Thoughts. We're passionate about design, and the value of good design. And what good is passion, knowledge, and experience if it's not shared?

creating a better website

You’ve Got One Chance, So Make It Awesome: Creating A Better Website.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that if you have a business, you need a website. This is absolutely critical. Your website IS your business, in the online space— it’s an avatar, a representative of your brand and the services you provide. You want to meet any search for your business or service with an online presence that connects and informs and most importantly, engages with the visitor. If you don’t have a site, or if you do but it’s outdated or hard to use or slow to load (arguably the absolute worst), you will lose people. Good design is key (first impressions are 94% design-related, and “design” refers not only the visual aspects of your site, but the design of the user experience— the tone and flow of your content, the intuitiveness of your navigation, the experience of filling out a contact form. The majority (88%) of visitors are less likely to return to a website after a bad experience. On the other hand, if your site is visually compelling, with a clear voice and relevant information that is easy to find, you will have won their trust and hopefully their business.

In an effort to make the internet a better place, I’d like to share some things I’ve learned in my 18 years of designing and building websites: 

  1. Make it Responsive: Seriously. People are equally as likely to visit your site from a smartphone as they are to look you up on a PC. And they don’t want pared-down mobile content, they want clear mobile access to everything available to them on the desktop. If your site isn’t optimized for mobile, it will be incredibly difficult to interact with and your visitor is likely going to give up. ALSO: Google search will rank your site lower in search results if it isn’t mobile-friendly.
  2. Make your URL count: Ideally this will be your business name (without hyphens, if possible)— unless you’re unusually clever, and can think of one that is both available and also will be easily remembered in conjunction with your business. No weird spelling, or you’ll find yourself constantly having to spell out your entire URL to people, and they will definitely forget it. 
  3. Less is more: People have notoriously short attention spans, particularly when it comes to being online; visitors are going to skim. How can you get your message across clearly and succinctly? Can you use visual elements to convey your message visually rather than in words? Don’t overwhelm people with large walls of text. Think phrases and sentences, not paragraphs.
  4. Guide the user through your site: Visitors come to your site with a specific need. Anticipate that need. Give them a short overview of services and information on the home page and then let them follow that trail to more information, IF they want it. Show the user where everything is, but ultimately let them decide how much or how little content they want to take in. Think of your site UI (user interface) as a helpful guide, showing them where to go with a pleasant “right this way”, and then leading them to the finish (where they contact, sign up, or purchase).
  5. Be mindful of SEO, but don’t be a hawker: You probably know that keywords are important for search, and they are, but I’m going to let you in on something: if you’re writing site content that is relevant to your audience? In plain, clear language? Your keywords will already be in there. Trust that. Keyword stuffing and other trickery will only anger the Google gods and make you look less than professional. Don’t fancy yourself a writer? Hire an excellent writer and help them truly understand your business and your message, and let them take the helm.
  6. Resist the temptation to use blinking or animated anything, and that includes any type of slideshow or carousel that moves on it’s own. The user should ALWAYS be in control of what plays and doesn’t play, and where they are taken in their experience on your site. Also, don’t disable the “back” button by making links open a page in a new browser window.
  7. Don’t fear the scroll! The old yarn about “above the fold” is outdated— people are very used to, and expect, to scroll down a page. It’s much easier and efficient to scroll down a page than it is to be continually clicking from page to page. Content can be grouped in larger groups, and it’s less likely that a user will get lost in a sea of back-clicks if they want to return to something they’ve just seen.
  8. Delight the user. No matter how serious or grave the content, there are small ways that will make the experience feel good, smooth (delightful). Like turning a doorknob sized just so, that fits in your hand in a way that is pleasing. Intuitive navigation and smooth and subtle transitions are just a couple of the ways to take an arduous process (filling out a form, for instance) and turn it into something almost enjoyable.
  9. The most important thing to remember is this: consider the user. Always be mindful of the experience of the person that’s trying to connect with you, and make it your mission to facilitate that connection. Make their experience delightful, and you’ve got yourself a new customer.

why is design important?

Why is design important?

At first glance, design seems superfluous—the act of decoration.

