Do our Applications Have to Look So Bad?
I've seen a number of functional, useful websites and applications (usually for internal company use) that are can simply be described as ugly. Is it because the developers can't design or is it simply because design isn't a requirement or consideration? I tend to believe the later.
Some people have a gift where they can see things in their head and put them all together. But if you don't, that doesn't mean things you develop have to look like a Nick Nolte mug shot (unless you're developing for NickNolteMugShots.com). I wouldn't expect the average developer to be able to create a visual masterpiece, but take a look at a site like Cnn.com or Digg.com. The look of these sites is clean and the layout well thought-out. With a little knowledge of image editing, HTML, CSS, and by following some basic design principals, it wouldn't be hard to make your site look like either of these. You don't need a lot of graphical skills to make a clean looking site.
You might not have a grand vision yourself, but by taking a look at other websites and determining aspects of those sites that look good and work well (and stealing parts of them), you can piece together your own website that also looks good. It's a trial and error process. Try create something. You might not be able to envision what looks good, but you certainly should be able to tell what doesn't. If it looks bad, then change it and try again until you get it right. Don't expect to be good at this right away, but as you work through the process more and more, you will start getting a handle on what looks good and what doesn't much quicker.
I've been working on the same project for over nine months now at my day job. We've had design meetings, but they've always been functional design meetings and never touched on design to make the website aesthetically appealing. This has been the case in other places that I have worked and I suspect many of you have experienced this too. How good can you expect your website/application to look when how it looks is an afterthought? You might spend 30, 40, or 50 hours a week coding your application but do you even spend any time dealing with how it looks?
When you're developing an application, your number one priority should be getting the application to satisfy the user requirements. After all, if it doesn't do what they needed it to do, why should the users use it in the first place? You fail. But there is something to be said about using an application that looks good too. If you're trying to sell your app to the users (or sell it period), it will be a lot easier to do if they're impressed by how it looks (or at least not disgusted by it). And they'll appreciate the extra thought put into design because they have to use it every day and aren't big fans of staring at an ugly screen all day.
I'll be the first to admit that I'm not terribly happy how this blog looks (my latest site design looks much better). The reason that it doesn't look better isn't because I couldn't design something better, it's simply that I was pressed for time to get something functional done and to me that was a much more important requirement (as it usually is). If I just sat down for an hour or two and really worked on a design, this place could look a whole lot better. And I suspect many of the drab looking applications we create could too.
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