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Pretty, Vacant

So you want to get your site redesigned. But what do you mean when you say “design?” Or, more importantly, what does your web designer mean? The aesthetic surface – the look & feel – is the easiest thing to see, and for many, that’s where design stops. But to do the redesign process correctly, and actualize your site as a more powerful marketing communications tool, “design” needs to push past mere beauty and engage with substance. Does you site communicate? It does if it’s designed well.

The Clothes Make the Man?

There’s a longstanding myth that presentation is everything. Like all myths, it grows from a core of truth. The packaging of a thing is critical. Get this wrong, and you have injected a significant element of noise into your signal. Your audience will get thrown off track because the packaging hits a clinker, and they get the wrong impression. Maybe it doesn’t feel appropriately professional in its level of execution. Maybe it’s well executed, but is not a fit. But here’s the rub: You can nail the packaging, but then fail to deliver the substance, and you’re still dead in the water.

This principle is brilliantly illustrated in a scene from Audrey Hepburn’s classic My Fair Lady. Professor Higgins wagers he can teach proper elocution to a Cockney flower girl, dress her up, and pass her off as an aristocrat. Things go swimmingly for a bit, until her flawless packaging fails to hide her true station in life as she begins to talk about her aunt, and how someone “done her in.”

Business websites intended to market products and services do this all the time. They “redesign,” and change their packaging, but the actual substance of the communication is not redesigned to improve the connection with prospects. While the results typically land anywhere on the spectrum of dysfunction, the quality that sandbags them all is that of being (to quote philosopher John Lydon) “Pretty vacant.”

The Lights are On. Anyone Home?

We’ve all encountered this disconnect, but for many, it’s not easy to articulate. The disconnect has been the impetus for many a redesign, and unfortunately, it has also been the result of many of those same redesigns. The word “design” itself means to plan and fashion something with intent – for a purpose. In many cases though, the concept has been watered down to meaning something akin to “decoration.” To paint a coat of “pretty” on something.

Proper design isn’t just about looks. It has purpose, and it communicates and connects. A key part of the redesign (or just “design”) process should involve rethinking what is being communicated, and making sure the the aesthetic presentation carries a payload of meaningful, relevant substance. As always, this begins with strategy.

Plan Your Work, Work Your Plan

A site design needs to start with asking key questions. Who are we? How are we different? Who is our audience? What is important to them? From this flows the messaging – its substance and structure. Presentation is then tailored to embody that substance and structure in meaningful ways so as to create a hand-in-glove experience for those looking for what your business offers. Done properly, it feels like slipping into a comfortable chair. There’s an almost visceral sense of relief created by the cognitive resonance and harmony.

To execute this properly, you need to follow a custom blueprint that has been created for your particular communication needs (This is done in the strategy phase linked above). This blueprint will do three key things. It will cause the substance of your site to:

  1. Be engaging
  2. Be well structured
  3. Possess good flow

How is this done? Tune in next time and we’ll unpack it.

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