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Do we place too much importance on website design?

March 28, 2008

It used to be that the client provided their site’s content and a designer made it look good. Then a programmer made it work.

Simple.

Now a call may or may not go out to a copywriter — this is dependent on how much the client cares about SEO, something new.  But the question here is, do we place way too much importance on design and too little on strategy?

The internet is growing up. Just the other day, a senior partner at my agency used the term “Traditional Interactive” to talk about website and banner ad creation. This was in context of a discussion about social/share marketing being “New Interactive”. But it got me thinking that the phrase “Traditional Interactive” sort of implied that the creation of websites is something we have figured out. More or less. I think it’s less.

Take the importance we place on design.

There’s a notion that the design of a website is critical to the success of said website. At our agency, we have lots of designers in our interactive department. Other Interactive Agencies are full of designers. But lets take a step back for a minute and ask the following question: what does the design have to do with anything?

It doesn’t drive people to the site. SEO and other marketing initiatives (sticking the URL on a brochure or business card) drive people to the site.

So then design must be responsible for driving people back? Probably not. Think about the sites you return to. Do you return to them because they look pretty? In the case of content sites, design has little or no impact. More and more people use RSS readers to access content. I use Bloglines, so I rarely even come into contact with the design of the site when I read the content.

In the case of tools, the tools that I use the most aren’t that overly designed. Google. Facebook. Twitter. YouTube. Bloglines. Yahoo mail.  Not much going on in the way of design on those sites — but those are different one might say.

They aren’t selling a consumer a product. Are they?

Surely nothing I’ve said here is relevant to a brand that is B2B. In B2B design still matters. And if it’s a consumer product, then design still matters. Right?

I think that if design is placed above the strategy that asks what will make people come back, then it’s a waste of money. I think that if you can figure out what will make people come back, you can have black text on a white background and people will come back. So I think design doesn’t matter. I think Flash on websites is yesterday’s news (unless flash is part of that thing that makes people come back).

All websites should have that thing. That things is what the sites we use have going for them. Google delivers relevant search results. Facebook connects me to friends. Twitter offers me a platform. WordPress gave me this blog. Bloglines deliver me my content. Etc.

It’s time we started to think real hard about that thing for our clients websites. Because a pretty website ain’t it.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. March 28, 2008 4:53 pm

    If design does not matter, why is it important to have a visible RSS subscribe button? If you can not subscribe to the RSS, you will not get the updates, will you? Then out of curiosity, I want to know why the most successful websites have white or very close to white backgrounds? Design does matter, it really does. When you look at any a-list website, the design is welcoming, keeping the visitor long enough to bookmark or subscribe to RSS. There are thousands of websites out there with good content, same content so any inch of an advantage you can get by aesthetics will always help.

  2. March 28, 2008 5:14 pm

    I would argue that a visible RSS button is only pushed if the content gets people to push it. Drudge.com is poorly designed (I’ll bet rss readers saved Drudge from it’s own design). People look at it for that content it delivers.

    I’ll agree that a-list websites are warmly designed, but my point is that one can copy design of these pages, but you need content. And in the case of brands (that aren’t in the content creation business), they have to work harder to figure out how to make the experience better. It might be with a good design. But it all might not. And yet, there’s always a designer in the room at the start of a web job. So I’m not advocating that we don’t have designers, I’m asking the questions, is design given too much importance?

  3. March 28, 2008 6:30 pm

    In my opiniuon design is good for helping the visitor navigate the site and without the ability to do that easily they will not come back. But, strategy and SEO are the most important facts in building asn online business. Without them new visitors may never find your site without spemding a lot of money on advertising.

  4. April 13, 2009 4:21 am

    There has to be a balance between design and the other contents. A first impression is always necessary. A soothing website look makes a visitor stay at your website for few seconds and later its entirely dependent on the kind of the content you have.

    Only a good designed website with no content can become a inspiration for the designers but will not help your business to grow.

  5. April 13, 2009 1:37 pm

    What about designing for the second impression? If you determine that the only real goal of a website (and thus the design) is to get people back, then you realize that design isn’t for first impressions, it’s for second ones.

    Your business only grows when people come back.

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