What do you want your website visitors to do?
It may seem like a simple — and straightforward — question. However, you’d be surprised how many organizations don’t take the time to answer it before they undertake digital development projects.
The only way you’ll get people to contact you, schedule appointments, make queries and purchase things is to clearly understand what you want them to do. Then you have to map out a digital journey that makes it easy and obvious for them to take all the actions you want them to take. A critical component of this is using well-thought-out design clues to guide their journey and make it clear where they should go and what they should do.
Planning out an optimal digital user experience, and using design elements to guide people through it, allows you to nudge visitors in the right direction — from link to link, page to page and action to action.
The supermarket parallel to designing a superior website.
Here’s a real life example that can help you understand the concept of a planned digital journey better.
For decades, supermarkets have become experts at getting people to buy high margin products that drive more dollars to their bottom lines.
They set up their aisles so all roads lead to the products that will earn them the most money. They use signage, color, sound and scent cues to get people to go where they want them to go. Those beautiful and colorful fresh vegetables, the smell of bread baking, enticing announcements and the eye-catching displays have all been carefully planned to move people through the store and get them to take a look at and buy items that are beyond the pantry basics everybody needs but don’t make markets a lot of money.
Your website should be planned and designed to do the same things. And many are. As soon as Amazon took over Whole Foods, their website became a digital trip through a supermarket. Every business, including professional firms, tech companies, consultants, product developers and others, needs to plan and deliver their digital journey like the experts that developed the guided trip through the supermarket.
But look out as there is a common pitfall non-designers might fall when planning a website: caring too much about how it looks rather than how well it communicates.
There are a lot of cool looking websites. But even if a website provides the most awesome visual experience of your life, it must still convey information. If it doesn’t, it misses the point. And the point is delivering your message to your audience.
SketchDeck head of digital services
The fundamentals of digital design.
Let’s start with the basics. Digital design is the process of mapping out and developing the look, feel and experience of the content that people view and interact with on a computer, tablet or phone screen. The ultimate goal of good digital design is to create a positive online user experience and get people to take desired actions.
The best digital designers are able to do this by understanding:
1. User experience and how to get people to move smoothly through a digital journey.
2. How to leverage color and type not just as design elements, but also as tools to get people to think, act and do.
3. Ways to incorporate brand elements so they convey your company story in the best light.
4. How to get people to focus on the messages they need to understand and support them with meaningful design elements.
5. Use the right media, including videos, infographics, images and other things to convey concepts as clearly and effectively as possible.
6. Leverage scale and proportion to help people understand what is more important and what’s less so.
7. Use imagery to evoke emotion.
8. Take advantage of sound, motion and other cues to support the digital experience.
Not only do great digital designers have to leverage and balance these things, as appropriate, on every project, they also have to make them effective across multiple devices. And as things change at a faster pace than ever, and what’s considered good design constantly evolves, digital design experts have to keep up with all the latest trends and tactics.
A key aspect of digital design is that it’s not only subjective. Good design involves using testing and data analytics to develop sites that get people to:
- think what you want them to think
- feel the things you want them to feel
- and take the actions you want them to take.
A site that does these things and drives business results is a well designed site. One that fails at this, even if it is beautiful to look at, isn’t well designed.
Good design is a blend of subjective and objective elements. It will always have a “like/don’t like” factor, that’s the subjective part. But it also has structure and objective elements. One of the best ways to tell good design from bad is by asking yourself: “Do I understand what I’m seeing?” If you don’t understand right away, it’s bad — even if it looks awesome.
SketchDeck head of digital services
The difference between digital design and graphic design.
The terms digital design and graphic design are often used interchangeably. The truth is that there are similarities and differences between the two.
The key difference between them is the mediums that digital and graphic designers work with. Graphic designers produce graphics and layouts for different media including print, e-mail, social media, videos and websites. Some designers focus on a specific area, but most are generalists who work across many media types and design disciplines.
In contrast, digital designers work exclusively on creating online experiences with a focus on interactivity. This involves using different techniques like wire framing, user testing and dynamic storytelling that graphic designers typically don’t.
Despite these differences, the two types of designers share many similar skillsets and often work together on web projects, digital campaigns and online initiatives.
The critical components of effective digital design.
Digital designers should understand the fundamentals of design and how to use it effectively, especially when it comes to getting people to feel things, understand messages and take actions. There are some specialized areas of design that web developers should be aware of, and will likely need to outsource in order to create an optimal online experience. These include:
Web design. This covers the visual appearance and layout of a website or app, including landing and other types of pages, and virtually every aspect of a digital experience. Web designers develop all the interactive elements that get people to take action online. Employing a top tier expert in web design will maximize your investment in a new digital property by ensuring that it generates business results.
UX (user experience) design. This area of web design focuses on how a digital product functions and its ease of use. A website can be attractive, but if people aren’t able to navigate through it easily, they’ll abandon it and move on to a competitor’s site. A good UX designer will test your site for effectiveness during the development process and regularly over time so you can rest assured knowing it’s always performing as intended.
The best way to improve UX is to invest time on user testing. Track user behavior. Find out how people interact with images, banners, apps. Those are key moments when people will connect with your brand, and shouldn’t be taken for granted.
UI (user interface) design. This aspect of digital design and development is concerned with the look and feel of the final product. Designers who specialize in this focus on an interface’s visual elements. They often work closely with other people on the digital development team, bringing the experience to life with color, typography, shapes and images. A good UI designer or team will deliver a style guide as part of their development process to ensure consistency across digital experiences and to make sure the site can be added to, changed and refined over time.
Interactive design. This part of the digital design process is often thought of as the one that adds the bells and whistles to a website. Interactive design experts pay attention to the places where users interact with the site making it easier for them to do what they want to do. They often employ things like animation, motion and sound to enhance the digital experience. If you don’t have an interactive design specialist on your project team, you could be limiting the effectiveness of your site.
Product design. Product designers, who are not usually considered part of the web design team, can play a vital role in the overall user experience. They are able to focus on the business and brand, and how the website connects into the overall marketing, sales and customer experiences. While they may not have a hands-on roll in the development of a website or app, they help ensure that what happens online and in the real world connect seamlessly and provide a satisfying brand experience.
I love creating new products! It’s my happy place. Starting from scratch, thinking about the persona, how to get people to take action and provide an exceptional experience — whether it’s a digital or physical product, I love them both.
As you develop a new digital property, it’s critical that you optimize all these aspects of design to make it as effective as possible. Most organizations don’t have access to all the talent they need to do this, so they outsource all or part of the work to experts. This may seem costly to do, but most organizations find that the investment pays off in a site that leverages the latest digital design tactics to get people to take action.
How data drives digital design.
So, in the end, what is “good” digital design?
That’s not something for marketers, sales people or company executives to decide.
It’s completely up to the consumer. Good design is anything that gets them to take the actions you want them to take within the standards of your brand.
That makes data and analytics more important than ever. Leveraging them takes the pressure off designers, marketers and executives. They’re no longer forced to make subjective decisions about what’s “right”. Numbers allow them to make objective, data-driven choices. A data-driven approach takes much of the guesswork out of customer behavioral analysis.
Monitoring metrics should be a part of the website design process and it must continue on as long as the web experience is live. It’s the only way to know for certain that your site — including all the underlying design elements — is performing as intended. If it is, regular data monitoring gives you the power to optimize what’s working. If it’s not, you are able to make adjustments in a timely manner, which will allow you to course correct before a design, message or other web-related issue becomes a big problem that could impact your sales and bottom line business results.
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