This is a question that has been plaguing me since I started web development and consulting. The more I reach out into the world, the more I see companies with absolutely horrid website designs and yet the companies are doing extremely well. Maybe I'm missing something? So: while I understand a company isn't it's website, but I believe a website helps define a companies image. So why do companies stick with, pardon my language, P.O.S. websites?
Like many guys said, it really depends.
Reddit, for example, it's probably one of the worst websites (from both design and user experience perspective) I have ever seen in my entire life, however it is currently one of the most popular user generated platforms available on the internet. I guess you can attribute many factors for its success, such as timing, it's MVP and the problem it focused to tackle etc.
On the other hand, Google+ was an extremely well thought-out/designed/developed website (or social media ecosystem if you count all the apps/extensions), however it just couldn't turn into something significant/adopted by the masses - people used to joke around saying it's a ghost town only used by Google employees. This again comes down to so many factors, such as competition, wider user habit etc.
Good quality production will always make or break an idea. A company may have previous business, word of mouth, or general ties.. but quality production on top of that will help even more.
You can get by without it, but you're better off with it.
I think it depends on the type of business.
If we are talking about companies that basically use their website to sell, then I think design there is really important because a good design will definitively help attract clients and make those companies do better.
But if we are talking about product companies that basically their product is a website, I think the UX/UI experience is more important there than just the design. In that case the goal is to solve the clients problem through the most comfortable way not the most beautiful one.
What you're missing is, web presence is essential. However, presence doesn't relate with design.
Since its inception, Google became famous because their design was non-existent. That was at a time of portals, on which a home page had to include a lot of information, or so the thought was. Until Google came with a horrid graphic design, but it worked. Hence, the users didn't cared it was horrible, they cared it worked.
Maybe a web site has a horrible design, but their sales force is top-notch. Therefor their customer don't care weather that web site is ugly, as long as it works.
Business success has many angles, batty is one of them, but is not the only one neither essential.
I think this is the best example of an ugly website with an incredible success history. Obviously their website is just for presence, not to do business. Still!
Generally one is concerned with quality if one is building the the most grand of websites: http://www.trump.com/ for example, or the former jebbush.com ahahahha also owned by trump at one point before he sold it back to bush!
Usually one is concerned with getting the bare minimum design and then expanding it as the business needs to add functionality, most designs a company would pitch at the first few meetings are mockups and are not refined, and because most businesses get 3 meetings and move on they think that is usually the best on offer, and so most people don't even plan to have more then the basics.
The problem is also outdated and outmoded ways of thinking and not having people trained in the most up to date methods in order to effectively perform the creation of high quality design within any reasonable time, for example if a programmer wants to get really good they need to be able to mock up anything in under 1 hour and have it be a fully flushed out designed and working product, most people are a 3 hours a day "create it over a week" people and programmers who are not computer science people from the start or even math majors but with rapid analysis in mind are not efficient at coming up with revolutionary works on the fly instead using a "sit in a chair with a large marble on your hand, falling asleep, but ready to write whatever they were thinking down before they were about to doze,"
Usually when you get a programmer it is best to make sure that they are scientists capable of rapid analysis instead of long term innovative thinking, and pair them with people who long term think, and the best way of training someone without the skills to think on the fly is get them to do challenges like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AaGK-fj-BAM ,
a company like google is common to hiring people without any experience even in the math field, they just want really dedicated and smart people, because even they know, no one learns how to program correctly, google will do one of two things, they will do a run down of examples to see your literal knowledge of the task at hand https://youtu.be/XKu_SEDAykw or if you know nothing then they apply you based off of the knowledge in your associated field then put you in a computer programming bootcamp of sorts, which is just a bunch of 15 min programming challenges, learning how to work as a really large team, and working in small parts.
You're missing a particular factor. Age of the company. Where they fairly established before the info/web age? If they were, it clearly explains that as they already obtained brand recognition long before. However, these days for companies starting out, websites have become a staple for brand development and strength
Graphic, design and layouts help tremendously any business online. However, it also depends on the industry and community you are serving. I remember reading, time ago, an article about simpler websites and effectiveness on delivering information. And few things that were key are community access to internet and that information, as well as industry expertise and audience education. There are websites actually running millions dollars businesses still stuck with simple websites at the front end (many may categorize them as basic ones), but what many people don't get to see is that on the back end there are really complex systems going on. One nice example is the one with libraries, and access to education all over the world. If you want your organization touch as many people in this so diverse world, you can make a bigger impact serving those who are really in need of your service and whose technologies may not be the same as the ones found in developed countries. For that matter, many companies not only stick to those designs and implementation, they also create developers guidelines to better serve certain communities with the lowest technology implementation (and actually invite other organizations to participate). That btw, help systems load faster and respond quickly demands. There are necessities and problems all over the world that are better solved with simplicity and fast delivery - and many companies prefer to employ those strategies into solving this urgent needs than making nicer websites with higher requirements and costs.
If I have a website that is serving my purpose, and making me money and maintain a sustainable business, why do you want to change it? and that is one of the hardest questions to respond to executives and owners of these types of businesses.
Couple of factors are also -- the age of the site/community (Reddit is older, and Craigslist is MUCH older)
New websites are expeted to have optimized designs to funnel potential customers through all via button layout, call to actions, etc.
I really believe that a business needs to put its best foot forward in setting an example in their industry. This means having quality content, designs, nice website to communicate their value proposition.
Well; i believe; awful design can only pass if and when the information presented is easily found & well organized. Honestly; i have seen designers changing hundreds of things within a website that otherwise looked like as if they were built using a 90's style WYSIWYG editor. But still the site did measurably boost the business as everything was easily found, the site was user friendly and information could easily be understood despite how cheesy it looks.
On the other end i have also seen some expensive designs with an emphasis on cool effects but still the business got nothing from the site.
One important point i want to make here, design is very crucial for an online business. The user interface and the user experience, which the design renders thus simply cant be undermined. However; the mistake, which in most of the cases the designers make is not knowing when it's important.
My take - Design is lot more than pretty pictures. Organizing the information as well as communicating the right messages are thus more important than presentation