Has web design become too slick?

According to Jason Fried, people prefer messy but cosy sites like Amazon and eBay to slick online experiences. What does our panel of experts think?

Jason Fried of 37signals thinks that web design is getting too slick. According to him, many sites have lost their 'cosiness', and people feel more comfortable with a website layout that's a bit messy. "Clutter is a human thing," he says. "It feels cosy, it feels like there’s people who made this and not these artists who people can’t relate to." So does he have a point? We asked some handy experts.

Mikha Makhoul
Visual Designer at Deutsche Telekom

I agree with Jason regarding the cheesy decorated websites, using all the same trends and themes, making the web vague and similar even for different purposes. However, each digital product has a cluttered UX behind it which our job as designers is to polish it, make it attractive and hide it in a nice way, but not to make that clutter obvious, people are driven by beautiful things, it's like an ugly coat that makes you warm, you will consider wearing it to prevent the cold, hence its serving a need, but not everyone will be attracted to it. So we have to think of our user's needs plus serving it nicely in putting our style in it. (I have written an article regarding design trends: https://medium.com/design-ux/1f18344510d)

Noah Stokes
Partner at Bold

In the past year I've voiced my own discontent with the general direction of web design. I think the trends in general lean towards sterile but I think part of that is because we're learning RWD and clean design fits well within a RWD framework. I'm not sure I agree 100% with Jason that we're looking for something messy or cozy, but I do agree that I would like to see more of what I would call personal touches or design details in web design. I think we'll get there in time.

Meg Lewis
Designer, Ghostly Ferns

Web design today has gotten so sleek that it often dampens the brand's overall visual appearance and can remove any personality the brand once had. It's our job as designers, and those interested in the brand's well being, to pair our clean designs with other personable elements on the site. It certainly is possible to bring back that feeling of cosiness in a site design, it's just a matter of thinking of the project from a holistic point of view. Sleek design paired with warm photography, thoughtful copy and juicy graphics can be a wonderful thing.

Jenn Lukas
Frontend developer and creator, Ladies in Tech

There will always be trends in web design. I see why people can get bored of trends, but the nice thing about them is it allows visitors to learn conventions. Whether than convention is navigating parallax designs or scanning zippy Craigslist ads, they teach us to use the web faster. I think what sites like Amazon, Craigslist, and eBay have isn't "cosiness", it's routine. We've learned to navigate their routines over the last two decades. I think these "slick" sites are becoming routines as well. I don't want 100% of the web to look like one style, but let's not push for looking like we're living in the web from "Lawnmower Man".

Veerle Pieters
Chief of the playground at Duoh!

Each his own I guess. I can't follow all his reasoning like, "Also, some of the best buildings in the world are made by people who aren't architects". I don't know where he got that idea, but where I'm from you can't build something if you aren't working with an architect. There's a reason for that because it's technical and dangerous if you don't know what you're doing. I also would like to see those buildings.

Same with his statements about every web site being the same. I'm not having this feeling, and I quite like it that the web is improving, and there is a big photo with good readable text. The sites he mentioned are old in internet terms, and came at a time that the people weren't so demanding yet. I believe they wouldn't succeed now if they had to start all over. Like I said, each his own, and I don't look at what others are doing. If something is overused, but I like it in what I'm creating and it fits the project, I'll use it anyway.

Cameron Koczon
Partner, Fictive Kin

I like Jason's point. Don't know if clinical is the right word but boring sure is. Everyone seems very on trend, and consequently, personality and individuality are ending up on the sidelines. I've opened a dozen blogs in the last month that I thought were Medium at first glance and turned out not to be. Sad face.

Josh Long
Writer and designer, founder of Patterns

I have two modes of thought when it comes to modern web design. On one hand, I think modern sites are human-less and incestuous Dribbble clones. On the other hand, I believe we've been in a "cleansing phase", and like good designers, we've stripped it all away to objectively design anew.

We're still evolving how we use the web, but now we need to remember to put personality, feeling and magic into our work. We're designing for humans after all.

"Cool" sites don't sell like everyone thinks. I'm out there everyday with sites, apps and projects, and I'm telling you this is why people need funding to survive rather than making their own money. Know the difference between design trends and design. Most people don't walk around in what Versace puts on the runway.

Some argue for or against these new trends, but each design needs to be built to spec for the experience you or your clients need. Are you after a one-time story or do you need people to return to a comfortable chair day after day?

My co-host Sarah Parmenter is saying it best in her new "Designing with Data" AEA talk this year. Let's not assume we know the best design decisions and cost our clients/projects five to six figures. Make informed decisions, be simple, clear and direct, and make certain people know it's a damn button.

This article originally appeared in net magazine issue 253.


Tanya Combrinck is digital editor on net magazine.