For users, the biggest factor in whether they will stay on a page is the usability and user experience of the page. They want it to look pretty, obviously, but even the nicest looking pages don’t keep their visitors unless the page functions the way they want.
There are hundreds of thousands of books about web design and user experience (UX), and even textbooks preaching specific ways to guide users throughout a site. So why does a site that breaks every rule of design continuously draw scores of news seekers and win design awards all over the place?
Mail Online is a British tabloid-type of news source with celebrity gossip, indignant moral opinion pieces, and of course “coverage” of breaking news. The recent Oscar Pistorious case held the same pagespace as a headline about Amanda Bynes. The site is also heavily addicting, even for those like me who try to be picky about their news sources. It outperforms almost every major news website including The New York Times and Britain’s The Guardian.
Mail Online’s disregard for traditional web design rules is apparent from their scrolltastic front page, which would be close to four foot long if printed out and laid end to end. They draw reader’s immediately by removing all advertising on the front page and doubling the rate of ads everywhere else.
The news source’s site is like a maze that you can’t ever be totally lost in. Sidebars have over 50 stories, each with images, and a visitor can end up pages deep before they realize they haven’t been to the front page, but they don’t feel lost. The feeling is similar to Wikipedia’s site structure where visitors follow links down the rabbit hole, but are still connected with almost every navigational tool the front page offers.
Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan explored Mail Online’s rule-breaking design innovation more at Co.Design. I’m unsure whether this type of rule breaking is actually good for web design, but I have always been attached to overly designed styles which emphasize aesthetics. Mail Online suggests that aesthetics may actually be holding back design.