Great article over at iA, really hits the nail.
Usually strong usability, simplicity and a clear focus automatically lead to a strong identity. Hereâ€™s a shocker: Internationally acclaimed usability guru Jakob Nielsenâ€™s totally anti-graphic website with all its geeky flaws and itâ€™s absolute usability approach has a strong identity. Neglecting all notions of good taste, it looks extremely typical. And that is branding. Branding is not pretty, itâ€™s strong. Craigslist and delicious with their standard link colors are not pretty, theyâ€™re strong, and as theyâ€™re interactive products, theyâ€™re strong through functionality. Facebook, maybe is an example of a very usable website that might go for a more audacious interface.
Puts a dampner to all the Google design = bad arguments.
You can establish yourself with a typically bad interface, if youâ€™re early and lucky or if you have the market power to force people to use your product. See Myspace, Amazon, MSN, Windows, QuarkXPress. Once you get to be market leader with a typically complicated interface, you actually have a good shot at keeping your users, as theyâ€™re that traumatized that they wouldnâ€™t want to go through another painful learning process. Nowadays you have a better chance to become successful though, if you go for simplicity and usability. And you have a good chance to develop a strong brand by just doing that.