I’ve built hundreds of WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal sites over the years for clients (and a few for my own endeavors). One of the most frequent conversations I have towards the end of these builds when we get to the aesthetics and flow of a site is how design decisions impact not just “branding” but also user experience.
Websites are not only meant to be representations of a brand or a company. Sites are meant to be the front door of whatever experience a company is trying to express. Or more succinctly, sites are for marketing, not intranets.
Communicating this with clients is something I really enjoy doing, because it involves a bit of give and take. It’s not a one sided conversation by any means and every company or person has their own preconceived notion of what a website in a given category should look like.
Turns out there’s some science behind that and visitor experience to the site…
In a study by Google in August of 2012, researchers found that not only will users judge websites as beautiful or not within 1/50th — 1/20th of a second, but also that “visually complex” websites are consistently rated as less beautiful than their simpler counterparts
Moreover, “highly prototypical” sites — those with layouts commonly associated with sites of its category — with simple visual design were rated as the most beautiful across the board
The two part conclusion here is important for marketing agencies and companies looking to have a “better” website to consider.
First, overly complicated websites are junk. If Henry Ford had asked people what they had wanted to see in his car, they would have wanted a faster horse. If Steve Jobs had relied on “user expectations” for the iPhone or even iPad, we’d have a physical keyboards and lasers with giant stylus’ attached to our devices.
Building a website isn’t the same as building an iPhone, but you have to manage what you expect users to want with the simplicity of choice (I talk about this more deeply in a ThinkingDaily episode here). It’s easy to think that in 2014, a visitor to your brand spanking new spiffy site would want to be able to click dozens of “sharing” buttons or to see “what’s related” on the web because you see a competitor (or worse, Buzzfeed) doing those things on their site. It’s not true. Keep your site simple and keep your powder dry. Make the visitor convert to whatever you’re preaching with the power of your message and not with overly complicated designs and tons of drop down menus.
Second, users have an expectation of what a banking site, a garden site, a medical site, a social sharing site, a tech site, a lawyer site, a church site etc should look like. If you’ve hired a good developer or designer or agency to help you with your site, they should know this.
What that doesn’t mean is that you know what visitors actually want. There’s lots of research on this, and many of us spend considerable time staying on top of that research. Hiring a website developer, designer or agency should mean more than asking “which young person do I know can build me a website?” for this reason alone.
Sites are important. They are your front door and your exit. They are your first line of marketing and turning a potential visitor into a conversion or they are your worst enemy.
Tread lightly and do your homework.