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Uncool sites and proud of them

October 1, 2006
Jim Huber

We've all seen those commercials, with the two consultants pitching their ideas on how to improve the user experience at The first guy has a corny idea, like a steering wheel to navigate the site. The second guy shows Vehix TV, which he describes as a "cool" way to make buying a car more fun.

It seems harmless enough. It's just a commercial. But I'm probably the only person who takes exception to that description. Unless your business Web site is for something relating to arts or entertainment, you probably don't need a "cool" site. Cool sites don't sell your products or your business services. That is not what people come to your site for. If you try to distract them with fluff, they are not going to stick around.

For the sake of this article, we're not really interested in the actual Vehix TV experience. I personally thought it was pretty annoying for a variety of reasons, but it doesn't matter here. It's the idea that cool sites mean good sites that I am addressing.

If you want your site to be effective, you must respect the users. And coolness is an insult to the visitors. They want information, products, or services to meet some need of theirs. So if you have a site designed that is to be cool, it means you don't understand your visitors. They want substance, but you tell them you think they want glitz. The dust jacket may look great, but if the pages are blank, a book is useless.

But maybe your site has both the information/whatever they desire AND coolness. Is that so bad? Two things come to mind. First, if your site has what they need, then why pay to also make it cool? People are coming to the site to get what they need, so there's no need. Second, the cool stuff just gets in the way of allowing the user to find what he wants.

So what does this all mean? Make drab and boring sites? Not at all. There is still room for visually appeal and creativity in Web sites. But those features should complement, not distract from or be the primary purpose of the user experience.

Don't think the cool factor is what will give you the competitive edge. Compete for visitors with good content and functionality, not pointless bells and whistles.

A truly cool site is one where users say "wow" not after they see it, but after they use it.