More on The MySpace Problem

When ugliness masks useful design.

Note: A follow-up to The MySpace Problem, published over at Vitamin.

Many weeks ago I contacted Ryan Carson over at Vitamin to talk to him about writing an article on successful, but ugly, web sites. I had seen a lot of designers dismiss sites like Google and MySpace because they are ugly, failing to talk about their merits or what makes them successful. ( I also wrote Does Google Succeed Despite Bad Design? in response to two of them, but that was more focused on Google than it was on the general problem of being ugly and successful. )

In particular, I kept coming back to the question: is MySpace well-designed? Obviously, they’re doing something amazingly right…to have grown so fast and so big. I read Kathy Sierra’s piece: Ultra-fast release cycles and the new plane and it dawned on me that all this ugly-design talk is basically monday-morning quarterback. What matters is the perception of MySpace users. A few I talked to confirmed this: the service is their social life.

So I wrote The MySpace Problem, over many weeks, through many stops and starts, and it is now getting some good conversation going. I’m happy with the piece, even though it ended up being much different than I had originally planned.

The reason why I wrote this piece is because I want to have discussions about what works and what doesn’t work on the Web. This is part of what I do for my job but it’s also what I’m really interested in: social web design. We can all go take graphic design courses to make things look great (which I strongly suggest we do) and communicate a message well, but that wouldn’t help us create something like MySpace. To create something like MySpace, we would need a completely different toolset, made up of skills yet to be determined…

The big takeaway for me was that design is much more than what “web designers” do. It’s the whole package, from research to engineering to marketing. If we think about design as how something works, then we open ourselves to a much broader picture of design.

Most people’s conception of design, right now, is the wicked worn look or rounded corners. But we need to move beyond that, to recognize that graphic design is but a small part of focusing on how things work for people, how they include design in their lives, and, ultimately, how successful the design can be.

Published: June 27th, 2006