Defining Awesome Web Design: Is It only About the Visuals?

By / Feb 11, 2014 / Tips

Do looks matter always? That’s a debatable question. Historically good-looking people have always had it easy. This applies to websites too; at least it did for a while. Until, it didn’t.

While most designers focus on building websites for the sake of designing websites. The norm is to handover the completed website to businesses. Once a project is completed, it’s up to the business to figure out how to make the website work. That’s really not doing justice to businesses that pay top dollar for website design. If “awesome design” was just about visuals, website design would have been art. It isn’t.

Website design is 1/3rd art, 1/3rd science, and 1/3rd business — the demands for websites that work stretch into all the three components and that makes it really challenging to develop effective, result-oriented, and profitable websites.

Defining Awesome Web Design: Is It only About the Visuals? Image via Shutterstock

That’s not to say that looks don’t matter. Website design is still 1/3rds art and Roger Black – the guy behind the designs of Rolling Stone, Newsweek, and Esquire – does admit that websites that look great work for businesses. He shares a few rules on Web Design for Fast Company. He insists that “larger is better”, “use colors judiciously”, and “build ridiculous fast websites”. He adds that content still reigns supreme but it makes sense to feed content in little doses and finally, make it all one big positive impression.

So, why isn’t website design all about just the way it looks? What’s missing? Here’s what’s missing:

It always was, is, and will be about money

The traditional business rule goes: “if I put X money into this, how much do I earn out of it?”

So, if you were to spend $3000 on a website design, do you get to make more than that? If you had to pin point and ask this hard question after splurging on a web design, you’d either have to bite your tongue with buyers guilt or look for ways to make sure that your website works after all (which will cost you even more).

That’s why, it’s not always about the looks; it’s about business. Starting from ground up, your website has to get to work. It has to ensure that it feeds your objectives. The website you need could be to communicate brand stories, to generate leads, or for a cause. Whatever it is, your online assets (it all starts with the website) have to work.

Defining Awesome Web Design: Is It only About the Visuals? Image via Shutterstock

It’s never the same, ever.

What’s beautiful today is common, trite, and mundane tomorrow. The web design industry is full of stories that flash, crash, and burn. You’d only have to sit on the WayBackMachine and look at some of the most beautiful websites in the 90s and wonder if they’d ever work today. Now, you don’t even have to wait for a decade. A few months will do.

Sliders used to be cool; now they aren’t. Sidebars on blogs were thought of as utilitarian, now they seem to squat on precious real estate. Stock photos were a blessing then, but they look too cheesy now.

CSS3 can almost do half the job that required graphic designers earlier. DIY web design tools now exist that can spew out better looking websites than what amateur designers can ever come up with. Technology almost threatens the very existence of the web design industry.

Web design industry suffers from the “too much, too soon, too fast” syndrome and nothing that seems to work now will work tomorrow.

If it’s just about looks, website sure age fast. You’ll need a lot more than just “design skills” to exist.

Existence turned into utility. Then came UX/UI/user experience

If visuals were thought of as important, there was a long time in passing when utility was thought of as crucial. The early websites had nothing going for them when it came to visuals (really, who thought about it then? The fact that there was a website was exciting enough).

Then came the need for navigational ease, utility, and practicality. Today, all of that is already taken for granted. What most websites need to worry about is user experience and results. Further, websites also have to render across multiple devices and still do the job well.

That would make you think that things are better today. Unfortunately, it isn’t. Landing pages suck and mobile pages don’t work as well as they should.

Ruben D’Oliveira of 1stWebDesigner points to at least 20 reasons why you website sucks right now. He includes reasons such as balance; distracting backgrounds; lack of detail; white space (or the lack of it); anything that remotely resembles flash; auto playing podcasts, music, or videos; colors; and overflow.

There are a few other things that you thought were cool but can completely ruin user experience: animations; confusing navigation; too much or too little information; and images that aren’t optimized to devices.

The lack of testing culture hurts

Defining Awesome Web Design: Is It only About the Visuals? Image via Shutterstock

For businesses that pay and for designers who deliver, the lack of testing culture – you know, the feverish need to test everything that goes live on the web – sometimes hurts businesses. Sure, you’ll need an appropriate sample size to test your marketing assets such as websites, emails, and landing pages. You’ll also need to expend resources to do this on a consistent basis.

Yet, not doing testing isn’t an excuse anymore when conversions mean so much for businesses. There’s just no way to know how a page performs unless you test it.

If you don’t test, any page will perform (just not up to your expectations). Success comes with measurements, and testing websites for conversions is a great way to measure effectiveness of web design.

We do need great looking websites but we don’t need websites that look so good that they can’t deliver on business results. Businesses have nothing to do with a designers’ trophy website; they have everything to do with a website that converts.

What do you think is the worst obsession designers have about their designs? Do you think looks are all that matter when it comes to web design? Does your website look awesome or does it get you results you want or both?

Show your designs. Share what you think of them.

About the Author

Jon Reiter is the Founder and CEO at Epic Web Results - A Law Firm Website Design Company focusing on website design, search engine optimization, law firm blogging, and local geo marketing.

  • Website Design Malaysia

    visual is important, but content is king :)

  • Giancarlo

    Decoration is important, but design as a whole; the UI & UX are paramount.

    • Jason Pelker

      Yeah, no.

      Decoration is bologna. It’s the waste that comes from a $100,000 graphic design education. It has no purpose but to make the graphic artist feel good about himself.

      And if the client demands decoration, they’re a fool. Either take all their money or fire them immediately. Either way, they have no chance in running a successful business.

  • Bianca Board

    It’s a delicate balance we try to make everyday. We want the website to look incredible, but ultimately we believe in function over form. The article definitely makes one very true statement… it’s important to test. No matter how good a design with, if it effects the client’s bottom line… then the design is a fail.

  • Paula

    Design is important on websites. Visuals, UX, tech and content, key ingredients to a successful website and they don’t exist without each other. That combination will result on successful campaigns and conversion, if done well. If you think that graphic design is a waste you are insulting your client and you might be in the wrong line business for sure.

  • Tom Nguyen

    Looks matter, but only to a certain extent. Content is king, and the main focus should not be on the web design. A website only has to look professional enough (i.e. think Craigslist).

    Although I’m a “web designer”, I care about content above all else. My website is professional looking enough, but it provides a ton of information.

    My top producing website,, has over 7000 visits per month and is a basic looking website. What makes it perform so well in the search engines is the amount of information in it.

  • Rachel Gillevet

    Hey Jon,
    This was a really nice post. I think that content is definitely the biggest factor, but ease of use can get ignored in the design process. If it looks great and the user doesn’t know what to do, what was the point? Anyway, I thought my readers would enjoy this and I wanted to let you know that I included your post in my roundup of February’s best web design/development, CMS, and security content. Thanks again for the nice post.