Along the way, the original message often gets lost. This is obviously counterproductive, given that the aim of a website is to communicate ideas and information, not to be so “pretty” that no one notices the content (the stuff that really matters).
For those of you old enough to remember the rise of the internet in the late 90s, you'll undoubtedly remember the great search engine battle, pitting the young upstart Google against the heavyweight champion Yahoo. I've spent quite a bit of time lately debating the causes and outcome of this “war” on web forums, but the way I remember it, Google's crushing victory was due to the simplicity of it's interface. Google made looking for things quicker and easier, by getting rid of extraneous details and by only presenting the information that really mattered. Yes, they did (and still do) have a killer search algorithm, but in essence it was more a victory of design than function. Or rather, the complexity of Yahoo's design at the time got in the way of its function, while the simplicity of Google's design aided it's purpose: getting results. It certainly didn't win because it was prettied up.
The website design process is often subjected to – and sometimes a victim of – this same dynamic. On the one hand, it's important for a website to evolve over time, with new content added, and new functions provided to entice visitors to notice a website ... and to return. On the other hand, it's important not to lose sight of the original purpose of the website – whatever it may be – and to let the essential message drown in an ocean of (albeit attractive) design elements.
On my travels through the member directory, I recently stumbled on a website that neatly synthesized these thoughts on effective website design. It immediately evoked the two words that inspired this article's title: simplicity and sincerity. As far as designs go, it's neither complex nor convoluted. And I'm reasonably sure that it will never win a web designer award – it has nothing fancy, flashy or reflecting the latest web design fad. Perhaps it's just because it matches the color of my current favorite sweater (from Devred, if you really wanna know), but whatever it is, it's a design that works, almost in spite of its simplicity. Nothing in its layout is confusing, and none of its content is lost in an overly convoluted design.
It does two things, and it does them well: it instantly directs the eye to the essential – the artist's name and preferred medium of expression – and delivers a simple, visible yet instantly meaningful message, that wins one over with its sincerity. It's almost impossible not to be drawn into it, and in the process be drawn further into the website. Just like Google, the information on the website is stripped down to the bare essentials, and the message is clear and direct, and not buried beneath layers of design clutter.
When next deciding what kind of direction you'd like to take your website design, take a little time out to visit Carol Acworth's website, and let yourself be inspired by a great implementation of the two S's of basic website design: simplicity and sincerity. Who knows, you might just learn a thing or two about how to make a website while you're at it.