What is the purpose of design? Why invest in it when there are so many DIY options available? Design is so much more than choosing colors, playing with fonts, and dropping in photos. Good design is considerate of the user— it connects and engages. Design shows the user how to interact with something, be it a printed piece, an object, a website. It influences their feelings about the interaction, and guides that user in the absorption of information: differing type sizes isolate the most important information from the (literal) fine print; color sets a mood and helps draw the eye or helps less important objects recede; white space gives the eye a place to rest before taking in more; photos create an atmosphere, etc. These visual cues serve as guideposts in the overall experience.

Design is so much more a part of our lives than we realize. Pick something up that’s nearby, anything. That object/piece was designed. Somebody thought (sometimes a little, sometimes a lot) about how that thing should feel, how it should look, what you needed to do with it or learn from it. And THIS is why design is so important. We all have things in our lives that have been poorly designed and are difficult to interact with. They don’t lend themselves to simple communication and understanding. They’re confusing or cumbersome and sometimes even downright enraging (I’m looking at you, coffee mug that refuses to open easily and yet leaks). And then there are the things that are designed with intention and empathy, and you barely notice your interaction with them. They just work, and you feel understood at a basic level. A step above this are the things that are so well designed that they are positively delightful. They make you happy just looking at them or interacting with them (shoutout to Asana, the app we use for project management—love you, Asana!).

If you’re trying to order a product from a website that is confusing and unclear with a million different colors and text all one size, you’re going to walk away from that interaction feeling frustrated. If you manage to find your way to checkout, the product you ordered from that site will be tainted with this frustration and you’ll likely not be returning to use that site again. Your relationship with that brand is damaged. On the other hand when you have a great experience on a site that is well-branded (so you immediately connect with the brand on a visual level), with clear navigation, copy that is easy to understand, and a flow and hierarchy of information that makes sense and guides you through the process, you feel understood. You feel successful in that interaction. You develop a sense of trust in the company and in their products and you become a loyal customer.

Ultimately, design is unavoidable. There is always some aspect of “design” (intentional or unintentional) in any product or service that is put into the world. You want that design to be the good kind, the kind that people connect to, because the experience of your brand as a whole rests heavily on the success of the design. And that’s a worthwhile investment.

AONE 2015 conference branding and identity

The Immersive Power of a Conference Brand

Conferences are the enrichment-focused summer camps of the business world—an opportunity for people to come together to fully immerse themselves in their craft, while meeting new people and (hopefully) having a little fun in the process. Attendees return home a little wiser, inspired. A truly memorable conference delivers a multifaceted, intensive experience. A strong conference brand and identity will underscore all that the attendees are taking in, highlight conference aims, and bring all aspects of the meeting together into one cohesive world.

Let’s separate the terms branding and identity, so we can talk about why they are each important and how they contribute to the conference experience. Branding refers to the experience that an attendee anticipates having, also known as a “brand promise”. This involves not only the visual aspect of the conference, but also the tone and language of conference materials, advertisements, the flow of the conference itself, and the unspoken messaging that an attendee gets. Branding is the way the conference “feels”. Branding is incredibly important for any company, and equally so for an annual conference. Just as buying a product or participating in a company’s services is an experience, a conference is without a doubt an experience, and it’s important to get clear on what that should feel like. This makes for a targeted message that attendees will be bringing home with them and sharing with other potential future attendees.

conference branding crowd photo

The role of the design firm in the branding process is to create the visual aspect of that feeling, the conference “look and feel”, which is based on the overall conference messaging and theme. The first step in this process is to create the conference logo, often the very first visual representation of the conference that people will see. This logo serves as the compelling symbol for the conference itself and communicates that conference “feel” visually.

Along with the logo, the conference look is established—the photography and colors and general style of the design of any conference-related piece. Together, this logo and this look will inform the identity of the conference. The identity is all the visual pieces that go into a conference: ads, registration kickoff mailers, brochures, onsite guides and program books, signage, name badges, etc. These items are designed to work together as a set of materials to create a visual framework that stays with the attendee throughout the conference, supporting the message and feel of the conference.

Using this approach to conferences and harnessing the power of design to work in concert with all the other components of conference planning results in a fully experiential conference package—a 360 degree conference that is experienced visually and sensorily and will stay with attendees long after they’ve removed their name badge and gone home.

For more about why a conference brand is important, check out this article by Velvet Chainsaw: