Design makes the Web beautiful, but it is hurting how business is being done.
Design is the epitome of the "shiny new thing." It's cool, it's pretty, it's neat to look at, but this shiny new thing has all but killed common sense when it comes to doing business online.
Yes, design is more than just aesthetics. It has its place, but hang tight and read on.
It all started sometime way back in the 90s. The public en masse wanted to be online. It was an exciting time for both, business and the consumer.
Being online was fresh; it was new; it was a novelty.
Then, in the early 2000s, Web 2.0, CSS and Flash arrived. "Web Design" became a thing and the digital landscape got a major face lift.
Web designers became a respected entity, sought out by business.
Give a business the coolest website in town and they were sure to make a splash. And it worked, for a while, but "a while" has been over for a long time. The novelty of being online disappeared years ago for the consumer, but businesses and designers keep chugging along like it's still 2004.
The Problem With Design
Here's the thing, design is important, but it's far from the being most important aspect of a website. It's downright harmful when over-emphasized and misapplied.
It's like the air conditioner for a brick-and-mortar store. It can make the shopping experience more pleasant. It can even play a role in increasing sales, but it's only a small supporting function to the company's end goal.
For example, if it were a hot summer day, and this business was the only location in town that had AC, it could play a considerable role in attracting business. That's an example of design in the late 90s.
Today, to continue the example, every business has AC. Since having AC is no longer the differentiator, some crank up theirs so far it freezes everyone who walks in the door, making that AC really stand out. Some make it even worse and forget that the AC is nice in the summer, but a pain in the winter. These guys crank their AC up year round.
Either way, these businesses have completely lost focus on what matters, why customers are in their stores, and the purpose and role the AC unit plays in their business. Not only are they neglecting what is actually important, they're actively hurting their business by misapplying the AC - driving business right back out the door.
Putting Design In Its Place
To close the example and bring it back to design - way back in the mid 20th century, AC was a novelty. Today, it's only noticed if it's absent on a hot day.
The same is true for design. It used to be a novelty, but today, it's expected and it's no longer noticed - that is, if it's done right.
Design is a supporting function to a business end goal. It helps make the user experience seamless. When done correctly, it's not a distraction. It gets out of the way.
Now, like it was mentioned before. Design is a powerful tool. It does have the ability to dramatically influence a site visitor's behavior. However, unless the site visitor is intimately known before any design is implemented, then the odds are not in the favor of design.
Without developing a deep understanding of the site visitor, evaluating and understanding their end goal for visiting the website, then the website is like a hobbyist shooting at a target blindfolded.
Like Zig Ziglar says, "How can you hit a target you can't see? Even worse, how can you hit a target you don't even have!? If you don't know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else."
For a website design to be truly effective and a success, it has to be built for and around the site visitor. To do that, the website needs a considerable amount of research and strategy to precede it.
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