Are We Obsessed With Aesthetics?


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If you have the habit of visiting social bookmarking sites you probably know how popular web design related stories are. Every single day you can find a list with “the best collection of free textures,” “free icon sets,” “examples of stunning typography” and so on.

I do believe that design is an important part of the whole. As the Italian proverb goes, anche l’occhio vuole la sua parte (i.e., the eye wants it’s share too). But after seeing those web design related stories flowing around the web ad nauseam I started wondering whether or not we are obsessed with aesthetics.

The western society in general certainly is, with the fashion industry growing year after year. But my questioning is specific to the Internet society. The netzens, which I like to believe are more sophisticated than the average westerner.

You can find evidence of that obsession for aesthetics everywhere. And bear in mind that I am not pointing fingers here. I have been there myself. I remember back in the day when I was creating my first blogs I used to spend weeks tweaking the design and neglecting the content, as if a beautifully-designed blog would attract more readers than a well-written one. Maybe that is the case?

My reasoning might be biased because I am a functional guy. One of the things I hated the most when working for a multinational company was the necessity to wear a tie. Why? Because I couldn’t find a logical reason behind it. You wear shoes to protect your feet. You wear underwear for hygienic reasons. But why the heck do you wear a tie?

Back to the central question: do you think we are obsessed with aesthetics on the Internet? Wouldn’t it be better if we focused more on the functional aspect of things? I would like to hear what you think, as mine is not an affirmation but rather a wondering.

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42 Responses to “Are We Obsessed With Aesthetics?”

  • Angel Cuala

    Nice comment about wearing a tie, Daniel.

    Anyway, I was also one of those bloggers who used to spend time to improve the looks of my blogs but not anymore.

    Although the blog should look attractive, but not in the sense that it looks like a beauty contest candidate. Well, not unless it is about beauty products though.

    I think that simpler the looks a blog has, the better.

    But with respect to a person’s fashion, I think it should be a personal choice and not compulsory. It must be a part of one’s freedom to choose.

  • Eric C

    Great question. I think yes, we should be. I love writing about art and writing and beauty, so as a hobby, yes!

    But practically, specifically on blogging. Yes, be obssesed in the beginining. But then focus on writing, networking and publicity.

    Also, form never proceeds function.

  • Jack Providenti

    If you research what aesthetics are you may inevitably discover that it is a wavelength…and a very fine wavelength, with a purpose not much different than that of a radio wave. It is potentially a carrier of communications. Many of us like to listen to music, it is a wavelength that illicits an emotional response, and can communicate a message…like a love song. Literature falls in to the category of aesthetics, as does painting and the various visual arts.

    I’m not sure that wearing a tie is necessarily aesthetic.I guess it would depend on the tie.

    As for functionality (without aesthetics), well…some of the functions of a tree, for example are to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen,provide food for lower forms of life, cool the air, have it’s leaves fall, which then rot, and feed the soil, which helps grass to grow. These “functions” are necessary and valuable to the survival of plant and animal life, but what of the Spirit?

    It is the aesthetics; the beauty of the magnificent tree, the green grass, the smell of the soil that puts a smile on a face, recalls pleasurable moments, or a hope for the future. We all have the ability to inject aesthetics in to our lives. You might say that we ourselves put the beauty and magic into an otherwise cold and brutal existence.

  • Sarge

    Usability > aesthetics.

    Bad design/aesthetics can generally lead to bad usability. You want your users to be able to use your website as effectively as possible to get to the content. Having said that though a picture does say 1000 words.

    Perhaps try some A/B testing to see if creating a nice design helps achieve greater goals.

    This blog for example is great for usability. Users know where to get the content they’re after. It’s not hidden, it’s clear. You’ve got your brand at the top that’s all you really need. It is quite plain though, but has great content. Or is it? Like I said before A/B testing might confirm or deny it.

  • Melvin

    I remember myself asking that question in a certain forum and got a response kinda like “just go with it” thing.. Lols..

  • mk akan

    I will love to ask the same question too..what the hell do we wear ties for? maybe to choke ourselves i think.
    Anywhere i believe the reason we are so hooked on aesthetics is the internet itself.Many popular websites we visit are tweaking ,adding features and improving aesthetics daily.
    social bookmarking and social communities are all doing this-it’s had not to follow suit.
    Good content is great but good content and good aesthetics is the bomb.
    Tell me,what would you like ?…good content and bad aesthetics or good content and good aesthetics .
    The answer is obvious.

  • David Walker

    We most certainly are, Daniel, and I find it‘s bordering on obsession. I like a clean, hassle-free look and prefer to focus on my content, which if my readers like, they will keep coming back for more of. I think since we focus on our site exclusively, we assume, erroneously, that the readers do too. They don’t; they have dozens of sites to visit and it must be terrible for them. Imagine all those details, complicated designs and fluff hitting the eyes…

  • jennifer888 @ Negotiation Board

    Aesthetics are important, but of course the are not the be all end all. You can have a site of valuable content that is popular and not visually pleasing. Having a site that is “just a pretty face” that is successful, on the other hand, may be more difficult.

