May 28th 2014
Why Web Design Matters
A fast food chain store manager had a simple, brilliant epiphany. She had been paying for the big franchise name to draw her customers in for years, and now that she had a loyal customer base, she began to wonder if the name and look were indeed just a waste of her profits. "I can sell the exact same burgers, fries, and shakes, cooked the same way on the same premises, for a fraction of the cost!" she said to herself. "My loyal customers will stick with me, and I can continue to serve them what they like without paying for unnecessary frills." Alas, within just a few short months of changing to a cheap, generic name and sign—the only changes that were made—the business went under. Even with no loss of quality, even with the exact same product, she had lost customer confidence. The old maxim proved true once again: Sometimes it does take money—thoughtfully spent—to make money.
In the unending miasma of ecommerce websites, customer confidence is even more vital, and more tenuous. In fact, it only takes seconds for a customer to decide if a website is worth time and trust. To summarize research by the Nielsen Norman Group, "Users often leave web pages in 10-20 seconds, but pages with a clear value proposition (which, in marketing, is an innovation, service, or feature intended to make a company or product attractive to customers) can hold people's attention for much longer." Time and resources spent on functional, quality web design are time and resources well spent because trustworthy visual cues are essential to creating customer confidence. Skimping on design will backfire. As Thomas Jefferson said, "The man who stops advertising to save money is like the man who stops the clock to save time."
Not only is the look of a web design important, but its functionality is just as key in instilling customer trust. It doesn't take long after confusion has set in for a potential client to abandon a site. User friendliness, i.e. the ability to put oneself in the user's place and anticipate that user's needs and movements, often amounts to a shrewd simplicity rather than bells and whistles. As Steve Krug asserts in Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, "It doesn't matter how many times I have to click, as long as each click is a mindless, unambiguous choice." Good design will point the user to good content as the main focus. Flawless design should, in a sense, be so impeccable as to be forgotten. Instead, the goal is to create an overall feel of excellence. Not simply to create a pleasing effect but to seamless blend in practical, attractive tools for the user. Design is, in the end, meant to be engaging and engaged with. Unlike a pleasing sculpture or a portrait in a museum, it must possess a graceful utility as well as being visually dynamic.
So what are some examples of the kind of web design that is successful? PasteMagazine.com, in a breakdown of the best blog design to come out of 2013, praises Wallpaper* Magazine's website's sister Tumblr blog, and declares of the front runner, "the clean and crisp blog layout makes interesting articles and stirring inspiration easy to find." Once again, if the user is drawn in, interested and stirred with minimum distractions, the web design is a successful one. So why do some succeed and others fail? According to dailytekk.com in its newest entry on the 100 Best Most Interesting Blogs and Websites, "The categories change, but the grading criteria remains the same: design, content and that creative 'x-factor' that sets a site apart from the pack." Without effective design and a splash of creativity stirring in the pot, good content might be overlooked, lost in a haze of boredom or confusion.
This creativity however, may be the trickiest part of web design to master. When and how does one choose between the tried-and-true and the cutting edge? The best bet, in fact seems to be a judicious combination of the two. We know that however much consumers desire novelty, there are sturdy foundations to build upon that remain changeless. It is not merely the surface level that matters. Color palettes, logos, iconography, voice, tone, attitude—all these subversive things matter, and all can be either lost to our audience or brought forward in fresh relief by an ingeniously simple, highly functional design. According to the research: "If the Web page survives this first—extremely harsh—10-second judgment, users will look around a bit."