Do You Judge a Web Design By It’s Cover?

Filed as News on March 22, 2007 12:15 am

Bokardo offers us “The Dangers of Judging Web Designs Superficially”, a well done perspective on how we judge a book, or in this case a website, by its cover.

People judge things because it is efficient. We judge everything, and we do it as quickly as possible. We look at newspaper headlines to judge which stories we should read. We judge the speed of oncoming cars so we know if we can cross an intersection. We judge movie trailers to see if we should bother. The faster we can judge, and judge correctly, the more problems we can solve, and the more efficient we become.

Being a web designer I tend to judge a lot of web design. I browse through several dozen familiar web sites each day and a few sites I’ve never been to before. I judge them each in turn. I’m not sure how I judge them: my judgments aren’t always definitive, but I know I’m making judgments because I have a general sense of “I like this” or “I don’t like this”.

It seems that other designers do, too. Many designers with blogs often post comments about other sites…Too many of these judgments are superficial, focusing only on a quick visual inspection of the site. They use terms like “look” and “feel”. They also focus on things like color palette choices, validation, which tags were used, or which technique was used to round the corners. They deal with how the site looks or how the code looks.

Yet, we know better. We know that this sort of thing isn’t very accurate or even helpful. First impressions are trivial, and rarely provide insight into the work that was done. We even have this idea crystallized into hackneyed sayings like “don’t judge a book by its cover”.

This bit of brilliant wisdom was written in 2004 and it still holds true today. You would think that the “judging” of web design would change, evolve with the times, but the truth lasts. A “pretty” web design may look great on the surface but can hold evil underneath the hood.

Bokardo continues to make some very good points we need to be reminded of today as we design more modern web pages. According to the article, the main problems behind “pretty” web designs were:

  • It ignores the real usage of the site
  • Promotes trivial topics to higher levels of importance
  • Gives new designers the wrong idea
  • Erodes the credibility of professional web designers

Three years later, these still apply.

By judging websites on their surface levels, web designers tend to present the perspective that the surface is the only part that matters. Sorry, folks. It’s the power of the code underneath the surface that makes a web design powerful. And beautiful. Not the pretty face.

A pretty site may look pretty but be a bear to navigate. Where is the search form to help them find more information on your blog? What about a site map? Most recent posts? What about related posts to find more content if this doesn’t quite answer my question?

How friendly is the blog to the visually impaired or disabled? How friendly is it for translation services? What about search engines? Can they flow through the site like water, finding the information they need to return good search results on your behalf?

Next time you start judging a website by its looks only, look deeper. Look at the navigational structure, the ease of access, accessibility features and usability features. The easier a web page is for a visitor to use and move around the site with, the more powerful the design.

Pretty is just the wrapping. Check out the purring motor underneath and within.


Lorelle VanFossen blogs about blogging and WordPress on .

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  1. By Lorelle VanFossen posted on March 22, 2007 at 1:04 am
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    Good for you for peaking under the hood. Unfortunately for sites like CNN, a majority of those errors may be for advertisements and things that they don’t always have control over. But many are.

    48 errors don’t worry me. I’ve reviewed sites with more than 100. One WordPress blogger tweaked their own Theme and wanted a review. I found more than 350 errors on one page. It was pretty though. ;-)

  2. By Liz Strauss posted on March 22, 2007 at 4:34 am
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    Hi Lorelle,
    I’m with you. thank you for every word in this article.
    If the design doesn’t draw me in as reader, I’m not there. If it doesn’t support me I’m gone and the content doesn’t matter. Structure and Expression need each other to make simple and elegant.

  3. By Jacob posted on March 23, 2007 at 12:47 am
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