“Ugly” and “rough” – at least in the English language – sound sort of like they are. They certainly don’t roll off the tongue like “pretty” and “smooth.” There’s a whole chicken-and-egg argument that we could make about whether ugly-sounding words describe ugly things, or if we associate the ugliness of a word to that sound because of its meaning.
But that’s for another day.
This is really a brief thought about the value of the Ugly and the Rough.
Walmart Wins with Rough
I know this may seem like an alien concept to many of you, but there are many Walmarts at which I might shop depending upon where in the metro area I am. And I’ve noticed something peculiar in each of them: from the time you get in the front lobby to the time you enter the actual store, the floors have all been replaced with a textured, stone-like surface. It looks very nice and stylish, and even somewhat trendy. And it’s now in all the stores where I happen to be.
It also aggravates me, because it happens to be in that area where the shopping carts are stored. Because of the rough floor, by the time I get into the main part of the store I can’t tell if there is a bad wheel on the cart, or if the cart is going to squeal or drift. By the time I figure out that I have a bad cart, it’s usually more of a bother to go back than it is to live with the annoyance. And that, my friends, is human engineering at its most scientific.
If the floors were smooth, I’d be able to test my cart right there on the spot, and if it was a lemon I could move to the next cart in the stack. And so would you (if you shopped at Walmart.) And so would everyone else. And the carts would all be scattered, and there would be a traffic jam as the picky and the persnickety all jockeyed for the Golden Cart that holds the magic ticket to Willy Wonka’s factory. The expensive new flooring actually serves a hidden purpose — to keep people moving into the store.
Google Wins with Ugly
Have you been to Google.com lately? Don’t bother clicking over on my account. Aside from occasionally changing the cartoony image in the logo, it’s pretty much the same. A simple white page with a search box a third of the way down in the center. No glitz, no glamor, no videos in your face. Google is flat-out ugly. Because of the ugly and simple, it also loads very quickly, meaning a massive cost savings in terms of bandwidth and time. Given the number of searches processed, adding an additional quarter-of-a-second to the pageload times would be a lot of time wasted for end-users.
How much more popular would Yahoo! Search be if the search experience weren’t so noisy? Granted, Yahoo! has always been more interested in being a portal, but Google lets you have a portal page too. It just doesn’t jam it in your face. When I want to search for something quickly, I don’t want stock quotes, headlines, the weather, links to my mail, and a giant banner ad for my credit score. When I want the portal, I’ll go to the portal. When I want to search, I want a search. Ugly and simple wins.
I’ve been very grateful for those of you who enjoy this site enough to subscribe. For the longest time, there was a slow linear progression of the subscriber base. That slope got steeper the day I added those big ugly orange subscription buttons to my sidebar. I had a couple of people tell me they were ugly and had to go. Yet the previous ones were too small, the colors didn’t stand out, and too far down the page to attract attention. For most people, the buttons appear on the site with no scrolling necessary.
Yes, they are ugly. Yes, they break the color theme. Yes, they eat up valuable real-estate. And yes, they work. They’ve helped me connect with more people, by encouraging them to consume these words at the time and place of their own convenience, not mine. (Tired of seeing those buttons? Peruse Occam’s RazR in an RSS reader, and tell the Subscription Monsters to be gone.)
Ugly and Rough are ugly and rough… but at times are elegantly effective.
[tags]Ike Pigott, Occam’s RazR, Google, Yahoo, Walmart, user experience, web design[/tags]