Why Your Site Doesn't Need to be Pretty is a practical heresy to graphic design orthodoxy. I think the title is misleading. The message I took away is exactly opposite: Aesthetics matter more than you think.
This article presents an idea novel to many. Not that aesthetics do or don't matter -- that the aesthetic can be tested. What Petco learned was you can test one look against another.Like most retailers, PETCO assumed that the best way to showcase the products on a category page was to use a shotgun approach: lots of thumbnails on the page to show the breadth of products. Wrong again.
That time, we learned that picking one or two products and showing a larger, more attractive photo converted visitors to buyers at a faster rate than the thumbnails.
The real message is don't be blinded by beauty.
Look at a nonprofit site. If the design draws attention to itself, it may be gratifying for the graphic designer. Unfortunately the user might just get the message the nonprofit doesn't need money. Or that what money the institution gets is spent on the wrong things. This doesn't mean the site design is unimportant, but that you have to be careful a nonprofit design doesn't seem overdesigned.
The concept that a site can be overdesigned isn't convenient for an industry which sells site construction services and templates by the pound.
Output volume isn't design -- effectiveness is.
Overproduced sites abound. Could it be a slickly designed site, fairly dripping with 'production value' is sending a different message? It may just be too slick sites put users on guard. When pretty is the first thought, the mind quickly searches for the balancing substance. What looks good in a graphic design portfolio should not be a requirement.
Today's culture is visual. It would be a shame if text was the only way for a site to communicate information.
Aesthetics matter -- as effective communication, not decoration. "Your Site Doesn't Need to be Pretty" shows the path to elevating graphic design, but underlying philosophy has to change. Graphic designers aren't being too innovative -- they aren't being innovative enough. There is a valuable business case to be made, and the message isn't getting out.