A Design Experience

Design doesn’t matter. At least that’s what I heard at Internet Summit 11 in Raleigh this week. Online, content is all that matters. Just look at Facebook, the most visited site on the web and, quite possibly, the ugliest.

While I agree that content is certainly what draws people to a site, I happen to believe good design can keep them there. In a way, online design is still like the wild, wild west. Unlike traditional media, you have limited control of how your website will appear. Browsers, software, and hardware-types all work slightly differently and affect what the end user sees. Your site design might appear one way in Microsoft Explorer and altogether differently in Safari or Chrome. It might perform perfectly on a Mac and go haywire on a PC. In short, there’s a whole lot more to go wrong.

In web design, a site’s functionality (the user’s experience) is first and foremost in importance. Even content is irrelevant if it’s not delivering. This means a huge shift in thinking for us creative types.

We have to be more than artists and writers. We have to be students of human behavior. We have to become increasingly “in tune” and intuitive. It’s not enough to come up with pleasing designs. We have to get into the heads of our target audience and understand how they use the web before we sketch out the first idea. Copy can no longer just be “well-written.” It must be gathered, analyzed, organized, grouped and appropriately crafted for online consumption.

Interactive design is not about a “look.” It’s about an experience. It’s about engaging your customers and inspiring interaction.

Google.com may not look like much. But I would argue that it is beautifully designed in its simplicity. There are no extra bells and whistles. And the user knows exactly how to use it upon sight. The more utilitarian a site is, the less important the design may be. But it’s human nature to be attracted to good design. If we weren’t, fashion wouldn’t exist. Galleries would be out of business. And Rosanne Barr would be just as attractive to men as Halle Berry.

It takes time, but we eventually improve the design of even the most utilitarian items. Stoves and refrigerators are now stainless steel. Baby pacifiers are designed to look like lips. Cell phone covers come in a million different designs. Even televisions, which were simple black boxes for more than 50 years, are now flat screened works of art. Even the most functional websites will benefit from good design.

In marketing, we’re just beginning to push the limits of what we can do online. Design may not drive interactive advertising, but as an integral part of the user experience, it can determine whether that experience inspires and engages your customers – or drives them away.

A creative’s primary job is to sell – online or off. So bring us your ugly websites. And let us turn them into selling machines.