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design & marketing blog

Straightforward design, marketing, and technical advice for making your marketing communications more effective.

Frappe Free Web Design

December 11th, 2013

One of the biggest ROI killing design blunders for any product or publication is over complexity, and Websites seem to be one of the most common offenders.

The term usability is used in Web design jargon as the attribute of how easily understandable and navigable a site is, and how readily it meets its target visitors’ needs. Almost without exception, each of the millions of Web sites in cyberspace are designed for very specific tasks for a narrowly defined group of people.

Osterizer GalaxieYour primary goal as a site owner is to provide a completely intuitive experience for your visiting prospects. In spite of this obvious goal often simplicity becomes lost in unnecessary clutter. When this happens visitors become confused and confused visitors, according to research, tend to make a hasty retreat.

I ran across a great example of usability in design recently when my ancient Osterizer Galaxie Blender broke. While it had provided many years of satisfactory service, it was always a source of mystery and anxiety to me. I just needed it to perform one simple task—blend. But each time I went to use it I had to wonder at all the buttons on the front:

Chop (Off) – Grate (Off) – Grind (Off) – Stir – Puree – Whip – Mix – Blend – Frappe – Liquefy

Am I doing this wrong? Should I be Puree’ing or Frappé’ing this protein shake. And does it matter which off button I push, why are there three? Just for good measure, I would randomly use all the buttons on different
occasions—all with no noticeable difference to my concoction.

Osterizer BeehiveIn browsing for a replacement, I came across the polar opposite of the Osterizer  Galaxie—the Oster Classic Beehive. There’s just one switch on the whole thing and that tne switch does just what I need without having to stop and think about which button to push and why.

While blenders and Web sites don’t have much in common, the design principle illustrated by Osterizer’s two extremes make great litmus tests for the usability of our own sites.

Now the Beehive looks much cooler than my old Galaxie, I no longer have to hide my blender from guests come over. But the most important thing about well designed
products or Web sites is not looks (although good design naturally lends itself to better aesthetics) it’s about making the value you offer clear and easy to implement.

I mentioned Steve Krug probably too much, but I know of no who does a better job of explaining the foundational principles of usability and helping people really “get” what it takes (and doesn’t take) to create an effective revenue producing Web site. If you’re the owner, manager, or administrator of a site I implore you to get your hands on a copy of his classic book, Don’t Make Me Thinklink opens in new window.

Don’t add clutter to your Website!

August 6th, 2013

I want to point out a great post that Seth Godin made a couple years ago. It’s one of my favorite short articles to reference before starting a branding or design project —The inevitable decline due to clutter.

As is his gift, he does a great job of articulating minimalism; a principle of design and communication that has become critical for success in this age of massive information overload.

I’m having a hard time not quoting his whole post because it’s so good, but in the spirit of minimalism here are the best parts:

  • “As digital marketers seek to increase profits, they almost always make the same mistake. They continue to add more clutter, messaging and offers, because, hey, it’s free.”
  • “Once you overload the user, you train them not to pay attention.
  • “More is not always better. In fact, more is almost never better.

A Quick Guide to Website Content

July 14th, 2013

Quick Guide to Writing Website Content

Writing content for your Website (or any marketing material for that matter) can be quite challenging. If I had to give one piece of advice it would be to keep your content as informal as possible so it’s not refined it into generic marketing drivel. What good is a Website that sounds like a million others?  I’ve found that it’s often the first pass at writing your content that can be the best at establishing that authentic tone that truly resonates with your visitors.

The Vital Elements for your Website

Effective communication on your Website can be compared to effective Interstate highway billboard communication — your visitors are going 70mph and if you’re not concise and clear they won’t bother slowing down to read your message. Research has established that visitors to your Website will make a judgment within a few seconds regarding the credibility and quality of your business (initially based on the graphic design) and then they will want these fundamental questions quickly answered:

  • Who are you?
  • What do you do?
  • Where do you do it?
  • How can they learn more or try your product?
  • Why are you the best choice?

This last item is called your Unique Value Proposition and is extremely important . . . in fact it should permeate all elements of your marketing communication.

The Front Page

The front page of your site is that “billboard” that needs to provide answers to these questions or a clear one-click path for your users to get those answers. Don’t make your visitors guess about these answers or which link to click to get them, otherwise they’re apt to just leave and look elsewhere. Website visitors tend not to be very patient.

Provide Proof

For those visitors who are interested in your unique value proposition, a vital supporting section is the proof section . . . it’s one thing to say you’re the greatest at this or that, but offering your visitors credible proof is going to carry exponentially more weight than you just saying so. Examples of proof sections include testimonials, portfolios and/or photos of your staff and or customers engaged in providing your products or services to clients.

Photos as Proof

MeAs the old saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” and this couldn’t be more true on your Website. Visitors are not going to invest the time to read 1,000 words about how great you are (even if they did, they wouldn’t believe it) but they can’t help but seeing a prominently displayed photo that, if done correctly, can instantly and powerfully communicate your values and help establish trust.

The Web is cold, impersonal and untrustworthy by nature.  Avoid at all costs stock photos with cheesy models posing. The only thing you’ll accomplish is to make people wonder if your business is legitimate. Rather, make this an opportunity to develop an instant personal bond with your visitors which you’ll find is extremely potent towards establishing credibility . . . offer photos of you in an authentic setting, whether it’s a photo that provides some personal insight on your bio or photos that show your business making real customers of yours happy.

Even if your budget is low, consider hiring a professional photographer to work in conjunction with your Web designer. While you may spend a bit more on the project, you’ll be establishing a significant competitive advantage.

I’m still amazed that with all the material we offer on our site, and the myriads of photos of our past projects, I often have prospects and clients commenting on my profile photo which shows me with my family. People want to trust the firm they’re hiring and my willingness to share this type of photo is very effective in helping to establish that bond (as you might of guessed, that’s the photo on this page).

Using Conformity to Communicate The Uniquness of Your Company

August 8th, 2011
Baker Tilly Email Design

A great example of the the principles of consistency and conformity is the email template we designed for Baker Tilly. Compare the email design with the graphic identity of their existing Website.

Seth Godin’s blog posts are always profound, but his most recent post Bypassing the Leap is especially relevant to the services we provide. The gist of his post is that most of the time creativity is the act of reinterpreting and reassembling elements that are already well accepted and proven to work.

Effective branding and design services are based from this same perspective. While it may sound contradictory, quality creative products are almost always intentionally designed to conform within well established boundaries.

No matter how unique of graphic identity a corporation has, you’ll find the logo almost always in the upper left and the main site navigation in one of two locations. This is staying within the proven boundaries of usability. When Fortune 500 corporations spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop their branding and identity all marketing publications will almost always have identical colors, layout and typeface. This is adhering to the core principle of graphic design—consistency. Corporations conform to the principles of usability and consistency because they know they’re the most effective way to communicate a credible message and the most effective way to persuade their customers to action.

Embracing conformity to communicate uniqueness is really the secret of success when it comes to marketing communication and application design. 

Many small and mid-sized companies don’t get this. Have you ever found a Website through Google that you thought might be a good solution for a need only to have second thoughts when their Website design looked dated, amateur or unclear?  No matter how unique and appealing their solution may be, if their graphic design and usability do not establish unwavering credibility you’re likely to just head back to Google to search for an alternative.

Small and mid-sized companies have a great opportunity to level the playing field against even massive competitors by communicating their unique value message by conforming to already accepted and proven principles.

Does your marketing communication produce credibility or doubt? Ask ten people outside your organization that you can trust to give you honest opinions about their impressions of your Website, emails or other marketing material. If you need an objective professional opinion let us know. The one thing you’ll get is honesty and there’s no obligation. If you do decide for yourself that your identity needs a makeover we provide consulting as well as in-house development and design services. You can call us at 866.770.7967 or through our online form.

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