The battle for the soul of your website

website design

The battle for the soul of your website

I love print. And I love print for the simple reason that there are really no technical constraints or rules. The forms can be hand-drawn playful shapes or hard-edged lines. Those visuals could interact with a multitude of typographic treatments or colors. And don’t even get me started on the paper. Texture, size, orientation… and if it’s dimensional… that will be mind-blowing.

Now enter the world of websites. These have certainly evolved over the years, and mostly for the better. But I say better on the technology side. Responsiveness allows us to view sites on whatever screen we happen to be in front of, advancements in code allow for some amazing experiences and editors allow for people who may not be code whizzes to own their content and image. All of this is great. However, you know what I’m finding? I know you will agree… it tends to all look the same! So, who are the culprits making all this sameness? Let’s look at some suspects.

Websites that make websites
You know them: WIX, Squarespace, WordPress… these off-the-shelf, non-custom theme-driven content management systems (CMS) allow for an acceptable site to be created by non-designers. The problem? No uniqueness to the approach. Select a predesigned layout, insert some text, pick a few colors and fonts, and bam! Your new website is ready for the world. However, are you really that different from the person who selected that same template just a few hours ago? And just because you selected a blue background and a san serif font, are you making a deep connection with your viewer? Where are the unique experience tailored around your brand and the things that make you special?

Design based on data, not creativity
No one wants to get it “wrong”. And when I mean wrong, I mean take a chance and fail so decisions are made based on past performance and analytics. Often instinct and experimentation are trumped by reports and insights from data collection on user behavior.
When you visit websites, what do you see? Logos in the same spot, navigation across the top that collapses into hamburger menus, large hero image with a superimposed intro headline directing the user to a pithy CTA. This works because humans have learned to identify these systems over years of daily viewing. And although this streamlines the experience (in theory getting the user to the desired outcomes faster) it means there is no experience. They slide right on through leaving no true lasting impression.

Visuals with no purpose
Open a browser and type in stock photography and wow… look at all the options… or should I say look at all that sameness. I can’t tell you how many times I have come across two very different websites, for very different industries, that have used the same photo. If they are all using the same images, are they really saying anything different? There is no strategy that went into the production of that image. The photographer had a concept, took a shot, and put it out into the world in the hopes that someone would find a use for it and pay them an affordable price. Visuals as a commodity. It really should be the other way around. Your design has a concept, and your brand has a personality. Go shoot a unique picture that delivers your message.

So why is this an issue?
Well, if we all walked around with the same shirt and pant combination, there would be no fashion industry. Not everyone is the same, and this goes for your business and your customers. Think of all the demographics decisions for clothing: Is this design for a woman, man, or nonbinary individual? What is their size and shape and what are the current trends? How can we push those trend boundaries to create something that gets noticed?

Let’s do the same with your website (and all your communications for that matter). We’ve been reluctant to be creatively adventurous because there are real business consequences to getting it wrong. Potentially large sums of wasted budget, a missed opportunity to connect with as many customers as possible, and outcomes that you may not like the look of — because let’s be honest, you’re producing something you want to show off, it is the face of your company after all.

Of course, best practices should be adhered to when it comes to user experience. But don’t fall into predictability. Commission unique photography or illustrations that you can own. Build a web experience that specifically drives your customer to your desired endpoint. Create a user interface that customers want to interact with and linger on (believe me it will improve your SEO). Set a goal of creating that moment when your customer closes their browser and says, wow, that was different… and if they complete the interaction feeling like the experience was intuitive, easy, and satisfying, they will tell others. I know I have.

It’s safe to be the same… but you are not going to be a leader in your market by being safe. Entrepreneurs are built for taking chances and being different. Like I said earlier, I love print because the creative possibilities are endless. Let’s get a little more print onto our screens.

let’s do this