Why are some of a ugliest sites on a Web also a many popular?

If you’ve been on a Web in a past decade, you’ll expected have visited Reddit, Craigslist, Wikipedia, 4Chan, Hacker News, or The Drudge Report during some point. While these sites are all vastly different, they have dual things in common: they’re all intensely renouned among their audiences and they all look, well, terrible.

Web technologies have come so far in a past few years and designers now have a immeasurable array of tools and techniques during their disposal. Yet these sites underline unflattering layouts that have no tie to a difficult pattern philosophies seen around a Web today.

Craigslist's stream pattern is lacking, to contend a least

Why do some of these sites demeanour like they were built in a 90s? Where are a purify layouts, delicately comparison fonts and interrelated colors?

For a record, The Drudge Report and Craigslist are indeed some-more than 20 years aged — both were launched in 1995. Wikipedia usually incited 15 final month. Reddit has now been around for 10 years, while picture house 4chan is going on 13.

The thing is, it’s not always easy to contend during a peek either a site is good designed or not. You competence be means to quick confirm either it looks nice, yet there’s some-more to good pattern than merely formulating an aesthetically appreciative layout. You also have to cruise how serviceable a site is and if it helps visitors find what they’re looking for or accomplish a charge they have during hand.

To know this better, we spoke with Amit Das, co-founder and conduct of information cognisance during Intelligent Interfaces. According to Das:

There is certainly a outrageous opening in terms of pattern that we see in sites like [Reddit, 4chan, etc.]. The opening arises from a expectations that calm consumers have from user-generated and many-sided calm apps and sites currently from a likes of Medium, Facebook and Twitter contra some-more classifieds-driven calm platforms like Craigslist or forums like Hacker News.

But let’s demeanour during a stream state of a aforementioned sites: they’ve been around for a prolonged time now and weren’t primarily built to accommodate a expectancy of consumers in 2016. As organizations, their priorities are somewhat focussed towards doing a volume of trade that these platforms support to. Reddit, for instance is a 32nd many visited website in a universe since Medium’s ranking is somewhere in a 400s.

You can always pattern new rivals with improved pattern chops to stand adult and plea these comparison sites — cruise Trulia holding on Craigslist in a genuine estate space. But one needs to know that a outrageous volume of trade for skill deals comes from organic hunt and arrives during Craigslist. And this is usually a little fragment of Craigslist’s extent of classifieds around a globe.

What constitutes bad design?

Some of a many common issues with difficult-to-use sites are:


If we demeanour during a mistakes listed above, a sites we’ve highlighted indeed transport utterly good on a pattern scale.

Wikipedia isn't ghastly, yet it could be drastically improved

Wikipedia competence seem bustling and out-of-date, yet a information is all clearly legible. Reddit might not be immediately easy to use for first-timers, yet it’s ridiculously lightweight and loads quick on many connections.

No, really, this is what The Drudge Report looks like in 2016

In 2008, Basecamp co-founder Jason Fried wrote about how The Drudge Report’s pattern is immensely successful, and he done a series of good points that reason loyal even today: a pattern is timeless, easy to say and concordant with everything. Plus, it’s truly unique.

These are critical to consider, since entrance adult with a plain pattern takes time, iterations, feedback and clever implementation. It’s not something we can switch around daily, generally if we offer a vast series of business who are used to a proceed a site looks and functions.

Hacker News' blueprint was desirous by a UNIX application Top

Daniel Gackle, who runs Y Combinator’s Hacker News (HN), explained that there’s a reason because a vote-based couple aggregator for developers and entrepreneurs facilities a meagre interface:

HN emphasizes calm above all else. A imagination UI would confuse from that. Text is timeless. The information firmness of HN is delicately calibrated: it would be tough to fist some-more in, and reduction would feel too lightweight.

HN’s minimal pattern is good for egghead curiosity, a running suggestion of a site. It’s good for readers to have to work a little and confirm for themselves what is interesting.

One good thing about a text-based pattern is that a pages are little and bucket fast. Our users caring about that a lot, and we caring about it even some-more than they do.

There’s a village advantage to looking ‘classic’ instead of ‘modern’, too: it attracts people who caring many about a piece of a site, as against to looking for a latest novelty.