    Don’t waste your energy on the small stuff until you have built your core site content!

  • Filippo A.

    I am Italian, here many people are Obsessed With Aesthetics for this reason many websites with nice text content but an old style graphics are underrated.

  • Adam Baird

    Content is king. There’s a reason that is a cliche…because its true.

    You can have the best design ever, but if your blog sits there with the “Hello World” post you aren’t exactly getting anywhere.

    With that said, a great design will get readers to take you more seriously. They’ll still ignore you if you don’t provide quality, valuable content, but great design at least buys you a few extra seconds of credibility from your visitors. Those extra seconds may make the difference between one time visitor and subscriber/follower/customer/etc.

    Also, strategic placement of design elements like “about the author” and “share this post” boxes, links to RSS and social media profiles, etc. can really help your subscription conversion rate.

    I guess what I’m getting at is that content is much more important than design but design is still extremely important.

  • Daniel Mogentale

    I think we are obsessed, but as a biassed graphic designer I would say this is largely subjective and dependent on the site content.

    There is nothing more disturbing to me then navigating to a site with size 80 yellow, underlined font on a turquoise background. This immediately makes the content questionable. I think because we are all so used the aesthetic in so many other aspects of our lives this has transferred over obviously to our online world too- would you buy a car from a dealer in a cardboard box, or something a little more grounded?

    As you have highlighted I think the issue becomes when the drive for aesthetic takes over from usability, but there are many good websites and social networking platforms which have struck the correct balance.

    Not wishing to unfairly discriminate here, but I feel that the use of Flash, or rather over use, often affects usability since straightforward navigation is suddenly at the mercy of an over zealous web designer- I surely am not alone in being stuck on a Flash website desperately searching for an arrow or something resembling a back button?

  • SEO Steve

    I agree with you for the most part, and I think everything should have a purpose. However, I don’t have a problem with ties – I think it gives the feeling of professionalism. For example, when you go to an interview, employers wouldn’t want to see someone walk in with a tshirt and shorts. Employers would want to see someone walk in with a clean shirt, tie and slacks.

    In regards to website design, I would choose functionality over design any day. It does no good to look fancy, but not be able to serve a purpose.

    Nice topic.

  • Keith Davis

    The web has become the leader for visual design….
    There was a time when web designers tried to make their websites look like magazines and other printed material.

    That has been turned on its head! On television and in magazines and newspapers, the graphics look like websites.

    The main reason is that we are all familiar with web graphis… menus, shiny icons, 3D bits and pieces.

    Is it a good thing? Time will tell.

  • David Crandall

    For the people that only wear or do things that are functional, am I supposed to think that you are all thrift store shoppers? I can’t imagine a hard core thinker of this type would wear anything fashionable as their is no logical reason to spend more than a few dollars at Goodwill on something functional to cover their body,. Also, do these people style their hair daily or just allow it to look as it does when they awake?

    Doubt it.

    Looking good is not for little minds. I agree with the first poster that “it means we respect and value the people we are going to meet” but also that it means that we respect and value ourselves and the society we live in. A blog that has only the defaults and has had no time spent on aesthetics shows me that very little thought has gone into what is being presented or for me as the reader. It also indicates that the poster is either unskilled in the web culture or that they don’t value what THEY have to say very much.

    That being said, I do think our obsession with aesthetics has gotten ridiculous. We are the extreme polar opposite of the functional mentality. I agree that the web culture is so driven by aesthetics that we never even consider the functionality or reason for what needs to occur before we start creating eye candy.

    The netzens are no longer just a sophisticated bunch, but now represent a good cross section of many of the world’s cultures. I do believe that there is an elite group of netzens which seek to enhance the entire net culture, but unfortunately they seem to be extreme gluttons for aesthetics since that is ultimately what seems to draw the attention of investors. I mean, do we really need to see a cute whale being held up by cute little birds every time there is a problem with Twitter?

    Can’t fault them too much for wanting to put some money in their pockets though. It IS the functional reason all of us go to work, right?

  • Gabe |

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder but usability isn’t. There are tried and true methods for creating a great user experience.

    So although wow factor is nice in terms of design, the articles still have to be friendly to all in the long run.

    BTW, just like anything else in life, looking good definitely doesn’t hurt! 😉

  • harrison

    Maybe but most of it is bad taste which ruins a site for me.

  • Ryan

    Books are judged by what’s inside, not the cover. Same thing with a blog. Design serves a purpose but if you feel the need to catch someone’s eye you’re not providing compelling content. The purpose of blogging is to provide a useful forum to discuss ideas.

