely no design not only lessens the appeal of the site, it misses the opportunity to fully maximize the usability or ease of use.

    Keep it all text – fine. How about using some design elements to better organize the page (jobs are one color, personals another, for example – a small change and maybe insignificant, but it’s the first thing that popped into my head with 5 seconds of thought, and maybe a nice way to help people differentiate among all the various types of classifieds). Design can (and always should) enhance user experience/user satisfaction. They entirely ignore the value that good design can bring to a product or service. It has worked for them to this point, but a better designed, better functioning site with sufficient content and an approximately equal value proposition, will eventually beat them.

  3. Lief Larson / Apr 22 2008 5:01 pm

    If content trumps design, why wouldn’t you want to drive around in a rust bucket car if it had a 407 engine and leather seats. Aesthetics play a major part in usability, especially in communicating priority functions. For example, when I worked in the human factor engineering space in 2002-2004, we learned that a text-based hyperlink fell miserably short in click-through rates compared to it’s cousin, the graphic button with shadows and definable color (that alternated on roll-over). Craigslist, and let’s be Frank here, is the result of generic necessity rather than intentional minimalism. If placing colorful buttons increased the bottom line, they would have done it long ago. Their core product is FREE.

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