Sometimes, distortion is tough to avoid

Writing about because Chinese sites demeanour so busy, Econsultancy’s Jeff Rajeck pointed out that there aren’t any collateral letters or spaces in Chinese, so it’s tough for those unknown with a denunciation to interpret what we should be looking at. No consternation their sites demeanour pell-mell to a untrained eye.

QQ's homepage on a standard day can demeanour busier than many sites

Plus, Chinese can be formidable to form and a normal internet tie is rather slow. That’s because some sites fill pages with links so as to revoke a series of pages a user has to go by to find what they need.

In a cases of Reddit and The Drudge Report, a thought of stuffing adult a pages with links seems to be a required evil. On a one hand, it doesn’t make for a flattering site, yet on a other, it lets we quick indicate by copiousness of calm during a glance, maximizing a value of a time spent during your visit.

However, optimizing sites to usually prominence calm in their pattern can dominate first-time visitors who can’t figure out a best proceed to make use of their newly detected source of information. Gackle explains:

A downside of HN’s pattern is that it can be rather mysterious to newcomers. In a early days, that was kind of fun, like a nonplus to solve. But things don’t stay that way, and as a site has gotten bigger this peculiarity has brought a risk of insularity that I’d like to do something to address. Making a pattern some-more difficult wouldn’t make things any clearer, though, so we won’t do that.

Is change always a good thing?

In bemoaning a faults in pattern of a favorite sites, it mostly seems like a usually proceed to repair them is to totally revamp them. But it’s value observant that redesigns can perplex and divide users. Remember how Digg’s trade tight by as most as 34 percent when it got a new look?

Das explains because this might not always be an ideal solution:

When deliberation sites with vast volumes of traffic, one little pattern change might outcome in a outrageous impact — that companies should really get into. As a matter of fact, Reddit started contrast out a new pattern recently. That’s a transparent denote that a group behind it is realizing a significance of adaptive pattern growth.

Many would advise that Reddit totally renovate a pattern entirely, yet ideally it should take one little step during a time and change components one during a time so as to not impact any transactional metrics.

Of course, both paths could lead to success. Das points to DeviantArt, one of a world’s biggest pattern and art communities, that overhauled a site after several years in operation, along with all-new branding. But a core DNA of a product remained a same. It’s still still solemnly changing a inner page templates one component during a time and not rushing it, and a elaborating outcome is all a improved for this approach.

On a other hand, he says, cruise Amazon, that keeps adjusting a pattern bit by bit. “The changes are so little that you’d simply skip them even if we revisit a site daily. But demeanour behind during a blueprint from a year ago, and you’ll comprehend that it’s altered flattering significantly,” Das notes.

Gackle says that this is how Hacker News’ demeanour evolves as well:

We cite a hot frog approach—changing things in little increments—over large splashes. Like all users, ours hatred change. We’ve indeed  changed a lot of things in a final dual years, yet usually in ways that fit with what was already there, and infrequently with roughly no manifest difference. It’s fun to figure out how to supplement new functionality that way—like when a programmer total out how to generalize a pattern though creation a formula any larger.

My favorite changes are when we find something nonessential and take it out. [Y Combinator and Hacker News founder] Paul Graham is such a minimalist that each time we’ve found something to mislay has felt like a delight (there haven’t been many such triumphs.).

We’ve also infrequently combined things and afterwards private them when they incited out not to be useful. Having a leisure not usually to supplement new features, yet also to facilitate a site behind again, feels critical to elaborating HN in a good way.

One thing we won’t do is follow pattern fashion. That’s a lot of work, and a bid is improved spent on ways to urge a peculiarity of a calm on HN, that is what a users are there for.


Hila Peleg's Hacker News redesign featured a visible scale indicating a recognition of posts

As with other renouned sites, many HN fans have called for a revamp and even submitted their possess ideas for consideration. To those, Gackle responds:

Because HN looks old-fashioned, people infrequently introduce redesigns. Some of these have incited into operative apps and websites that offer facilities that HN doesn’t have. Many of them are wonderful, yet they usually have opposite goals than HN does. For example, they supplement tone or graphics, or they dump a information density.

I don’t consider I’ve seen a redesign that serves HN’s goals improved than a one [HN founder] Graham came up with. Its simple structure seems optimal for what HN cares about. But maybe someone in HN’s unusually artistic village will infer that wrong, and that would be interesting.

What are your favorite ‘ugly’ sites? Let us know in a comments.

Read next: Beyond pattern trends: Timeless user interface techniques