Yes, of course design matters. And of course it is important on the web as a communication tool, but where does "design" add value to the conversation? And a well-designed WordPress theme, that costs $80, and is responsive and beautiful, with all the widgets and flexibility you could want… Is that enough. Is a nice layout, with good type, and subtle color, enough to engage the reader? We've been trained to focus on the content by the big sites, like Huffington Post or any news site. The design needs to get out of the way on these mass aggregators. And hasn't our consumption of news and information on the web really become some form or aggregation? What does "design" in the purest sense, WEB DESIGN, really mean these days? Sure Ironman 3 needs a splashy site, but does your business? Does Best Buy? Does the small or medium business need to spend thousands of dollars on website design in today's RSS-aggregation-content driven online marketplace?
Recently, I was in the process of following the tweeps on Carson's Top-Web-Designers Twitter group and I got to thinking about the real value of design in web communications. I mean we are always trying to define the value and ROI of social media, right? So what about design? Is there a good ROI case for putting a new font and a new color palette on your corporate website? Or would you be better advised to focus on generating great content (stories, case studies, narratives, white papers) rather than colors and typefaces.
So what do these top-web-designers, as selected by a top-web-designer and world-recognized type-ologist, tweet about? What's the "design" conversation on Twitter? Okay, wait… before I give you that link and you go off and see the answer to what I'm asking, let's discuss a couple things.
How did you find your way here?
Are you reading this content in a RSS reader, as an email, on the actual "designed" blog, or in some other format or web-syndicated format? HA! So now I ask you, what role did "design" play in this connection between us? You see, over 80% of you will be first time visitors to uber.la. And what that says to me is, design' had very very little to do with how you got here. Now, I will admit that bad design will bounce you off of my blog quicker than a porn ad, but, for the moment I'm going to stick with the premise that you found your way here 100% because of content and not design.
And you may "bounce" if my blog template/design sucks. Or you may be able to see through the design and read the content that got you here in the first place.
So here's the discussion I had with another content/design/marketing developer friend a few months back. He was drawing an elaborate website design that he wanted to figure out how to make with WordPress.
"I don't really want all those buzzers and bells," I said.
"Why not. This is the look of the modern website."
"I'm not convinced that making a innovatively-fantastic web design is going to improve the performance of their website."
He was stunned.
I pressed on, "I don't really want scrolling graphic teasers and content modules. Of course I'm designing for a much smaller audience."
"You've got to have great design or people will not be interested in what you are doing."
"I think the "audience" is more interested in the content of the story, rather than the layout of the web page. Sure Wired magazine is edgy, but sometimes their stuff is hard to read because it is so 'innovative.'"
Let's go see what the Top-Web-Designers on Twitter have to say about that.
My friend remained unconvinced. But today, two years later, I'm still certain that design, in many cases, is superfluous. We can certainly agree that a great design with crappy content won't perform well. And perhaps the corollary is true: great content with crappy design won't work either. But with adaptive themes these days, being designed and sold for $40 – $100, it's easy to see how hard the web designer is going to have to work to meet expectations.
This story continues here: Design for Design's Sake: Or Listening to Sales/Marketing Rather Than Your Customer
Check out the Strategist's Notebook page and these other posts about online marketing:
- Workin Facebook < all the Facebook Posts in one place
- The Disciplines of Social Media < free ebook download
- uber.la quickies < a streamlined takeaway from today's best marketing sources
- Social Media University < 2 minute educational videos
- Social Business MBA < the reading list
- Becoming a Social Media Rockstar: The Quick Path < um… let's discuss
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Note: I like to say I come from a "design background." And I like to consider myself well-versed in communication design, after all, it's what I do for a living. BUT, when I was searching my own index for posts with "design" in the title, I came up with ONE. Uh oh!
UPDATE 4-26-11: responding to a designer's comment on LinkedIN: Being a designer, I do understand your perspective. And I think you nailed it when you talked about design for performance and efficiency.