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Point, Counterpoint: Designers Face Off

Posted on March 16, 2006 by Kat.

What makes good design good, and bad design bad?  As with anything creative, there is a certain element of “I know it when I see it,” but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to analyze, strategize and critique design.  When people scan a page looking for pertinent information, they are led by visual cues to which bits are most important.  It is up to us, as marketers and designers, to provide those cues.



Kat O’Connor: A portal and search engine site, this one makes multiple glaring errors from the get-go.  The page looks cluttered because there is lots of text, very little white space and no images to speak of.

The only image is the rotating advertisement in the upper right corner, and most of the ads are simply text, with or without blobs of color.  (The good ads are the only saving grace of this page, and there are only a few of them, rotated amongst the ugly ones.)

The color scheme is bland, and nothing in particular draws the eye to one part of the page over another.  The eye tends to wander over the page, not resting on any place in particular, as there’s nothing to make any part of the content stand out as important. 

Headers and text are the same size.  Text mainly consists of blue links, which don’t differentiate themselves from each other.  Black, gray and blue are so similar in hue and/or value, that one doesn’t know where to start looking to find the important information. 

The only distinct colors are the bright red and royal blue of the InternetBiz logo, which as a combination is garish and lacks subtlety.  As a whole, it looks like a design from a kid putting together his very first Web page.

Dave Borra: It’s really basic. It uses primary colors, such as red and blue, as well as the default styles for links. It does function as a site, but lacks any sort of style.

The main job of this site is to locate other websites, so its main focus is information. But, I’d like to see a little more thought put into the design of it and use of color.

Overall, this piece is functional, but better design could improve the click-throughs.



Kat O’Connor: The first thing you see on the page is the photo of the shoes, which imparts at a half-second glance what the website is about.  The color palate is warm, and the images have a softness to them which makes for a very comfortable feel. 

The image of the smiling woman at the top gives a sense of the company being personal and friendly.  The information is organized into logical categories, which are then designated by clear visual cues: “Women’s” and “Men’s” are in larger text, a slightly different but complementary font, and underlined all the way across to create distinct sections.

Dave Borra: This website has a really good color palette. I love the earth tones and the imagery. The navigation works, even though there doesn’t appear to be a main navigation bar located at the top.

The stitching is a nice subtle element, and the zipper draws attention to the branding as well as points to the products. This Web site functions not only as a commerce site, but it has good design as well.

Sarah's Note: I completely fell in to this Web site and immediately started surfing for shoes.  Good design works!


Oracle Database ad

Kat O’Connor: Its worst crime is that it just isn’t really outstanding in any way.  The most visually attention-getting element is the stoplight red color, paired with the dark blue in the pie chart, which simply comes off as disconcertingly obnoxious. 

The only image in the ad is not visually interesting, and only displays statistics without expanding on them: Why are they number one?  What kind of real-world benefit do I get with Oracle?  It doesn’t tell any kind of story.  The text treatment—large, bold and black or grey—is also uninspired.

Dave Borra: While not too appealing and overly creative, this ad works for what it is intending to convey to the audience.

The copy in bold black type points out that Oracle Database is the world’s number one database. The pie chart below uses the red to stand out, and it reiterates what was said in the copy above it.

And, the logo at the bottom with the bold red strip going through it ties it all together and gives some weight to the bottom part of the ad. It’s up front, to the point and less conceptual.


EMC2 magazine ad

Kat O’Connor: The idea behind this ad is simple but compelling.  Associating puzzle-solving with information management is intriguing on its own, but it also allows for the creation of an unusual, very visually interesting design. 

Mixing up the pieces of the photo makes it memorable because it is unexpected.  Associating their services with the success of a hospital promotes the idea that it’s more than just number-crunching, but a vital function for human lives. 

The background color is bright enough to be attention-getting without being overbearing, and the light, shadow and texture add further visual interest.

Dave Borra: I like the use of green and blue. Generally, green is used in hospital uniforms by doctors and nurses. This color has a soothing effect on people.

The copy “when information comes together, everybody feels much better” clearly ties in with the image of the puzzle. The piece has some structure to it, and that helps convey what the company does, which is information infrastructure.

This piece is successful in conveying the image of the company in a creative way.

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March 16, 2006 in audio publication, award winning design, award winning magazine, Award winning publications, Blog Outsourcing, Blogging Tools, Building Customer Community, Building Customer Intuition, Business newsletter, Business publications, company blog, company newsletter, Corporate newsletter, Corporate publications | Permalink


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While I agree with your assessments, I have to say that you have picked very different selections each that have different audiences, design and communication goals. You are comparing apples to oranges. You've compared a link farm portal site designed with SEO in mind to an e-commerace site. How about following up with a good portal design and a bad e-commerce design.

Posted by: Peter | Mar 16, 2006 2:41:09 PM

Our intent here is not to compare them against *each other* at all, but to compare them against a standard of "Design that works" vs. "Design that doesn't work." This is more than just making something pretty (in my humble opinion), but actually designing with a particular piece's goals in mind. So in this instance, the portal site fails because there are no design elements to guide the viewer's eye to where you want her to look. This is a failure of design regardless of what kind of piece it is. It is possible to design for both machines (SEO) and people -- simply distinguishing the category headlines with a different font size, color, weight, etc. would have been a good place to start. (And as an aside, AlamoShoes was also designed with SEO in mind -- the company that designed it is one of the experts in the field of merging visual design with SEO.)

In any case, we have some further discussion of good design and portal sites in the Q&A from this month's newsletter here: http://betuitive.com/newsletter/2006Mar/designers-on-design.php

Posted by: Kat | Mar 29, 2006 1:17:56 PM

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