An interesting problem that many of today’s sites have is that they don’t function well and aren’t designed well. Many of the successful Web++ sites seem to function very well, but lack pleasing aesthetics. Very rarely do you see a site that has the problem of great design masking a lack of functionality or features, but 9rules had that problem for a long while.
In many ways 9rules has been a great success to us, but internally there was always a nagging feeling that so much more could be done with the site. The recently launched Ali is our 5th revision of the site and as was the case with the other revisions adds more of the functionality that we had envisioned. With every revision we are left wondering how we lived without the functionality prior to the release and in all honesty I think the design of the site and active community kept us stable for so long and people coming back.
The fact is I think we were hiding our lack of functionality behind a great design (yes I think our designs are great). We knew we could do more and I’m sure others felt the site could do more, but for a while our design and our great community were saving us. Now this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but something that you can’t rely on forever because sooner or later someone is going to surpass you because they saw the functionality that you lacked.
Now none of this means we aren’t extremely happy with each revision of the site that we release, otherwise we wouldn’t release them. We just have a bad habit of constantly wanting to do more and push the boundaries of what is expected of us. In many cases you could swap out the term “functionality” for “features” because each revision of 9rules worked, just without some of the features that would’ve made the site a more pleasing experience.
To get what I mean let’s look at the version history of 9rules.
- Version 1: Giant linkroll.
- Version 2: Member content aggregator.
- Version 3: Communities introduced.
- Version 4: Notes introduced.
- Version 5: Ties it all together to make for one cohesive experience.
In a perfect world Versions 1-5 would have happened at once or at least a lot closer to each other, but because of internal and external factors it didn’t happen. However, during this time 9rules never faltered. The site and community continued to grow even with the minimal amount of functionality that the site had. I have no doubt that our members and community played a much larger role than the design of the site, but I’m willing to guess that the design played a significant part as well.
How often do you see this happen on blogs? You come upon a blog that has a great design and maybe you come across the one great article that everyone has linked to so you subscribe to the site or bookmark it. Yet over the next couple of weeks you find that there isn’t really any great content to be had.
Now let us take the reverse example. You come upon a poorly designed blog (yeah, yeah like this one right?) and instead of immediately subscribing to it you go over the archives to see if the content is really better than the design. How many times does a person get labeled a design expert because of a great design and shitty writing?
A couple of years ago Volkswagen leaned heavily on hiding behind the design of their cars until Consumer Reports rated them the lowest with regards to car performance. Eventually people stopped buying them and VW had to focus on not only the design of the car, but how well they functioned. Design can only take you so far, but it is best to have a great design in place than no design and crappy functionality.