Severely Ugly Websites

How does it happen?

I think two things when I see an awful website:

  • They must not know?
  • Perhaps they got screwed over by some 13-year-old kid in his Mum’s basement that claimed to be a ‘professional’?

Since I’m not especially interested in being negative, I’m not going to link directly to any examples. I’ll just link to a site that lists some examples. WebPagesThatSuck.com itself, in an ugly site, and admittedly so, by the creators themselves. Either as a joke or because they can simply review sites, but do not possess good web design skills themselves.

We all suck at first.

No one is the master or expert of what they do when they first start out. We all have to learn, and we all learn differently. I can look back now and chuckle at my skill level and it’s a bit shocking too. Lots of us can look back and… what were we thinking? Well, we were thinking from the point of view of someone without enough knowledge yet.

No one likes a big ego or those who put down others and act as if they were born the way they are with supreme expertise. It just isn’t true. The healthy outlook is that we’re always learning and we had to start somewhere.

With that being said, I’ve come a long way (not that I don’t still have a long way to go) in the last 8 years. I did some digging and I put together the oldest version of calmest_ghostDESIGN (my very first website) that I could. Feast your eyes on my very own super ugly site, hooray!

Where most people and companies might hide an out-dated site like that for good, I embrace it. There’s nothing to be ashamed of, after all. In fact, the best way to learn is to accept your flaws, past and present, and to learn from them. Let’s break down all the mistakes I made with my first site so many years ago:

  • The name and domain name. Horrible name based on nothing more than that was my established internet handle or pseudo name/nickname at the time. Basically, that represents my original mindset from the beginning, a just-for-fun, trying-it-out type of deal. Where later I became much more serious about my profession. Where I can redesign my site over and over and continue to update it, it wouldn’t be too wise to rebrand the name at this point (8 years in). It is what it is, a unique and silly name :).
  • Aesthetics. Need I say more? Well, the color scheme is something pulled out of a monkey’s hat and the graphics are just plain awful. I honestly have no idea what I was thinking at the time. That’s just it, I might have thought it looked good at the time with that lack of knowledge. Horrible font choice, no paragraph usage. Awful spacing and CSS styling, using almost all absolute positioning.
  • The code. This is what stands out the most for me. Go ahead and view the page source. Dinosaur HTML, use of tables, and an inline stylesheet. A heavy obnoxious JavaScript menu for no reason outside the fact that I didn’t know how to make a CSS menu. Overall, just really messy code, garbage comments, etc. This is before I hand-coded. These are the days of amateur Dreamweaver trial and error fun.
  • SEO. What SEO? Oh the circa 1995 SEO where everyone thought that stuffing as much meta info as we could was just amazing Christmas presents under the tree for Google.

The bottom line is that I was piecing a website together as best as I could with the limited knowledge I had, which was almost non-existent.

Unfortunate victims.

Fortunately, I’ve always been a straightforward, honest, and nice guy. So, at least I admitted upfront that I was learning and I used to take projects on any where from pro-bono to super cheap. We’re talking slave labor (minimum wage no where in sight). But, that is the trade-off and part of the problem why ugly sites exist, I think.

You have the client, an individual, or startup business looking for those free or ridiculously cheap services. And you have the college kid or the self-learning freelancer like myself starving for work, to add to our portfolio, and bending over backwards for chump change, to get in experience, any experience.

I remember working on a project for three months, all for only $300! No joke. Sadly, that’s how some of us that didn’t know any better started out. Now I understand from the other side all the times other, skilled professionals were upset with me. Because it creates such a problem in the industry that I now have to deal with myself. Simply, I can’t compete with those cheap prices anymore.

Now that I am a proper professional (with all confidence in saying that), those conditions are just not tolerable anymore. I have the skill set that I know a client really needs and yet that $300 is too tempting compared to my $1,000+ quote. What they’re going to end up with is a severely ugly, non-SEO-friendly, slow-loading, non-functional website.

They might live with it for a while, which only serves to hurt them until they eventually go under and let the site die. Or, if they are making it they’ll now pay the right price and get their site done right. In the long run, they always pay more.

There are a few more culprits to consider. Sometimes the client is very much willing to pay a decent amount, but gets shafted by a crook. Someone who charges $4,000 that comes into the agreement with amazing promises and guarantees. Then they simply upload a cookie-cutter template and you never hear from them again.

Another issue is offshore outsourcing (to India or China for example), but that’s a whole other debate.

What’s the solution?

Unfortunately, there will never be a shortage of shady or crummy “professionals” on craigslist. Likewise, there will never be a shortage of people that are somehow eluded by the old saying: “You get what you pay for.

Fortunately, a website can always be redesigned. The first thing I’m always asked when redesigning a website is “Will SEO be included?” Good web design is SEO-friendly by default, in the code. Whether you’re getting a new patio or a website, put your research in. Portfolio and testimonies are what’s important… then price.

UPDATE — Looks like my days of ugly creations isn’t over yet! I even made the top 10 ugly list here with my theme BlankSlate, woohoo!

Have any ugly website experiences you want to share?