Web Design, Art, and Viral Trends.
Remember the Ice Bucket Challenge? How about Planking? Dabbing? Doin’ the Stanky Leg, Eating Tide Pods, the Harlem Shake, chasing Pokemon out in the middle of traffic? Oh, I’m sure you remember a few, I do. Trends are everywhere and they spread like a wildfire in the wind with the propagation of social media. It’s very rare for people to be in agreeance on anything these days, but I believe that for the most part, we can all agree that the last few years in our world have been crazy. People are getting crazier, the things people say and do are getting crazier, and it all just feels a bit, crazy. Or maybe it’s just that we are all so digitally connected to one another we are simply exposed to more of the crazy? It’s somewhat of a modern-day phenomenon, I see these challenges and trends start going viral and I can’t stop myself from wondering: who is the genius that started this, and what were they thinking?!
Some of these trends and fads do good for the world, like the Ice Bucket Challenge. Some of them, like Eating Tide Pods or chasing an augmented reality fantasy pet out into the middle of the road are downright dangerous. Yet somehow, regardless of their blatant stupidity or ridiculousness, people jump on the bandwagon and commence with making terrible decisions.
It now seems that fads and silly trends are beginning to seep into web design and UX/UI design. My turf. And it is driving me bonkers. Why am I writing about this? Well, I’m glad you asked: to save you a ton of money, that’s why. If you meet with a web designer that is dressed like a cartoon version of the artist formerly known as Prince and they are more worried about the cohesiveness of your color palate than the functionality and usability of your website, run. Run far away and don’t look back until you’re in the office of a web designer who knows what they are doing.
Those of you who know me, have worked with me, or have read my articles over the years know that I firmly believe that web design is an art, and I’ll always stick to that paradigm; but, websites are not art. The design process, the analysis of target audiences and their conversion patterns, creating a site structure that will guide an end user to complete the desired task or event, that’s art! Your website should not look like art, and if you pay someone to make your website look like a Picasso or Rembrandt, you’re most likely losing money.
Let me tell you a story.
About a year and a half ago, a very good client of mine who is in the dental field called me out of the blue. She told me she had a good friend whom she went to dental school with just open her own cosmetic dentistry practice in Los Angeles. Her friend had called her, excited about opening up her own practice, and filled her in on all the juicy details about her budding business venture. What her friend was most boastful of was her shiny new website! So of course, like any good friend would, she instantly pulled up her friend’s new site, and she was stunned! The site was like an abstract painting! Very minimal in content, and almost completely void of any information about her friend’s new practice, but the colors! Wow! It was beautiful! And with a price tag of $25,000, it seemed like she had gotten her money’s worth!
To quote the President of the United States: wrong.
My client was completely enamored with her friend’s new website, and she wanted RedSix Digital to completely tear down her existing website and begin anew, with the end result looking like a Jackson Pollock, and with a price tag to match. I found myself exceptionally curious about this website she was so in love with, and truth be told, a little jealous. We had managed this client’s entire digital presence for years, had helped to grow and expand her practice, and made her quite a bit of revenue; but she had never gushed at our work like this. I don’t claim to be the best at anything, there is always someone better than you at something you think you’re great at, but this was downright blasphemous! How could the site that my team and I labored over for so long and had earned her so many new patients now be so bad that she wanted to completely redo it?
I got off of the call with our client feeling slightly defeated, but more curious than anything. She had given me the name of the site, and I made a mental note to look at it as soon as I was back in front of my computer. I had several meetings that day, but that damn phone call had my mind spinning. This may seem a little melodramatic, but we take great pride in the work we do for clients, and I was taking it personally.
Eventually, I made it back to my office with a million and one things to do, but only one thing on my mind; the site. I pulled it up and was taken aback; if I hadn’t have been told I was looking at a dentist’s website, I would have never known. It was a very bright red with gradient gray borders, and a young woman in a white flowing dress in some sort of interpretive dance move splashed across the whole screen. It took me a few minutes to find any sort of navigation, and once I had looked at all four of the pages in their entirety, I was having a complete fit of laughter. It was very aesthetically pleasing, like an oil canvas you’d expect to see at a center for the performing arts, but was in no was functional nor indicative of what type of business it was promoting.
I found myself at a moral crossroads: my client was expecting a call from me with a quote for what it would cost to create for her something similar. She was expecting to pay a lot of money, and I’m sure I could have gotten her to raise her expectations even higher, but I just couldn’t. I could not bring myself, in good conscience, to build this new site she wanted; even though the payday would have been nice, and this was at a time in our business where we really needed something nice.
