Bad design is everywhere and it can be seen in all kinds of investments, but web sites are a particular place where the investment can cost you legitimacy, customers and brand value. Often pleasing aesthetics take precedence over function and that’s not good if you desire some type of ROI.
First, let’s take a step back and look at the more general phenomena of looks trumping function before we drill deep into digital presence. Here’s an example.
Grand Rapids, where I live, is a town that has six months, at least, of dismal weather….it's cold and it’s windy and the snow blows sideways and fiercely in most winter months. It’s pretty darn miserable.
We just got some nifty new bus stops that are hip, pleasing to the eye and informative, but they aren’t going to provide much cover for those bus riders when cold fall rains or winter comes (better buy bigger coats). Even the few glass panels that might provide some cover are regularly spaced with 3 foot open gaps that let any random wind course through.
Every time I pass them I can’t help but wonder, in the
design process, “How did the function of providing riders
with shelter from the elements receive such a low priority?”
When did pleasing visual design trump function and
However, if it is your web site and your digital presence on the web, you probably should weigh in on the design more than you have.
Don’t let the experts go unchallenged
The take-away here is that you have to be the ultimate champion for the design, objective and functionality of your web site and there are many elements that are going try to inhibit you including:
• Platforms – Many web designers will not suggest functionalities as easy as roll-over pop-ups or animations because they are not supported by the platform your site was developed on (we just experienced this with a Drupal based site).
• Templates – Some budget driven web designers don’t want to suggest or supply user enhancing effects or looks because they fall “out of scope” of the project and/or would use up carefully allocated hours for the project. If someone keeps bringing you back to a compromise to fit into an established template, begin to beware.
• Corporate Standards – Sometimes user experience gets the back seat on the design bus (no pun intended) in favor of conforming to brand standards and established branded templates. In this case, most often your hands are tied and the best solution is a compromise.
• IT – System security and staying within the corporate guidelines can be obstacles if there is not a customer/sales centric culture and can inhibit your ability to use modern lead generation tools and techniques on the web site.
• Awards – Some designers want to use your web site to illustrate their deft prowess of graphic design for award competitions. If the terms User Experience (UX) or Lead Generation never come up in the design brief stage, again beware.
In any event, know that if you have seen a design or functionality on-line, someone can do it for you and probably for less money than you would expect (take a look at www.hiretheworld.com to see what happens to design rates in a connected world). If necessary, let your established designers do the basic work and then circle back around with a free-lancer who is proficient in those additional functionalities.
Web Site as an electronic brochure
Have you REALLY thought through what the function, role and objective your web site should fulfill?
If it is just to be an electronic brochure and legitimizer, then the decisions should simply be around presentation (UX or user Experience) and logical ease of access of your organization’s materials.
Quite frankly, if this is the purpose, then it doesn’t take a world class digital agency to produce it. Templates abound for standard information layout and flow from thousands of web desires and most companies can find something they can emulate.
To minimize your investment, simply organize the various “pods” of information to be included before you begin to engage web developers. Agencies load in dollars to chase down data and, the better organized you are, the less they have to charge.
Same with any exotic functionalities or characteristics you would like to include. The more specific up front you can be, the better for all parties in estimating the design expectations.
Personas and information intake
If you want to take the electronic brochure concept to the next level, spend some time isolating your audiences and identifying how they take in information. At the simplest level, there are usually those who take in their information textually and those who take in information spatially/visually.
One persona necessitates providing information with detailed copy broken up into USAToday “bites and bits” so they can scan and drill down where desired. The other needs pictures, schematics, charts and visual references for understanding.
At the complex end of the continuum, there can be detailed personas (written portraits of your various customer groups describing their characteristics and quirks) developed in order to understand how to better communicate with them.
We once had a medical industry client that desired three distinct audiences (Doctors, Administrators, Nurse/Users) who all had different needs, desires and even language specific to their personas and, thus, we proposed three versions of the web site to accommodate all the decision makers and influencers adequately.
Think through if your web site is properly communicating to your various audiences.
Web Site as Sales Tool
Here’s a bold thought. What if your web site could not only serve as an electronic brochure, but bring in prospects, qualify them, score them a lead and begin a relationship with them.
It’s the next step in design sophistication and probably means you are going to butt heads with many developers because you are going to ask them to do things that may not be pleasing to the eye, but functions well in cultivating leads…creativity for commerce.
This scares a lot of people because you are going to be able to measure ROI from your digital investment and to be able to change the site to better attract and serve prospects.
This usually means changing the web site to include multiple calls-to-action (to serve multiple prospect personas at their particular stage of the sales cycle) and some type of lead nurturing capabilities to stay linked to those prospects not ready to purchase.
It also means really becoming in-tune with your audiences and understanding the various engagement paths and variation of the sales cycles they may take.
To be frank, it may be here where you work with a more holistic marketer who can balance the triggers and offers of prospect engagement with proper presentation of your brand. It is a combination of perspectives that is not often found and the money is a good investment if your web site is to produce sales.
Want to re-evaluate your web presence? Give Michael Byers a call at 616-634 3498 and let's chat over a real cup of coffee and a virtual gotomeeting session.
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