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Designing Solutions: Websites with a Purpose

Even as a seasoned web designer, I continue to be fascinated by the common misconceptions about the role of design on the web. As I pursued my degree in graphic design, I remember my peers having a difficult time understanding the nuances of the profession. Often these nuances go much deeper than “making it pretty!”

Designing Solutions: Websites with a Purpose

Years later, I still find that people in any role or at any level of an organization often share these misconceptions and misunderstandings. As I thought about this, I recognized that this is common to any field. For most of us, the complexities and challenges unique to a field outside our own are an unfamiliar black box. We see the product of the work, but we don’t understand the processes, skills, and knowledge that were applied to reach that conclusion. In this article, we take a look at the true role of a web designer, along with some of the key components of a successful and effective website design.

What is Web Design?

When most people think of web design, they think of beautiful photography, captivating animations, or shiny new home pages. We all draw on our experiences to imagine what’s possible, and take inspiration from what we’ve seen before. Most anyone is able to compare two websites and decide which they like better, but these comparisons typically focus on the aesthetic differences because they are easy to see. The look and feel of a website is something that everyone can understand and form an opinion about.

There is a lot behind a successful website

But “design” as a discipline is much more than that. A simple, informal definition of “design” proposed by Todd Olson on Medium states:

design (verb), as a discipline: to plan the creation of a product or service with the intention of improving human experience with respect to a specified problem.

This definition highlights a key frame of reference – that any and all efforts by the designer are intended to solve problems for people. We can tell the difference between a well-designed product and a poorly designed one because one just works better than the other. We don’t always know exactly WHY it works better for us, but it does. Apple is not known for creating the FIRST product of its kind. Instead, they are known for creating well-designed products that people love to use.

Designing for the Web

In the context of web design, people don’t like using ugly, awkward, or unwieldy websites – so clearly, aesthetic is important. A well-designed website needs to “look good.” But people USE websites, and they typically use them to accomplish something specific. So web design is also about making it easy for website visitors to do what they set out to do. A well-designed website also needs to “work well.”

UX designing a website

But a successful website also needs to meet the needs of the site owner. Whether that’s selling a product, educating customers, generating leads, or communicating a message, an organizational website needs to contribute to that organization’s overall mission. A well-designed website will ensure there are ample opportunities for potential customers to engage with your organization in the ways you value most.

So who ultimately decides if a website works well? The website visitor does. The website visitor chooses to visit a website in order to satisfy a need. If that visitor is having trouble meeting that need, they are likely to look for another website that does a better job.

Components of Successful Design

Creating a successful and effective website that meets the needs of your organization as well as your customers can be challenging. A skilled web designer will incorporate these key components of a successful design:

Branding

Branding

The design of your website should represent your brand. But this goes beyond the color of your logo or the photos on the home page. Good branding on your website should impact every part of it – from the way visitors interact with the site, to the information they can find, and even the language you choose to use. Every part of the site should shape the way your visitors feel when they interact with the online representation of your company.

Website Navigation

Navigation Ecosystem

The way you choose to organize your website has a huge impact on its ability to fulfill its role. Website visitors come to the website with a goal in mind, and the navigation should help them understand how to achieve that goal with just a glance. A good designer will ensure that the website as a whole speaks to this journey and act as a guide to help your customer along at the most pivotal moments of conversion.

Inspired Action

Inspired Action

While users come to the site to fulfill their needs, the website needs to align these goals with the goals of the organization so that users are motivated to take action. A well-designed site is structured to provide clear action steps at every stage of the buyer’s journey. More importantly, the site should INSPIRE the visitor to take action. As users explore your products or services, the website should give the visitor a reason to engage with your organization. A good web designer will work with you to entice visitors to take that next step and seamlessly transition from passive interaction with your website to active contact with your sales team.

Memorable Experiences

Memorable Experiences

Ultimately, the website should forge a positive and memorable experience for your customers. Whether the website is the first experience with your organization or the hundredth, a well-designed website will stick in the visitor’s mind and ensure that your organization is viewed as a trusted ally.

Wrapping Up

In order for any organization to be able to identify a capable design professional, it’s important to understand the purpose of design and to be able to recognize the different components of successful design. I hope this article serves as a useful resource for you or your colleagues. It’s up to you to make sure your web site is not just “pretty” but effective as well!

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