So, I made the call. I told my client that her friend’s new website was stupid. Yes, that’s the adjective I chose to describe it to her, I don’t know why so don’t ask. She was less than enthusiastic about it. Anyhow, I told her that I could not redo her site in that style, because it would hurt her business. She didn’t understand why. I told her that there are basic design principals we use to ensure your site not only looks good but functions how you need it to. In a nutshell, I covered the basics:
- Easy to understand navigation
- This one should have been a no-brainer. Her friend’s site had no navigation, literally none. You had to click on elements on the home page that would take you somewhere else. Yet there were no indicators of which elements where clickable. You had to just hover the mouse around until you saw your cursor react. Fortunately, I used developer tools to identify all clickable links quickly, but there is no way a potential patient would spend time playing “Where’s Waldo” to find your contact form.
- Proper use of color
- The brightness of the red on the screen was darn near blinding on my Retina Display MacBook and was in no way, shape, or form related to anything in the dental field. Maybe an advertisement for cranberry juice. You need to use colors that are relevant to your business and appealing to your prospects. Blood red isn’t what I think of when I think dental.
- Ease of use/ layout considerations
- This one ties into the navigation being easy to understand. Your layout should be easy to follow and should lead your visitor in a direction. What direction depends on your business’ goals, but typically you want to convert a visitor into a lead, a client, a customer, or in this case, a patient.
- Aesthetically pleasing
- Your website is an extension of your business. In fact, in many cases, your website can be the first point of contact. It has to be appealing to the eye, but too much and you’ll lose your visitors’ focus.
- Appropriate to the topic
- My client’s friend’s shiny new website was very pretty, but it was pointless. If the domain wouldn’t have been DebbiesDentistry.com (or whatever it was), I wouldn’t have known I was looking at a site for a dentist. Your website needs to be relevant to the business you’re conducting. I know this seems like common sense, but in this crazy world, common sense is very uncommon.
- Clear calls to action
- Put yourself in the shoes of your visitor. You have just landed on your page, what do you do next? What do you see? Is there relevant content? Is it easy to navigate? Are there clear calls to action? You need to be able to walk yourself from where you landed to the conversion event you’re trying to get your clients to perform. Are you asking them to sign up for a consultation? Or make a purchase? Or submit their info? You have to ask for it, and you have to ask yourself why they would do it. What value do you bring? What compels them to do what you’re trying to get them to do?
Needless to say, my client wasn’t very happy with my decision to not build her new site. She threatened to leave our firm at a time when we couldn’t really afford to lose a client, but I held strong in my resolve. I had done my very best to explain to her that just because someone else does it, doesn’t mean that she should, or that it would even work. Like my mom used to tell me: “if all your friends were jumping off a bridge, would you do it too?“. We got off the phone with an agreement in place: six months. I told her to wait six months and then ask her friend how her site was doing. Was it getting traffic? Was she getting leads for new patients from that traffic? What value was her investment adding to her business?
It didn’t even take 4 months…
A member of our team meets or speaks to every client we have that we perform any digital services for once a month. It’s just a way to touch base and report in on whatever services we are performing for any given client. She and I had always had a great relationship, but for the few months following our conversation, she was a little standoffish. It was like she had lost trust in me as a business advisor. It was more than a little uncomfortable, but we never spoke about it.
About three and a half months later she rang me on my cell unexpectedly. When I saw her name on my caller ID my heart sank a little, I could feel the bad news coming. I imagined her telling me that some web designer from Sweeden named Sven was only charging her $50k for the site she wanted and that she would no longer be using the services of RedSix Digital. I almost didn’t answer her call, but I’ve found that its always better to face a problem head-on, rather than hide from it.
He friend had called her again asking about the performance of her digital marketing efforts. She had spent tons of money blindly driving traffic to her website but she wasn’t receiving any new patient leads. Literally, she had not received one. I was asked to call her and see if I could help her; of course, I could. Her existing website was nothing more than expensive, beautiful, garbage.
I am very proud to say that both of these dentists still remain clients of ours, and their practices continue to grow and thrive with our help. Anyone can get any web designer to build a website, but that is not where the true value of hiring a firm is. The real value is in the partnership. A great design firm will partner with your business to help you grow, they will strategize with you and advise you against making mistakes they have seen countless others make. They will make sure your website doesn’t look like you’re promoting an art auction if you’re an automotive dealer. And they won’t let you blindly follow ridiculous trends. At RedSix, we have a very firm no Tide-Pod policy.
Again, I’m not insinuating that all trends are bad, but use your common sense. Keep up with technological advances, but steer clear of trends that don’t make sense or add value.
Your website is not art; it is a marketing tool. Keep ROI in mind, and remember to ask, “if all these other business owners were jumping off a bridge, would you do it too?”.
Ryan Ragland is the Managing Director of RedSix Digital, a Web Design and Digital Marketing Agency based in Las Vegas, Nevada. Ryan has spent several years creating custom websites and digital marketing strategies for businesses of all sizes in all industries around the globe. You can follow RedSix on Instagram @RedSixDigital or visit RedSixDigital.com
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