Popular doesn’t equal good

Something I find increasingly annoying is the fear most companies have when developing a new web site. They don’t dare to try new things, and more importantly, they don’t even want do offer something good. It’s a copy-cat syndrome holding us all back.

Let me explain what I mean, and I’m sure many of you have been in meetings similar to this:

Yeah, we want to have a web site exactly like [insert very large and well-known web site here]. They have millions of visitors every day, and we want that too!

Then the meeting continues, discussing what the web site will actually will be about, the desired target audience etc. But as soon as you reach a point about actual implementation, they’re immediately back at square one: how does the popular web site do it?

And the problem is that this attitude in turn stifles all kind of creativity, usability, nice designs and accessibility. But, and listen carefully now, I have news for you:

Popular web sites, such as MySpace, Ebay, del.icio.us and, to throw in a local pet hate one, Aftonbladet In Swedish, have succeeded despite their design, not because of it.

Most of these were built some years ago, and design on the web, technology and web browsers have moved on, a lot, since then. The reason above mentioned web sites, as well as most other large ones, have such wide user bases and myriad of visitors is because of a few reasons:

  • Content is king!
  • They’ve been around for a while, so people know they exist.
  • Communities are built around friends, virals and hypes – not through Crappy Web Sites Weekly. Their design and practices have almost exclusively had nothing to do with their way to the top.

When updating an already popular web sites, other rules come into play. But if you build a new web site/completely redesign an existing one, please please don’t mistake what you see on famous web sites as a recommendation. Instead, focus on content, taking care of your end users and generally choose the design and interaction that is most suited.

Who knows, if you actually release something good as opposed to just following suit, you can be the next major player.


  • Well, most definetely you can't predict a site sucess for its design alone, but also, not for its content, and perhaps not for both toghether either.

    Content is king, yes. A rule of thumb for the designer, but not for the public.

    There are a lot of different people surfing the web and being parachuted on random sites for random reasons, and eventually attracting these people is a kind of sucess for some projects.

    My point is, maybe some sites in your list, or outside of it, have succeeded despite their design and despite the content as well.

    Here an interesting link I've read these days.

  • […] decían precisamente hoy en Robert´s talk hay sitios que han triunfado a pesar de su aspecto y no por él y entre otras razones […]

  • lol that is funny. I just got off the phone to a client who gave me two web addresses and asked for the design to be similar to them…

  • Pat says:

    As webmasters, or wannabe webmasters, I think we have all fallen into that trap some time, some how, and the circle continues. Look at when google became popular, just to name one. Mostly everyone's search design began to look uncannily similar. For instance Yahoo is trying really hard to get a big bite out of google's apple, but with Google a household name now, the fight will be a long drawn out battle. Although I admit sometimes Yahoo draws in better results and I don’t mind switching between the two at all 🙂 Actually that’s also a classic example of adaptability on Yahoo’s part – (delivering a design to suit the needs of those used to google). Break away I say!

    Sorry I get off track. Bottom-line, how you succeed I've learned is word of mouth, useable/elastic content, and listening to your audience. Although I love to see nice pretty designs, I would choose the plain jane site anytime if their service was superior despite being popular or not (well of course depending what the service was for).

    Nice post Robert 😀

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Thanks guys, I'm glad you understand me. 🙂

    Guilherme, thanks for the link.

  • […] decían precisamente hoy en Robert´s talk hay sitios que han triunfado a pesar de su aspecto y no por él y entre otras razones está la de […]

  • Gram says:

    to: used for expressing motion or direction toward a point, person, place, or thing approached and reached, as opposed to from. "They came to the house."

    too: in addition; also; furthermore; moreover. "young, clever, and rich too."

  • Robert Nyman says:


    Anywhere in the post where you see such an error?

  • John Meyer says:

    I think Gram was referring to:

    "They have millions of visitors every day, and we want that to!"

    Petty if you ask me but there it is. Anyway, good post, I enjoy reading your blog. Keep up the good work!

  • Robert Nyman says:


    Ah, thanks! I missed that one.

    And thank you for reading, I'm glad you like it!

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