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The Website is Dead, Long Live the Website

When it became clear that it was time to retire the “flashy” BlackDog website, we did what we always do around here.

We started looking around, asking questions, and reading the facts and findings of the guru’s that write the research. What we gathered was informative, most of it was interesting, but none of it was the whole story. We knew this because we actually had a website that was completely ineffective and violated every “law” of web design that our customers overwhelmingly loved. The disparity between fact and reality gave us great pause and confused us immeasurably.

Grid layout, eye tracking, usage patterns, and scrolling assessments were critical to the architectural design of our new web experience. But, science and analytics alone weren’t going to address our unique challenge. Our customer had a strong intellectual and emotional association with something that we were about to change. Maintaining a strong and lively impression was imperative. In order to create a substitute that lived up to their expectations we had to get personal. We had to practice Design Thinking*.

This is what we discovered…

1.) Utility and usability.

  • We have to re-think the web experience tangibly. We are virtually designing a process for a prospective customer to “stop by” to pick up useful information, have a conversation, and hopefully consider doing business with us before they leave. We have to assume that they are short on time and have a purpose motivating the visit. How are we going to treat them once they get here?
  • Consistency with the real you: The content, layout, typography, style, tone, and mood should symbolically reflect the first impression that we genuinely want and would make in person.
  • Clean and simple navigation matters. You want to design a page flow that’s in sync with your audience’s workflow. The degree of learning required, steps taken, interruptions endured, unsuccessful searching, and time wasted all influence the “stopping by” experience.
  • Don’t try to dazzle old dogs’ with new tricks. Design repeatable templates that function in a similar manner page after page.
  • Don’t be different for the sake of being different. Adhere to conventions unless the alternative is intuitively genius and simple to navigate.
  • Accommodate the technology preferences and channels of your audience. BlackDog’s decision maker uses an ipad but not mobile apps, they typically surf but don’t participate in social media.
  • Don’t wear out their welcome. Design with impatience in mind. What’s anyone really looking for? How many steps does it take them to find it?

2.) Who.

  • You can’t talk about “what” to say or “how” to present it without intimately knowing “who” you are dealing with. We often confuse “who” for an industry or a title. But, make no mistake “who” is always a very specific market segment made up of very specific real people. Our “who” has gumption and they love our spunk.
  • BlackDog’s who’s who have more in common than not. More male CEO’s, attorneys, accountants, and consultants between the ages of 42-62 recommend and hire us. The ambitious professionals that we “connect” with are health conscious, read regularly, drink craft beer, approach goals with tenacity and exude a genuine zest for life.
  • Interestingly enough our blog readership is much more diverse.

3.) Attitude.

  • Wait, what? Yep, attitude. You are never going to attract much interest if you are relating with all the energy of a financial statement. Your mojo, style, groove, voice, clarity, language, message, imagery, and perspective are incredibly compelling. A reflective attitude connects with “real people” and impacts likeability no matter how “boring”, conservative, or old school you believe your customers or industry are.
  • BlackDog’s “schwag” overwhelmingly compensated for the inefficiencies on our old website. Our use of bold and vivid imagery was a hit that we were careful to replicate.
  • Humanize your approach. Nobody cares what you know until they know that you actually care. People want to relate on a personal level in the most professional of roles and fields.
  • People are skeptical of jargon, sound bites, campaign spin, and “sales’ tactics. If you don’t have anything genuine or interesting to say, don’t design a new website yet.
  • Everyone wants video bits.

4.) Content.

  • The main focus of good web design is to position good content to be found and read. Over and over people reported that they were frustrated with websites that didn’t give them enough information to form an opinion or make a decision. Who? What? When? Where? How? and Why? Don’t give anyone a reason to leave before they found the information that they were looking for.
  • “Fast” and “slow” information. Prominently display enough tightly honed and well spun sound-bites to evoke interest and inform the user quickly. Offer links, downloads, and “other” resources for the analytical and deliberate decision maker that will need more contemplative information to click and reason through at their own pace.
  • Story telling: A quick tour of the web suggests that we may have lost touch with the art of storytelling, settling instead for a regurgitated version of someone else’s story in the same hue of blue. Your website as told through your voice should be a place that elicits a connection. Your customer wants a sense of what it “feels” like to do business with you.
  • Stories have the power to communicate complex ideas, data, and experiences to broad audiences that “feel” and remember them.

5.) Likeability.

  • If you’ve ever been smitten with someone that didn’t return your affections, you understand the fickleness of likability. Attitude, utility, usability, design quality, consistency, message, aesthetics, and efficiency all influence likability to varying degrees. Even the mood of the user impacts your likability rating! Likeability has everything to do with your very specific market segment made up of very specific real people.
  • Flow: The goal is to design an optimal user experience that gets people in a groove and stride. If the site is too complicated or the content is too vague …you provoke user anxiety. Too much animation, flash, or distractions and you overwhelm the user, reducing their patience and comprehension. Not enough of anything and “boredom” prompts visitors to surf on elsewhere.
  • Twitter feeds, data collection, and sign-up/opt-in invitations are distractions. They break flow and they aren’t what anyone “stopped by” for. Keep the whistles, bells, walls, and dangling carrots to a minimum and discretely in one place.
  • Organize. Minimalism always works. White space enhances flow, readability, comprehension, and likability. Organizing your layout and information into clean banners, chunks, and sections makes for easy scanning. Grouping your content thoughtfully in small bites is preferred.

In the end, it turns out that designing a web based user-experience is no different than excavating a brand. The truth to what “really matters” lives just beyond the commonly accepted assumptions and facts that you believe to be important and true. Web design, like brand, is about capturing that “thing” that you never think twice about… But that viscerally and intelligently connects with your customer.

And if you haven’t checked out the new website yet…please do.  Phase 1 is up and running, let us know what you think.

*Design Thinking: combining the best of analytical thinking — that is, thinking based on declarative logic whose purpose is to declare a proposition to be true or false — and intuitive thinking, which is knowing without reasoning. Analytical thinking attempts to prove that something is indubitably true. Intuitive thinking is about imagining a future that cannot be proven in advance.1

1 Martin, Roger http://rogerlmartin.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/journal_problem_solving_spring_2010.pdf

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2 Responses to “The Website is Dead, Long Live the Website”

  1. Nathan Miloszewski October 10, 2012 at 1:56 pm #

    “Design with impatience in mind.” Love that. Wonderful advice for content marketing, headline writing, everything.

    Great article. Also, the old site was fun; it was like playing a game or navigating a maze. The new site though makes navigation dead simple.

  2. ShowDog October 10, 2012 at 9:57 pm #

    Thanks. Yes, the old site was captivating since you could “tell” your own story by the order that you opened and read images. One of the nice aspects of the new site (and a great way to think about the structure of building a site) is that we work directly from it to do client presentations.

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