Great websites have a clear function, purpose and use. What does your website help your customers to do?

Craiglist is used by more than 50 million in the US alone to buy and sell stuff, find apartments, work, etc. Craigslist epitomizes anti-marketing and anti-design yet it is hugely successful. Why? Because it is useful; and being useful is the best form of marketing and design on the Web.

According to Nat Garun writing for Digital Trends, while Craigslist is "a lifesaver when it to comes to help finding apartments, roommates, deals on used furniture, gadgets, event tickets, and more," there is a consensus out there that, "the site is much too ugly, text-heavy, and terrible on the eyes."

This is contradictory. On the one hand craigslist is a "lifesaver" but on the other hand it is "ugly and terrible". A Techcrunch article on the subject contains the same contradictions, describing craigslist as "recognizable, fast-loading, but outdated as hell." Shane McGlaun writing in Geeky Gadgets states that, "When I have junk to get rid of I prefer to use craigslist to eBay … If ever a site needed a user interface overhaul, it's craigslist."

So, according to the above, craigslist works really well at doing what it's supposed to do but is ugly, text-heavy, terrible, outdated and is in desperate need of an overhaul. Does that make sense?

A different point of view is put forward by Casey Chan writing in Gizmodo, who asks, "Is functional but ugly Craigslist trying to ditch its terribly outdated layout for something prettier? But would you want a redesign to Craigslist? Probably not. The layout is stupid, minimal and efficient to a fault sometimes but it's also the magic behind the classifieds website too."

I have talked to many web designers about craigslist over the years. While they accept that craigslist is hugely successful-it would be hard for them not to-they claim that it is successful despite its terrible, outdated, text-heavy, ugly non-design. If only craigslist did some nice design it would be even more successful, according to conventional design wisdom.

Craigslist is design. It is web design. You are unlikely to find this sort of design being taught in design schools or marketing programs. But it is design. Could the craigslist design be improved? Certainly. Better designs for dealing with spam, managing postings, etc., would be helpful. But would craigslist become a better, more useful website by having a graphical redesign?

"We already know that click-through rates on online display ads are abysmal," Jason Del Rey of AdAge states. "Now a study from the startup Pretarget and ComScore revealed that even when a user clicks on an ad, the correlation between that click and a conversion is virtually nonexistent."

Online ads embody the essence of traditional graphical design thinking. They are designed to be eye-catching, to be up-to-date, to be vibrant, to enhance the brand. According to the study that AdAge writes about, practically nobody clicks on these ads and even those that do rarely turn into customers.

The old model of marketing and advertising is about getting attention. On the Web this model is broken. We need to pay attention to the customers' needs on the Web and the best way to do that is by being useful.