Not every artist or cartoonist has natural appeal. Some , like Freddie Moore and Rod Scribner have naturally appealing styles and can take other people's designs or even generic designs and draw them with great appeal.
Since there are so few of these artists who can make almost anything look good, animation developed the concept of having specialists in appeal that we call character designers. A good character designer, unlike a stylist actually thinks about his appeal. It's partly a science of balancing shapes and contrasts in order to make an assortment of characters who vary from each other in design. You can see in Ed Benedict's baseball players above that he is consciously experimenting with arranging different shapes together. They aren't good merely because they look simple or flat or designy - there is a lot of careful thought in them. Ed has natural appeal in his drawings and strong principles in general, and top of those 2 rare abilities he is visually creative - which is different than being able to draw well. The 9 Old Men are all very strong in principles, but rarely show much imagination in their designs. They recycled the same designs over and over again for decades, with very slight variation.
There is a modern mindset that every artist is a potential designer, which I find absurd. In 80s and 90s Disney feature films, it looks as if they let each animator design his own character and most of them are pretty bland, awkward and uninspired. Plus they don't work with each other in the same films.
Then there is the Hip TV Executive mindset that thinks that as long as you have not been tainted with experience in the animation business, then you have a revolutionary new design style. The executives of course can't tell what is actually new or not, because they are ignorant of cartoon history, and worse than that, they can't even tell a good drawing from a bad one. And they view actually appealing professional drawings as being "too old school".
Now to me, no matter what the budget of your cartoon is - whether it is a $400,000,000 fully animated feature, or a low budget TV cartoon, there is no excuse for any cartoon to have bad design.
I imagine the thinking behind cartoons that are supposed to be educational is that they have to taste bad - like stewed cabbage or boiled broccoli, because if they actually looked pleasing they'd be bad for you like ice cream is. Is there another explanation for how cartoons can look this unappealing?Here are some really expensive nasty designs. Unbelievable. I feel like I live in an alternate universe where nothing makes sense.
A good designer is rare, but nowhere near as expensive as all the other animation costs.
If you start with good appealing design, and then you have good animators or even somewhat mediocre animators, then at least your cartoons will have some kind of instant appeal. I'm just using Ed here as one example of appealing design. There are many other design styles possible but the same principle applies.
Mel Crawford is one of those artists (who is not so much a designer) who has a very appealing unique personal style. When you take an appealing artist and give him appealing character designs you get the best of both worlds.
But even lesser artists still can make appealing work with good designs. Hanna Barbera made their reputation on their look more than anything else.
These artists are not at the level of Crawford, but they are good enough to allow Ed's design appeal to still come through.
The animation in HB cartoons was limited, but Ed's design style was so strong and appealing that it carried them for a decade before they threw away their reputation and switched to ugly design and worse animation.
As a kid I watched as HB went from appealing cartoony designs to copying Filmation's ugly semi-realistic characters with flesh colored eyes. I was shocked. To this day, I can't understand how big studios can have so many people in charge that can "yes" to having their expensive cartoons look ugly or bland. Just hire a real designer. There are a handful left in the business.