As a designer, I put no faith in this. As a UI architect, there was some validity. As the owner of a project that is only becoming successful as the site becomes more ghetto, I am a believer.
I believe design is nothing more than the communication of an idea. This idea can be an emotion, a belief, a set of instructions, or a transaction between a user and a system. Additionally, I believe that the more refined and aestetically pleasing that communication, the better a user would respond and comprehend.
I may have been incorrect on that second point.
Oddly, I’ve always been a fan of DIY art, publishing, etc. and hold the early punk design in very high regard. The vehicle became less important than the communication. As Heller describes (talking about an entirely different phase of ugly design) : “Ugly design can be a conscious attempt to create and define alternative standards. Like warpaint, the dissonant styles which many contemporary designers have applied to their visual communications are meant to shock an enemy – complacency – as well as to encourage new reading and viewing patterns.” Link
So why am I so hesitant to embrace Ugly Design? Perhaps because it’s so randomly successful. Or perhaps because I’m far too egocentric a desginer to believe any user would adopt something so shady looking.
My project is currently about to test a version of the site with a design based on the well-performing, but ugly, design. The pages were given to an accomplished designer, who turned out a predictably pleasing version of the same pages, using the same content and transactive elements.
Should this test show the ugly version to be preferred. I’m not sure how I will feel.
One last word.. as Ugly Design becomes a trend in itself, let’s take some advice (also from Heller)
“The problem with the cult of ugly graphic design…is that it has so quickly become a style that appeals to anyone without the intelligence, discipline or good sense to make something more interesting out of it.”