A local business magazine had written an article reviewing the website designs of various local companies. As you may imagine, I read with dismay as the three-page article focused solely on graphic design. There was no mention of usability, conversion rate or site effectiveness (using actual metrics).
Unfortunately, I think this is all still fairly typical. When I meet people in a social setting and they ask what I do, I get the distinct impression I am instantly pigeonholed as a web designer. Granted, “web conversion strategy consultant” is somewhat of a mouthful, and an earful, but as soon as people learn I’m involved with making websites effective, they decide I must be a graphic designer. In the same sense, many business managers/owners I speak with spend 90 percent of their web budget (as well as energy and focus) on graphic design and only 10 percent on “the other stuff.”
To some extent, I understand this. Graphic design is obvious; it’s the part everyone sees. There’s no particular expertise required to appreciate good graphic design, and as we’ve discussed before, the all-important “first-impression” remains key. But beyond that, I think it’s a real shame. This attitude is the web equivalent of buying a $1,000 suit to make an important presentation, but only spending a few brief minutes planning what you’re going to say.
It’s not that I think graphic design is unimportant, I just think it’s less important than the attention it gets. Actually, I consider graphic design to be of critical importance, but I have some specific criteria by which I measure the effectiveness of graphic design. Essentially, I believe graphic design can (and should) accomplish three distinct goals:
- Create instant affinity.
- Establish credibility.
- Provide focus.
As web users, we’ve all experienced landing on a site and feeling right away that it was the sort of thing we were looking for. We’ve also rushed for the “back” button as we’ve hit a site that seems to repel us (anyone older than 25 who has landed on a site designed for teenagers knows exactly what I mean). This is the concept of “affinity.” It’s that somewhat un-quantifiable feeling the site we’re on may contain what we’re looking for.
We’re all wary of scams, unfulfilled promises and poor craftsmanship, and there’s plenty of that available online. We tend to use graphic design as an indicator of trustworthiness. Good design sends a message of believability and reliability. Poor design sends a red-flag warning.
You probably recall a few years ago when Flash websites were all the rage. Sites that were highly interactive and highly conspicuous became somewhat commonplace. You might remember moving your mouse around in order to send icons flying, bouncing, whirling, and swooshing across the screen. Now don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with video games for the over-40 crowd, but are you sure you want your website to play that role? You see, when design gets too heavy, it crowds out the message, and that’s rarely a good thing.
Good design compliments the message, making copy easy and attractive to read. Headlines, subheads and calls to action are all pleasantly crafted to attract and not distract us. In other words, the visitor experience is actively enhanced by effective design, but the experience is not about the design. It is good design that compels us to spend more time considering the message of a product and service, which is why we believe graphic design supports rather than replaces a well-defined and well-implemented web marketing strategy.