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What You Do vs. How You Look: A Lesson I Learned Studying Living Social & Groupon

(This post has not been edited for errors.  Just my quick raw thoughts)

I am leading a team that is studying Living Social and Groupon – the 2 leading online purveyors of great deals & coupons.

The overwhelming consensus is that Living Social is offering better deals with better companies.  In the past few weeks this observation has even garnered some national attention.

However, every single person on my team felt like Groupon’s site and mobile apps were significantly better designed than those of Living Social.  In fact, many on our team thought Living Social was downright ugly from a design perspective, but even today – all of the buzz on Twitter was how Living Social had sold hundreds of thousands (maybe a million by the time I publish this) deals with McDonald’s.

In summary:

Living Social = Better Deals, Crappy Look

Groupon = Crappier Deals, Better Look

As a customer, which do you prefer?  I prefer better deals.  I think most people do too.

Craigslist looks like crap, but it’s a household name.  We found 2 out 4 of the last houses we lived in on there.

For that matter, from a design perspective, Facebook looks like crap too.  It’s not beautiful at all. Busy. Clunky.  However, we all use it every single day.

The Drudge Report looks like crap too.  Nothing beautiful about it at all.  An elementary school student could have designed that, but it gets 10 million hits somedays.

WHY?  Those sites have emphasized what they do over how they look.  Don’t get me wrong, those sites look the way they look on purpose, but amazingly beautiful sites most often skimp on functionality.

Can a middle ground be found?  Maybe, but in every project I’ve ever managed (and in my own personal life for that matter), I always lean left on focusing on functionality over beauty.