I’ve had the chance to help clients replace what they considered to be ugly website designs. A lot of the time these are small businesses or small organizations that have not, in their history, been able to commit the time and resources to creating a good looking website. I think too much is made of visual appeal and not enough attention given to questioning the site’s effectiveness.
Your website is a tool built to accomplish a specific purpose. In my work with camps I’ve compared it to putting a heating system in a building. Sure, you can open an industrial catalog, pick the second cheapest heater and have someone install it. Better, to work with a professional and invest in something that will effectively heat the building. Like a boiler, a website is a capital expense. It should last you about five years, and it needs to be built to meet a specific set of needs. In five years time your needs will have shifted and you should think about a new site built for where you’re at then.
Visual appeal certainly is a factor in design but really, that you like the look of it ought to be secondary to what your audience thinks. If an ugly website keeps your audience’s attention and gets them to respond then who is to say that it is a failure. It certainly seems to work for Craigslist.