A few months ago, The Washington Post heralded brutalism as the hot new trend in web design. But as the self-appointed Zarathustra of user experience on the web, I am here to pronounce brutalism dead and announce the victory of Sino-Maximalism over the boring, user-friendly web design we've all grown accustomed to. Although an exact definition of Sino-Maximalism is hard to pin down, it might best be characterized as an aesthetic of "busyness," a disregard for epileptics and blank space, and a very text-heavy interface.
And if this is the future of web design (and trust me when I say it must be), then Ling Valentine of lingscars.com is undoubtedly the foremost evangelist of this movement.
Born in Chengdu, China, Valentine moved to the UK in the late 90s and decided that leasing cars online was a smart way to make some money. Although she started with a rather unremarkable (albeit very brutalist) car lease website, today her web presence is nothing short of pure spectacle—an epithet that applies to very few, if any, online car salespeople. Indeed, it was Valentine's decision to ignore all contemporary web design conventions when she reinvented her website that ended up being the key to her success in the oversaturated car lease marketplace.
Today, Valentine is regularly invited to speak about marketing at business conventions, creates hilarious videos, and her website is not only a multi-million dollar enterprise, it is a destination even for people who aren't looking to buy a car.
Wanting to learn more about the self-styled "marketing genius" behind lingscars.com, I reached out to Valentine via email to ask about her rocket launcher truck, aesthetic philosophy, and the art of getting people's attention in an age of constant distraction. A true businesswoman, she began our correspondence by seeing if I was interested in buying a used truck.
Motherboard: Hey Ling! Your website is phenomenal. Where do you draw design inspiration from?
Ling Valentine: Design inspiration is a hard question to answer. I just do stuff and upload it. I try to do stuff well, and take care and put effort into uploading it, but I don't really have an inspirational source. I don't do God, I'm Chinese… so it's definitely not via the Baby Jesus. But my website www.LINGsCARS.com can be similar to a religious experience.
What do you think the secret to good web design/UX is?
Oh, that's easy… the "secret" of web design/good UX, is to be human. And truthful and honest, and not force it and stop manipulating people. It really helps if you address your demographic, for example choose emotional music from the correct era… and add a bit of humour. But people know when things are honest, they can feel it.
Do you code your own stuff? How many people do you have working for you?
I used to do code, nowadays I have a php guru (Jamie from Washington, Tyne and Wear) and a front-end chappy (Daniel from Spain). I still involve myself heavily and we are always experimenting and trying different stuff.
You have been described by The Guardian as "Britain's biggest individual seller of new cars." How much business do you do?
I move over 1,000 new cars annually. I keep my numbers manageable, but significant. Every car ordered is a physical order from a new car dealer and I have £5 million worth of new cars on order at any one time. All that is done on trust, I don't pay deposits… so I have to keep my business volume sensible. I don't want to rule the world.
Besides your amazing website, you're quite well known for your missile launcher truck. How on earth did you get it?
I saw people using advertising trucks next to the motorway, usually tatty boring semi-trailers with shit adverts, so I thought "I can do better than that." I bought the truck from a UK dealer in old Russian equipment, it's an ex-Cold War nuclear decontamination truck, slightly radioactive but not much. I built the missile onto it.
I love it, but I understand the government wasn't too pleased with how you were using it. What happened?
In the UK, town planning rules are very strong. That's why England is so pretty: it's not full of crap. The government closed the loophole for mobile advertising billboards, turning it into a criminal (not civil) offence. I had a fight with the Deputy Prime Minister of the time, John Prescott, because I parked my LINGsCARS rocket truck next to the A1 in Tony Blair's constituency (TB was Prime Minister at the time), and pointed it west, toward George Bush in the USA. In the end, I was forced to move it when I was threatened with arrest under the "unauthorised advertising" rules.
How important is the internet to your business?
It would be very hard to run a web-business without the internet. So, I guess the internet is very important to me. Pull out the RJ45 plug and everything stops. Duh.
For all its benefits, the internet also offers a constant source of distraction—how does your company manage to get people's attention?
"The internet" isn't special, it's just a means of communication. It's a tool which speeds up effectiveness and efficiency, just like a hammer is a tool. So, the trick is, to use it effectively. All you have to do is kick people off, and usually, they will do the rest themselves. Donald Trump uses exactly the same techniques, but is more effective due to his reach.
Some have blamed the recent election of Donald Trump on the power of memes . Why do you think memes are effective and how do you use them in your business?
Fundamentally, people are lazy and like to find easy routes, especially in "what to think". As I previously said, Trump makes it easy to create and channel reactions, and on a larger scale, Governments do this, too. Examples can be found all over the World: Turkey, Russia, China, North Korea, but you can equally argue that modern Western Governments do the same thing… if to a lesser degree. Also, anyone can create a meme and it's a mixture of quality of argument, creativeness, clever launching and pot-luck whether the meme "takes off". I'm not a super meme-creator, they happen more by accident than skill, when I'm involved.
I guess a favourite is the cat dressed as a shark, riding on a vacuum cleaner, chasing a duck. If that is a meme… it's a metaphor for life really.
I watched an interview from a few years ago where you had some beef with Google . What was your problem with them, and are you still boycotting advertisements?
Ah, my issue with Google was the way they allowed the Chinese Government to manipulate results in China. I proved that at the time, Google were removing results which offended sensibilities in China. Google changed policy and then was banned by the Chinese Government. You can't access Google or YouTube in China, now. Fuck 'em.
What was your experience like on Dragon's Den ?
Dragons' Den was TV exposure, I did it for publicity. The experience was different to what you see on screen. First, the BBC canvassed me, I didn't apply to go on and ask for investment. So the show is based on a lie. Second, the filming was over approximately 8 hours, for 10 minutes of screen time, many of the questions were asked by producers without the Dragons present. So TV is not reality… it's entirely made-up fiction. Play by their rules: 1. entertain, 2. entertain, 3. entertain, and it works well. 10 minutes on the BBC is worth millions in advertising, *IF* you could buy it (which you can't). It's stupid to try and secure investment from the Dragons, the main result is to get on prime BBC TV for 10 minutes, for free. That's the real win.
This interview was lightly edited for clarity and length.