Take the case of Facebook. Facebook wasn’t always the top social network – that place belonged to MySpace. What happened? I believe the reason for Facebook’s growth lies in large part to its design. If you compare the two sites, it’s pretty obvious which one has a better design. Not just the way it works or the way it looks – both of these things are much better on Facebook’s side. It has been like this from the start.

MySpace offered its users a way to personalize their pages. The result: an incoherent mess. Facebook had a clean, minimalist design from the very beginning. It oozes order. Facebook is clarity and order to MySpace’s chaos, and I think a whole lot of people prefer this. This doesn’t mean MySpace somehow fails – it just means Facebook are utilizing good design as a competitive edge.

Look at social news sites: Digg vs Reddit. Both have very similar functionality, but Digg is the more popular one. Which one do you think looks better? Of course “looks” are subjective, but I think this is another case where it’s clear where the priorities of each site’s developers lie. Digg always had a focus on user interface, design and usability. It looks good, there have always been a coherent design and branding from the start and it’s pretty usable. Reddit doesn’t fail at usability. It’s easy to use and it’s feature complete. What it lacks is a good aesthetic.

Looks have never been a priority for the Reddit developers because they never stopped people using the site. Nevertheless, the ugly design means that traffic will be lost to Digg because new visitors who find out about both sites will have to judge where they want to stay, and given similar functionality and content they’ll go for the better looking site. They’ll go for the better looking site because that’s all they can see, and so that’s what they use to make the call.

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