Good Design is Not Optional
I had a conversation with an acquaintance recently about DESIGN. Among the things that were said: “I’m not interested in improving the design of my website because I really just care about function.”
She feels that her website exists, “works” and therefore does the job.
It doesn’t have to be unique. It doesn’t have to be pretty. As a person who “values function over form”, that doesn’t appeal to her. Of course, the subtext here is that design is the frivolous icing on the cake. An extra layer of pretty that is nice for people who care about that sort of thing. Basically optional.
Here’s the problem with that way of thinking…
Design can feel a bit shallow if we think of it as decoration, so I understand how she came to that viewpoint. But that’s the thing: Design is not decoration.
- It’s the difference between “easy to use” and “difficult”. Which leads to the difference between “staying on a web page” and “leaving”.
- It’s about looking professional, established and not like you made it yourself. That helps visitors to trust you and feel like you’re legit.
- It’s the art of appealing to a specific target market. You want to speak their aesthetic language so they’re attracted to the site and want to stay for awhile.
There are basic rules to design and they’re pretty much dead serious. We’re not talking about, “Use the current Pantone color of the year!” or “Circles are totally better than squares, y’all!”
The standard rules of good design are not really that subjective. They’re about pleasing the human brain.
Designers will generally use a grid layout because that prevents visitors from feeling…vaguely uncomfortable.
Using appropriate text alignment is about keeping things legible and not making people work too hard to read a bunch of words. Legibility prevents headaches and annoyance. And people who are not annoyed and don’t have a headache tend to stay on a page longer.
White space isn’t necessarily white, but it matters. It’s the fresh air around objects on a page that feels soothing and modern. Also, a lot of white space around something indicates that it’s important.
That kind of thing. These are just random examples.
And, yes, Mrs. Function. It IS also about style.
Guess what? Having a website is kind of like getting up on stage in front of an audience. You’re being judged. If you’re speaking at a conference, it’s not shallow to wear something clean and appropriate to the general mood of your audience. It’s sensible.
If you’re expecting any traffic to your website, it’s not shallow to dress it up in a style that is clean and appropriate to the general mood of your audience. It’s sensible.
And your style should be specific. Featureless isn’t good.
An internet full of featureless websites is like a room full of people with paper bags over their head. Blah. Get me out of there. I want to see your face so I can decide whether I like it. Also, I need something to remember. Some kind of visual hook.
It doesn’t have to be flashy, but it does have to be purposeful. Some customers arrive at a website with a sexy, minimalist style and feel like they’ve found their home. They trust the website. They’re comfortable spending money there because everything is in their visual language.
Others respond to bright colors and a super young energy because that’s what they LIKE. Or maybe they’re looking for a service that’s decidedly corporate and a site that falls into that visual category will feel familiar and trustworthy and like a good place to buy something. This stuff matters.
In short, it’s NOT just “the pretty”. It’s about making people feel comfortable.
Are we all on the same page on this? Great. Now, for those who are building their own sites…this is not a manifesto about how you MUST hire a professional. (Although that’s an option.) You can use a good theme and do it yourself. The point is this: Every tip that you add to your repertoire will make your site design a little better. You don’t need to study design in some serious way. But, if you’re doing it yourself, you may want to take an interest. To categorize it as optional is a mistake.