    Focus on adding value then tweak the design if you feel the need to do so.

  • Daniel Scocco

    @Karol, interesting point.

  • Rarst

    @Nicholas Cardot

    bloggers behind them are not very professional at all

    And what is professional? By definition this would be making money with blog

    It’s not uncommon for blogs that make money to look like crap. Actually some of them are deliberately made so in according to channeling-visitors-to-ads logic.

    It is very common for blog to not make money at all.

    So how exactly does blog looks factor in blog being professional?

    How does content such as:
    – tutorials (mostly urging to go download pirated photoshop)
    – fat lists of stuff (people will tweet, stumble and bookmark but never bother with applying)
    – icons (that are mostly done to show off rather than fit in designs)

    is supposed to make blogs look better?

  • Karol K.

    I truly think that the ability to notice aesthetics, or in other words beauty, is one of the things that separates us from animals. A tree is always just a tree to an animal. It can give them shelter – animals only notice “the function”. We as humans can take the tree, and turn it into a sculpture. We can see the beauty in everything, not just the function, and the internet is no different. I think that it’s one of the reasons why all these design-related things are so popular.

    So my answer is that we should keep our focus on both aesthetics and functionality, because art/design itself is one of the things that we humans do best.

  • Nicholas Cardot

    I think that most blogs that I visit are ugly, unattractive, and make me feel that the bloggers behind them are not very professional at all. With this in mind, I think that the internet community might back off when people start to figure it out. So no…I don’t think they are obsessed. I think that people need the improvement.

  • Greg Molyneux

    For one, I think it demonstrates a willingness to go the extra mile. It shows you care enough to make a strong first impression. Depending on your content, an elegant design may be essential to what it is you are trying to accomplish.

    Granted strong content is what matters in the long run, but I do not think presentation can ever be devalued. There are far too many who prescribe to visual influence and I do not think that makes them any more or any less savvy – it is merely a fundamental difference that people possess. So I guess you have to ask yourself whether it is important for you to determine how form must fall in line with your function.

  • Hal Brown

    Of course we are obsessed with looks, not only with the Internet, but everything we do. This is just a fact of life. Content with disregard to design is like a picture with no frame. For me, the objective is always to achieve balance.

    Most of the time content (In reference to written content) will win over looks. I’ve seen a few blogs using the default template. Is the blogger too lazy to distinguish his site with even a minimal template? I have to wonder about his content when I see things like this.

    You can always “..swim against the current…” but that doesn’t mean it is the correct thing to do anymore than “going with the flow.”

  • Rarst

    Sure people like shiny things. So naturally there are many people online who generate content with explicit goal of it looking nice and catching attention. Value is secondary for such.

    As for me it’s not good or bad. Some will simply move on (or never get hooked on shiny fluff in first place), some will bookmark and admire yet another icon set every day.

    There is something for everyone online. 🙂

  • Ahmad Barirani

    I do agree. Sometimes aesthetics can get into usability’s way. This is something else that happens when we get obsessed with aesthetics.

  • Chris

    Yes, I think we’re obsessed with aesthetics on the net – the most useful and functionally elegant site in the world still has to create a first impression at some point… and if it’s pot ugly that first impression isn’t going to be great. Since net traffic can be pretty transient, getting that first impression right is important.

    Having said that now, I need to give some serious thought to my own site’s design!

  • Tony Lawrence

    You wear a tie to make the little minds comfortable. If you dress like they do, you must think like they do – you aren’t a threat to their culture.

    They don’t understand that the far greater threat is the wolf in sheep’s clothing. The dirty slob might steal your spare change, but it’s the slick guy in the suit and tie who will take everything you own.

    Same thing for the Internet. You “dress up” your site to make people comfortable.

  • Craig

    A certain level of aesthetics is required, as it is a representation of the owner. Content is also very important, but in this day and age where every man and their dog has a website, it is the aesthetics of the site which catch the eye first and then hopefully the attention of the reader in terms of the content.

    For, me, if the content is good, then i am not too worried about the aesthetics as long as the functionality of the site is fluid and easy to navigate.

  • Young

    Maybe it is just a kind of culture. It makes you look formal when you wearing a tie with suite. When we dress ourselves well, it means we respect and value the people we are going to meet.

    As a blog, I think it is not only the clothes you wear, but also the face you have. You do not need to wear an expensive and nobby shirt, nor to do face-lifting, but you’d better keep the shirt and your face clean, along with a nice haircut.

  • Holly Jahangiri

    Good design will bring them in, but only good content will keep them. Good content requires some degree of work, though – visually pleasing layout requires little of the viewer. Inundated as we are with information, some part of the brain simply doesn’t want to work that hard. Or maybe it just wants to work differently. If a site could impart good content directly to the brain, without the need to read and analyze and apply it, perhaps that would trump the obsession with aesthetics.

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