Is good and bad web design strictly a matter of opinion

There are great websites out there winning awards for the “best web designs”. The most prominent leader in showcasing some of the “best web design” out there is Awwwards ranks the quality of these modern websites out of 10, giving out a lot of recognition and attention to the winners.

But if web design is about creative expression how can a website’s design be quantified, compared, and valued? Is good and bad web design strictly a matter of opinion?

Before we answer this question, it’s important to break up the question into 3 parts so we can understand it better; web design and what good web design is vs what bad web design is.

First, what is web design?

This question isn’t actually as boring as you think. 

The common definition of web design refers to the appearance of a website like fonts, colors, and layouts [1]. However, I think it’s important to realize web design is about far more than making things pretty on a website.

A more proper definition would be that web design would be that it’s made up of two parts:

  1. User Interface – How aesthetically pleasing things look
  2. User Experience – How intuitive and smoothly flowing those things work

Commonly referred to as UI and UX, these 2 concepts themselves can go far beyond just web design. Other kinds of design like graphic design or even more physical types like product design all use UI and UX in some way to make someone’s experience and quality of a product better.

A simple explanation of how UI and UX play a role in our lives are doors. If you see a door you can usually tell immediately whether or not you have to push or pull the door to go through it. This is the wondrous benefit to good UX – intuitively knowing how to use (without much thought) something with as little effort as possible. And finally, UI is just how aesthetically pleasing the door is.

UI and UX are used in web design to make websites aesthetically pleasing (UI) and as intuitively performing as possible (UX). Overall, UI is more about interpretation and expression while UX is more data-driven and factual.

Now understanding that web design is made up of both UI and UX design, we can answer the question of what makes good web design and what makes bad web design.

Secondly, What’s good web design?

In my interpretation, good web design is where you’ve created something familiar enough to use intuitively, but is unique enough as to be remembered.

Or in other words, good web design would be using a mix of UI (User interface) and UX (User experience) design to make an intuitively performing and aesthetically pleasing website.

This is important because a website can look really nice, but can suffer from a poor user experience affecting the overall quality of the website.

Unfortunately, I see time and time again people prioritizing UI over UX, when UX is far more important. This misconstrues the idea of what good web design really is because people are basing it off of skewed or trivial criteria for what good web design is made up of.

Why is UX more important than UI and how does it fit into web design?

Going back to our door example, where the UX is how you know to push/pull the door, and the UI is aesthetically pleasing the door is, you can begin to why UX is more important.

Continuing the door example, most people don’t care what the door looks like, they just want to briefly use it, not think about it, and move on.

Time and energy are arguably the most important aspects of our day-to-day life, so how something looks (UI) doesn’t affect us positively in the same way as when something is energy and time-efficient (UX).

This is the same way with web design, but harsher. The reality for websites is that you are competing for people’s time and energy and only get a little at time.

  • A website’s bounce rate on average can be up to 90% depending on the type of your website’s page [2]
  • 79% of people scan through text instead of reading it word by word [3]
  • The first 10 seconds of a page’s visit are critical for users’ decision to stay or leave [4]

Add this data up and it means that every second is very vital to a website page’s success. This is why UX is so important in web design because it fundamentally makes people’s life easier when on a website saving your visitors precious time. UX must be used to get people where they want to be as fast and as painlessly as possible without any distractions taking away from those valuable seconds.

Overall, I think good web design is mainly comprised of good UX while being supported by good UI.

Lastly, What’s bad web design?

Well, this is easy, it’s the opposite of good web design. So this would mean bad web design is where you’ve created something unfamiliar enough to be unintuitive, and is boring enough as to not be remembered.

Overall, bad web design is unintuitive, bland, unfamiliar, and makes it hard to meet the desired goals of its users.

Conclusion: Is good and bad web design strictly a matter of opinion

Taking a look at what makes up truly good and bad web design, I would say that good and bad web design is NOT strictly a matter of opinion because good UX plays a bigger role in good/bad web design than UI does. UX being more factual and backed up by studies (Ex. X is better for the user experience than Y) makes the quality of web design less about personal opinion and more about what’s factually better and quantifiable to judge.

And so I’d like to reiterate, good web design is not just about making a website look pretty. It’s about following proper statistically-proven best practices that make websites easier to use while still being remembered and pleasing to look at.