Robert Scoble has a thought provoking post about anti-marketing web design and how it’s often more successful then well-designed sites.
I think he’s half right. Anti-marketing and bad design can work in certain situations, it can provide trust, it can be faster and quick to load, and it’s anti-corporate feel works really well in the right situation.
However, I don’t think you can just point to a couple of examples like PlentyOfFish.com and say because they’re successful with that method means it works. I can point to lots of well-designed sites that work very well and have a lot of success. It’s probably easier than pointing to poorly designed sites. Bad design works for PlentyOfFish.com in their situation. A lot of the top dating sites are very slick, charge you money, and have a corporate dating feel. PlentyOfFish is free to users, and is fast and easy to use. Not only that, they focused on search, which is something a lot of bigger companies don’t do when designing their sites initially. They’re more worried about the look at that point than search results.
I think most of the time anti-marketing is just keeping things simple, which is why it’s successful. It isn’t because the colors aren’t pretty that it works. It’s because the links look like links, things are easy to find, the pages load quickly, so things tend to work how users think they should work.
That’s why great designers are paid well. It’s a challenge to make a very usable site that also looks really nice, and ranks well in search results.
I think the lesson is if you’re designing a new site, focus on making it usable and search engine friendly. If you can also work that into a pretty design, great, but it shouldn’t necessarily be the top priority.