Keep it simple, stupid.

Marketers want websites that ‘pop’; visitors want what Google promised.

Branding, I get it. In fact, I’ve worked in Branding for over 25 years, so I know a thing or two about it: my agency has completed branding projects for clients including Broadbean and The Victorian Society.

What I don’t get about applying branding to a website is the constant need to over-design it.

Sure, it needs to look great, but does this content really need to slide in from over there and does this other content really need to be in an accordion?

The design of your website is judged by the visitor in a fraction of a second.

  • The overall aesthetics of your site are judged
  • Simplicity vs clutter is observed
  • The colour scheme evokes emotional responses (blue for trust and red for urgency, for example)
  • Symmetry and balance
  • Readability

A visitor to your site goes through all of the above subconsciously in a split second.

In less than a blink of an eye, your brand is judged to be credible or not.

That should be the main purpose of design: Keep it Simple, Stupid.

The design will not give your site visitors what they need.

It always amazes me how people get bogged down with the design of a website.

One of my personal pet hates is:

You design it, then we’ll write the copy.

The copy is THE most important part of the website because when your design has been judged in the first few milliseconds, it’s the content that converts.

If design alone was responsible for success, Amazon would never sell anything.

If you have branding, you already have a logo, fonts and colours, so why does anyone need to spend hours and money on exploring another few options for the layout of something when the designer’s first iteration is usually the best?

Personal preferences pollute most design work.

Effective design should be user-centric, designed with the end-user in mind, created to solve the issues outlined in the brief, and resonate with the customer demographic.

It should not be designed to please the Marketing Director.

I don’t really like the design

You should never hear this because if you do, the person you are designing for will have forgotten that they are not designing something for themselves.

Design is important, but it needs to be clean, simple and appropriate.

It certainly does not need to f*ing POP.

Businesses get bogged down by branding.

If you are what I would call an ’empty brand’, meaning you sell or provide something that we don’t really need, then all your branding can focus on is creating a false need.

Think Coke.

In reality, Coke dissolves teeth and can be used to de-rust metal. Drinking too much can also increase your risk of Type 2 Diabetes.

Coke spends five billion on advertising per year, and I can imagine a good wedge of that is spent on creatives endlessly pushing around design work and reshooting campaigns because the ‘brand police’ say it didn’t ‘pop’.

Why do they spend so much?

Because they have nothing you need.

Their advertising budget is so large because they constantly have to remind everyone they are there – we don’t need Coke, but they need to make you want it.

Small brands look at empty brands and think they must do the same.

If your brand genuinely has something to offer, the design of your website just needs to look appropriate.

It doesn’t need to pop because what you have to say is far more valuable to the visitor.

Has anyone redesigned books lately?

Take the humble paperback.

Serif font, uncoated stock, appropriate leading for the font, and you’re done. Even when Kindle tried to kill the printed word, it adopted the same design.

We don’t need a book’s text pages to be ‘designed’ because we’re there for what the book has to say.

Obviously, stuff does need to be designed.

I am not suggesting that you don’t need a designer; I would advise against letting Bob in Accounts design your next website.

In fact, the role of a designer in your project brings so much more than just design; that’s another article in itself.

I am saying to take a step back and let the designers do what they do best.

The old three-concepts rubbish.

If you ask a designer to create three initial designs for you to ‘choose from’, you will get one that is their best work and most suitable for the project and two that are afterthoughts to give you what you want.

If you ask me to design something for you, you’ll get a design that I feel is appropriate and meets the needs of the brief.

You won’t get three to choose from because what you’ve been given answers the brief.

Ah, so you are one of those arrogant ‘designer types’, Dave.

Designers provide solutions. They provide their best solution for the project based on the brief, their research and experience.

What you are talking about is choice. You want to choose from a range of things.

Next time you enjoy a guilty take-out burger, ask the server to bring you three so you can eat the one you like the look of the most.

You may feel that choice should be a part of the project; after all, you are paying the designer to design something.

This is 100% fair enough for something like a logo or a new piece of design when there is no existing collateral to work from: you need to see ideas to decide on direction.

However, when you have brand guidelines in place, and these are supplied to the web design team, there’s usually little need for ‘three concepts’ as everything is already there.

Working like this significantly speeds up the design process and avoids going off-piste when it comes to website design.

The trouble is that everyone wants to feel they have influenced the design process.

Every designer has experienced this:

  1. You do the design concepts
  2. The client chooses a design from three they have created (Urgh.)
  3. The client then changes the design so that it no longer resembles the original option the designer felt met the brief.
  4. The client approves the final dog’s dinner.
  5. They then told you they could have designed it themselves
  6. Thanks.

This is true for the smallest project to the largest (the design community may remember the Barclays Bank rebrand, famously panned on design forums, and then a designer who worked on the project chimed in with ‘the client was a nightmare, in the end, we just gave them what they wanted’).

As a client, it’s important to remember that it only takes one or two rounds of changes to what was already a great design for the design team to just ‘do whatever to get it out the door’.

Designers have to take some of the responsibility for this.

It’s the designers themselves who have created this mess. Fear of losing clients and projects can often lead creatives to do whatever they want rather than delivering what the client needs and justifying it.

Now that the design is adopting a subscription model, endless revisions and tweaks will no doubt soar with clients requesting just a final tweak to ‘perfect it’.

There’s good potential here for allowing your client to spend all their time amending things that don’t need to be amended.

Personally, I think designers should save their clients time by pushing back a little, but that can be a delicate dance.

So why KISS?

Keeping things simple means not trying to compensate for a sh*t offering by over-designing things.

Get your copy correct, then design around it. Not the other way around.

Confidence in your copy is what you need for an effective website.

In reality, you can design it in any one of a thousand different ways, but when it comes to what you have to say, there should only be one way to say it. I don’t mean the way it’s written, as this, too, can be subjective; I mean what you are saying, not how you are saying it (although this also needs to be considered).

If you have a genuine point of difference, then it’s the point of difference that will be why people use your services.

If we had only used Proxima instead of Raleway for the font, we’d have had 10 times more business.

This does not happen.

Focus on getting the content correct for your website and then design it so it’s simple, uncluttered, and intended for the customer you want to convert.

Let the designer do what they do best (assuming you are working with an experienced designer). You will get your new website sorted faster and with less hassle.

Once the new site is live, you can focus on your SEO and win new business using words. Organic traffic to your site can be hard-won, so ensure it delivers what the searcher is looking for and your conversion rates soar.

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