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bad design = good design?

Given that someone that I (we) know interviewed at ebay for a design position, I find this article amusing. When asked during the interview how to improve the site design, I guess a defensible answer could have been, "more crappy."

I'm not sure I fully agree with the thesis that "bad design = bargain = good," but one could also argue a "weakest link" theory, which I would outline as follows:

1) The design of the pages for the auction items is partly created by the sellers themselves.

2) If the seller puts up really a really bad design, there's not much e-bay can do to counterbalance it. In effect, the page looks as ugly as it's ugliest element.

3) It's better to be harmonious with the bad design than to create dissonance between a slick design and a crappy design.

though I still think ebay could look better than it does.

- Is flea market design successful for eBay? (kottke.org)

Comments (3)

for a corporate site like ebay, they dont need a sleek or crappy design... they need an intuitive design, a user friendly and more idiot-proof.

kwc:

I did a poor job of distinguishing my uses of the word "design" in this post. In this post I'm mostly referring to the ugliness of the graphic design, as the graphic design is what creates the "bargain" appearance. When I say "slick," I mean it in a way that is orthogonal to "user-friendly" and "idiot-proof," as you can have a slick design that is completely unusable.

You could argue that the user experience design also creates a sense of "bargain," but as "user experience + bargain" is often synonymous with customer disservice, I don't think we want to go there. The article I link to, however, does refer to the design as a whole, both graphical and user experience.

So to be slightly clearer:

In terms of graphical design, I think ebay is an eyesore. It's ability to not look like an eyesore is hindered by the fact that the sellers create pages that are even worse eyesores.

In terms of user experience design, I find the search pages of ebay disorienting and overloaded. Once you become familiar with it, it does expose a lot of features for helping you locate items more efficiently, but my gut tells me that they could do a lot to make it more user-friendly and idiot-proof.

For example, there are three different areas in which you can click on links that filter the search results:

1. Above the search items: "ending first | newly listed | lowest priced | highest priced"

2. In the left column (matching categories + display): "subcategories, Gifts view, Gallery view, Items near me, PayPal items, View ending times, etc..."

3. The tabs at the top of the page: "All Items, Auctions, Buy It Now"

Furthermore, in the search results, there are icons for Paypal, Gift Items, Buy it now, and Gallery picture. Yet, for all these icons, only the link for "Gift Items" actually displays the icon next to it.

You know, I always used to wonder about the packaging design on bargain brands of food. Is it really that they didn't bother spending time and money on the design? Or did they deliberately design ugly packaging, knowing that there was a certain ugly look that people would recognize as an indicator of a bargain?

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