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20 April 2009


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Your blog post reminds me of a discussion I had on linkedIn which is an interesting aside to the above discussion...

Are Websites Becoming Boring?

What follows is an edited version of the interesting points generated by my question on LinkedIn - http://www.linkedin.com/in/tomollerton

Google's Visual Design Leader Douglas Bowman walked out declaring that Google "reduce each decision to a simple logic problem. Remove all subjectivity and just look at the data...And that data eventually becomes a crutch for every decision, paralyzing the company and preventing it from making any daring design decisions."

Google's stance is that their products are extremely functional, and easy to use. But they're never really beautiful. And maybe they—or anything else effectively designed by millions—never will be.

It is interesting bearing these two points in mind when considering multi-variant testing. There is no question that in the pursuit of double figures conversion rates multi-variant testing in e-commerce is a serious consideration. MVT allows e-commerce sites to hone every last detail of their usability, appearance, and functionality down to a macro level in order to work out the optimum combination of an almost infinite number of factors. This process is defined by its measurability and is the only sensible option for those brands with the budget to see this through.

My question is - will this make the user bored, and does it matter if they are? A happy customer is better than an entertained but unconverted visitor. We have all had experience of "creative navigation" which has left us frustrated bored and headed elsewhere.

But does this mean we will we see a slew of websites tailored to precise demographics that all follow the same user journey? Does this mean a potential usability template is already being formed unbeknownst to users and designers alike? And will this ultimately pave they way for artistic design sensibilities to be the deciding factor in consumer choice?

Graham Jones

Internet Psychologist, Internet Consultant, Professional Speaker and Author

Interesting questions Tom, but I don't think web sites will end up boring, with function overriding beauty. Books, for instance, could be thought of as boring. They are all functionally based in terms of design - pages turn right to left (in the west anyway), there's a contents panel at the front, an index in the back and pages of text in between. There is little difference between one book and the next in design terms. But there are two important considerations. Firstly, the minor changes in design are enough for us to notice a difference (fonts, colours, white space, pictures). Secondly - and this is by far the most important - in spite of similar functions and minor design changes, we continue to like the boringly similar books because of the significant differences in their content.

The same will apply online. Web sites have menus in the same place, with similar footers, links that look the same and so on. The differences between web sites are in their content - which is exactly what we are looking for. Design helps - but in just the same way as in books, it's the content that counts.

People have not become bored with books and I see no reason why they should become bored with web sites that are functionally-based and which have only comparatively few differences in design.

Designers, of course, will tell us that there are huge differences in design between various web sites - but psychologically we actually want them all to be pretty similar anyway because that makes it easier for us to use.

Douglas Bowman may want "daring" design, but even the most daring designs on the web, thus far, still stick to some basics.

* http://www.grahamjones.co.uk/blog.html

Hugh Giblin

Chief, Web Hyper- Local Guides / Jackalope Wrangler

We're seeing a shaking out of design precepts, largely driven by "what works (for commerce sites)?" This is of tremendous value to both the company and the consumer. We all pretty much know how to buy stuff over the counter. It has taken some time to figure out how to buy stuff via the Web, and have confidence in the transaction. In terms of GOOG (Amazon, eBay and others) working to standardize the transaction process, this is progress.

Granted, it may not work out to be particularly attractive from an artistic point of view.

On the other hand, technology constantly moves ahead. There are new vistas available to us to exploit; new stuff is possible that wasn't possible even a few months ago. So the 'standards', such as they are now, will have to change and modify to accommodate the new opportunities. And so the design will evolve too.

Bill F


Remember the static endless scrolling pages of the mid/late 1990's. With the occassional action .gif that annoyingly repeated itself every 3 seconds ? Looking back , by todays standards those were boring. Just like 5 years from now, we will look back to tdoay and saw 'eh- boing'.
NO, I see your point about the templating but that will always be evolving and get pushed back out of the views eyes because it is boring. The creative side of things will always prevail and be the first thing viewers see.
If something is built and marketed for a specific demographic, that is being done bc that is what that demographic wants, and therefore they would not be bored.

Scott Clark

Web Business Strategist / Web Marketing Expert

I watched Douglas Bowman's departure with interest. A few thoughts.

If the data has proven that the majority are more likely to accomplish a goal using a certain design, even if it is "boring" on static observation, paid designers have a responsibility to include that information in their decisions. They need to justify alternatives not on their own ego-driven goals but on the goals of the organization. That justification may be "boredom is driving people away" or it might be "when we moved the menu our conversions dived."

Justifications of all types can exist and the tables get tipped towards edginess and experimentation. We may think that Oakley's website is tricky to use and hard to read, but the coolness of the brand is how we justify the purchase. If the site weren't edgy-cool, we would possibly come to our senses and buy the $35 shades instead.

Douglas Bowman's discovered that Google was not like Oakley or other design temples. Google is a place to get things done so their "usability template," if it exists, is defined very differently.

* http://www.useit.com/alertbox/genius-designers.html
* http://www.buzzmaven.com/2008/05/web-designers-vs-seo.html
* http://www.buzzmaven.com/2007/06/testing-designs-and-designers-testing.html

Brendon Scott

Owner of www.seoassassin.co.uk/blog

Designers need to get the hell over themselves. No-one (apart from other designers) cares about how "beautiful" a site is, just whether it allows us to get what we want from it. The point about books is well made; how much less visually exciting can the content get? If it makes them happy, let them play with the covers. Minds like that should not be left unoccupied, for all our sakes. They should never be allowed to think that they are actually contributing, however.

Don't get me wrong, art and design have a place and function in society, and important ones, but so do sewage lines

"Remove all subjectivity and just look at the data...And that data eventually becomes a crutch for every decision" Well, yeah, because looking at real world data and acting on it just isn't really working out for Google to this point, is it?

To quote Oscar Wilde "All art is quite useless". Well said, that man. Design is something that gets added to things that don't matter - but nobody let on to the designers, it would just upset them

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