Do bad designs convert better than good designs?

  •   Joshua Buckwalter

By Joshua Buckwalter

We were recently asked whether bad designs convert better than good ones.

What this question is really asking is whether an ugly page can convert better than an attractive page. The answer to this is yes; however, the real issue is more nuanced.

How conversions work.

What we’re really talking about is a value exchange. Whether you’re selling subscriptions, products or generating leads, you are asking the user to hand over something you want in return for something they want. Value, fear, and difficulty all play a part in this equation.

  • Value: Is what you’re promising the user of equal or greater value than what you are asking them for?
  • Fear: Does the user have any cause to doubt the sincerity of your offer or intent? Are assurances being made to overcome this?
  • Difficulty: Is the level of effort required by the user to understand and engage in the offer greater than their desire to do so?

Don’t confuse Design with Aesthetics.

Whether a page is attractive or not does not necessarily have any bearing on whether or not it is effective. Steve Jobs nailed it in this oft quoted excerpt from the New York Times :

“Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it’s this veneer – that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

Since we’re talking about commerce, or lead generation how the page works relates to how well a value proposition is articulated, what assurance it makes against any anxiety a user is feeling, and how easy it is to use. These things can all be addressed without any level of style. The inverse is also true; good looks and good function are not mutually exclusive.

Why don’t ‘good designs’ convert?

If a page created with the intention of enabling a value exchange doesn’t work then it is poorly designed. Even if it’s slobbered all over by every website gallery on the interwebs. Design is function, end of story. Style can impede function when a designer loses sight of purpose. This kind of sloppy practice shouldn’t be tolerated.

Insist on both.

If you take anything away from this article it should be this: designing is a process that yields thoughtful, well crafted, purpose driven works. Design at its worst accomplishes its goal with little or no style. At its best it reaches the intersection of beauty and function and succeeds beyond all measure.

Always strive for the latter.