April Nuggets - non design?

8 min read

For this month’s nuggets, I wanted to focus on something that I often think about concerning design: the (apparent) lack of design in the most popular websites on the internet.

Wikipedia, Amazon, eBay, and Craigslist, are all popular and functional websites that experience high traffic. And they all appear un-aesthetic when considered from a graphic design standpoint.

There are a number of popular and functional sites with ‘nice’ design*: YouTube, (new) Reddit, and Netflix. Social media experiences (in the browser) fall into the ‘nice’ design category - I’m looking at Twitter and Instagram here. Facebook and LinkedIn fall into a middle category where the aesthetic is cohesive, but they look somewhat cluttered and dated.

*design is a primarily subjective thing, so saying ‘nice design’ isn’t always correct from all viewpoints. Here, I’m referring to the visuals of the experience looking good, while the functionality also excels.

Wikipedia: content over aesthetics (provide information)

The design of Wikipedia is intentionally basic and minimalistic to prioritize content over aesthetics. Wikipedia's goal is to provide information to its users in the most efficient and accessible way possible, without distractions or unnecessary visual elements.

This design approach is also a reflection of Wikipedia's open and collaborative nature, where anyone can contribute to the site's content, and the focus is on the accuracy and quality of information rather than its presentation. Additionally, keeping the design simple makes it easier for people with slower internet connections or older devices to access the site.

Design notes on the 2023 Wikipedia redesign | by Alex Hollender

Amazon: functionality over aesthetics (facilitate online transactions)

The design of is often critiqued for being cluttered and overwhelming due to the vast amount of information, products, and features displayed on the website. But it is also important to consider that Amazon prioritizes functionality and usability over aesthetics. Amazon’s primary goal is to facilitate online transactions and provide a seamless shopping experience for its users. Ultimately, the design of a website is subjective and what one person may find ‘ugly’ another may find efficient and effective.

eBay: functionality over aesthetics (facilitate online buying and selling)

From a web design perspective, eBay's cluttered and outdated layout lacks a cohesive visual hierarchy, resulting in a visually overwhelming experience for the user. The use of small fonts, multiple font styles, and colors further contributes to a lack of clarity and focus. The search bar, one of the most important features of the website, is not prominently displayed and can be easily overlooked.

One possible reason for eBay's design could be attributed to the company's history and business model. As a major player in the e-commerce industry for over two decades, eBay's initial design was created during a time when web design conventions were still evolving. Its business model, which focuses on facilitating transactions between buyers and sellers, may have resulted in a cluttered design to showcase as many products as possible. However, as e-commerce and web design have evolved, eBay's design has failed to keep up with the times, leading to criticism from users and designers alike.

Craigslist: functionality over aesthetics

Craigslist's design is intentionally simple and basic, with a focus on functionality over aesthetics. The founder, Craig Newmark, has stated that he wanted to keep the design simple and straightforward to maintain a focus on the content and functionality of the site. This approach allows for fast loading times, easy navigation, and a consistent experience across different devices and platforms.

Additionally, Craigslist has intentionally avoided making major design changes over the years to maintain familiarity and consistency for its users. While this may lead to a lack of visual appeal compared to other modern websites, it has allowed Craigslist to become a trusted and reliable platform for online classifieds with a large and loyal user base.

Craig Newmark (Craigslist founder) said in a 2015 interview with Forbes, "We focus on doing very few things very well, and one of the things we do very well is making a simple, effective platform people can use. The goal is to make something work, not to make it pretty." Which summarizes the hard functionality over form approach.

As I wrap up this month's nuggets, I can't help but wonder: when it comes to web design, what is more important? Aesthetics or functionality?

As we've seen with popular websites like Amazon, eBay, Wikipedia, and Craigslist, design can take a backseat to functionality. These sites may not be the most beautiful, but they get the job done. However, with other sites like YouTube, Netflix, and (new) Reddit, design is front and center and adds to the overall user experience.

So, where do we draw the line, and how much should design matter when it comes to website usability? These are questions that I'm sure have been debated for years and will continue to be debated for years to come. Ultimately, the answer probably lies in finding the right balance between form and function. After all, a well-designed website not only looks awesome but makes it easier for users to navigate and find what they're looking for.

So, whether you're a designer, developer, or just a casual internet user, it's worth considering the importance of design and functionality in your web experience.