Slow loads, difficult navigation, annoying popups, and confusing content.
We’ve all been there, right? Sure, there are a million ways brands can turn off consumers. But smart web design can turn even the most casual of visitor into a brand advocate. Deploying useful technology and compelling content in a seamless, targeted fashion results in a website that feels fresh and functional, curated and creative. We all know that a website is one of a brand’s most public-facing properties – it’s a must-have across most industries. This is the place where visitors get the information they need and the brand gets an opportunity to show off its best and brightest. Beyond the bells and whistles, though, what is the best thinking in web design today?
Today’s web design takes into consideration some modern truisms. High-speed internet is as ever-present as the smartphone explosion. But does that mean that everything can be designed for only fast and small? Not so fast (or small)! Sure, we have a need for speed. In fact, 47% of us are only willing to wait two seconds for a website to load, but simply taking the easy way out and reducing graphics can backfire, limiting the visual impact of your brand story. So, web design needs to be sleek and speedy but barebones design won’t do. With an estimated 65% of people classified as visual learners, compelling imagery must be part of smart web strategy.
In November, we crossed over a threshold where mobile and tablets exceeded desktop use for the first time. Sure, 51.3% of internet traffic comes from mobile and tablet versus 48.7% by desktop, but it’s still dangerously close to a 50-50 split. How to bridge the gap? Responsive design allows websites to recognize the device and display accordingly. While this may seem like basic knowledge, it’s not as simple as a push of a button. Brands can’t simply reduce text and shrink visuals for mobile and think that’s enough. Nor can they design for mobile and simply expand for desktop. Visual and content choices must translate across mediums, so the brand story feels cohesive and relevant regardless of the platform.
Long gone are the days where everything had to be jammed into a company’s website. In the early days of the internet, websites were primary – nearly the only place for you to learn about a company. But today there are many other channels where consumers can learn about a brand – through social, word-of-mouth, digital signage, and media, among others. While the website is still a fundamental vehicle for carrying brand meaning, it’s no longer the only car on the digital road. Determining which portions of a company’s story can be told across which medium frees websites from the weight of information overload.
Understanding how channels are orchestrated toward a particular audience’s needs and which types of communication are most appropriate for that medium are essential for customizing and curating today’s brand websites. Will Agrella, Associate Creative Director at Adrenaline, says, “If you’re interested in a company today, you’re not necessarily just going to go to their website to learn about them. There’s social media and other ways you can find out about them. That’s an important thing to consider – what type of content you put on different channels and how you can show the brand in an integrated, intentional form.” This purposeful approach is at the heart of strategic design.
In describing the early days of the web, Will talks about how websites were so complicated and jammed with information. In those days, web designers had to include a site map for users so they could find what they were looking for instead of going down the rabbit hole of information overload and still coming up with no carrot. Today, the best web design places essential elements at the forefront and provides navigational tools that mirror how our brains work. Having other content channels also allows us to streamline what’s included on the website and what content lives elsewhere.
Will says, “That’s user experience and user interaction to a tee. Good web design includes communicators who are trained in simplifying information, basically taking a complex site and figuring out the best way to unfold that information on a site. It’s really a hierarchical mindset. It’s taking in everything that the site has to offer, figuring out the best way into that information and then presenting it in the most easily consumable way.” So now that the site structure makes sense, it has to speak to the user.
The fundamental underpinning of today’s best web designs is enhanced engagement married to storytelling. That means presenting a story that unfolds as users interact with elements, infusing each click with content. According to Agrella, “Our process is based on focus and hierarchy. You want to present your message in a coherent way. You want to show one thing at a time, leading users through a story or through a process. Along the way, we’re giving you different visual pieces that layer and progress to build meaning conceptually.” This approach is eons away from the early days of the web, which presented everything all at once, to everyone – the web version of a brain dump.
In terms of the hierarchy of content, different brands will have different approaches. Understanding the purpose of the site and who is visiting will help define how a brand unfolds their story in a meaningful way. Understanding the process of strategic messaging is key to successful content development and web deployment. Ask yourself: what’s my most important point to get across; how do I want to introduce this concept; and how do I build on that? Tools, tips and tricks aside, a website really should be a physical manifestation of a brand’s mission and culture. That’s strategy to a tee.
Now that we’ve outlined our thinking on what constitutes great design, in our next edition, we’ll walk through some of the web’s best sites.