Humans are indeed attracted to items of beauty, except when they have something important to get done.
Just think about the beautiful or charming shop assistant or designer or waiter whose presence is enjoyable to be in, until that time they let you down when you have a vital mission to complete. How quickly do you return to your senses and get your priorities aligned more effectively?
I was asked for my opinion about a website design through the week, as a business owner pondered the many options before her in the rich ecosystem of WordPress themes.
The question was, did I like the rather ‘cool’, novel WordPress website she had found and would it be worth the extra money in getting the custom design?
Today I want to argue that MOST of the time a plain, simple or orthodox website design will be your best friend, with a few exceptions.
I believe the answer can be found by considering:
- Who your target market is – who is the website for?
- How do you want to be perceived by your visitors?
- What will the main purpose of the website be?
Why does your website exist?
The most fundamental question we all need to consider before commissioning or reviewing a website, is what purpose will it play in our marketing?
In previous articles I have covered the basics of market segmentation and targeting.
In this case, my focus is on understanding how your website fits in to the journey potential consumers take from deciding to search for something (a solution, a luxury, means to exploit an opportunity, etc) through to making an enquiry or purchase.
Alternatively, as with our website, it is about understanding how your site can be of use to your existing customer or client community.
Or, again, it might have a role to play in helping potential investors, suppliers, partners or influencers (journalists, bloggers and industry experts) form decisions about your business or organisation.
With your thinking clear about where your website sits in your marketing puzzle, then we can address design issues.
Content is where the safe money is
Think for a moment about the most helpful websites you’ve used recently.
I will argue that stalwarts in the ‘useful website’ game like Google and Wikipedia will feature in your list; simple design with a focus on content.
Think about that expert forum, service provider or retail site you found helpful. I’ll bet the design helped you get in and out quickly.
If you focus only on the initial wow factor for a website but then leave visitors wondering where the content is, I believe you will have created an ornate and expensive distraction.
In a world where survey after survey reveals that what web users want most is to ‘get things done’, websites that actually offer helpful content that Google can find and direct people to, will always have an advantage.
That is why I believe in a two phase process to web development, especially if you are starting out or reinventing yourself.
Phase one involves doing the hard yards and putting systems in place for creating content that will help visitors answer questions and move closer to buying, joining, enquiring, etc.
This is where our commonsense WordPress packages play a vital role; given you a solid foundation to build content in but then be able to grow with you as needed. They use a simple framework that shines the light on your content. No design awards here, just a system for letting web traffic find you, devour your content and connect with you.
Phase two involves revisitng your web design and determining if any ‘bells and whistles’ from the collection of possible design devices might help enhance the visitor experience.
When ‘fancy’ is of more importance
As will all simplified frameworks, there will always be exceptions to the rule.
The first exception is for businesses or organisations in the art or design or fashion fields.
Even though I still argue that simple and orthodox will be most helpful to serious visitors, the second of the three questions posed at the top of the article applies here, re perception.
Positioning is the actual marketing term and it relates to the perception people develop of your brand. You have power to help shape the way you are perceived and it may be that coughing up some extra money for design or choosing a fancier template for your site will help align the appearance of your site with visitor expectations.
A second exception is where you are actually creating a new web service. Rules might need to be broken here, as a matter of course.
A third exception is where your website is intended to be the actual destination for spending time. Performers, movie productions and game producers may well have this as their goal for a unique audience that is not looking to ‘get things done’ so much as to ‘just hang out and kill time’. The Jim Carrey website is a great example of this.
And, finally, if you have a large budget and a strong vision, then you are always welcome to make your own rules!
Who is the prettiest of all?
Ultimately, the answer to this question about the prettiest website, comes down to your objectives.
If it is to attract and convert visitors, then getting your focus on content with a simple, orthodox design will give your content a chance to thrive.
This means a simple header with logo, name and/or contact details, a horizontal menu to help people navigate and an uncluttered body area for your content, perhaps with a right hand side column for links to supplementary content.
My main point today is, when you are juggling a small budget, it is prudent to use it to create a foundation that will help you get started soundly, knowing you can always come back and reimagine your design later, when funds are flowing.