The value of a well designed website is challenging to quantify. What makes a good website? What drives value? What is the value of design? How do you track that value and its results?
On the flip side, what's more important? A beautifully designed website that doesn't provide tangible value-- is this what customers are looking for when choosing their favorite brands? Something that is easy to follow along with?
In this post, We have set out to explore the age-old question: "What is good website design, and how can we determine its value?"
What is design?
First and foremost, I'd like to take a moment to explore my definition of "design" on the web.
Design is equally as much art as it is problem-solving.
When orchestrated well, these two forces produce visually engaging and useful websites that have the power to delight users and create results. Think, art without consideration of what problems users face won’t drive value. On the other hand, solutions to issues without artistic consideration are unlikely to engage users and encourage them to stick around.
The primary challenge as a designer is to create visually pleasing experiences that solve users’ problems, but when done right your customers will be more likely to stick around and eventually get in contact with you or purchase.
Understanding your audience and objectives
Designing to bring users value, unfortunately, is more intricate than delightful experiences or solutions to users’ problems on their own. Having a clear understanding of your company's intended audience is another essential component of the value-based design. After all, how are you supposed to measure value without understanding who is expected to convert?
When approaching a design project, we find that the discovery process is paramount. We want to determine the goals of a business, the objectives of that business' customers, and the audience the new website is intended for. This information helps us add value to the design, and determine what problems need to be solved in collaboration with the marketing team of that business.
If you’re in the process of redesigning your website or making value-based refinements, explore our tools for design discovery.
Personas are fictional representations of customers that you determine are high-value targets for your business. The design created for your website should "speak" to these personas and nurture their interests. Creating personas can also help your team create marketing assets and content because they define who the content is intended for.
As you're creating your personas, include everything that you find necessary to market your business. Frequently included information would be: demographics, interests, goals, challenges, and common objections to products or services.
Design projects commonly have multiple stakeholders with different, and sometimes conflicting goals. Documenting the priorities of all stakeholders involved and their roles in the feedback and approval process will help ensure that your design project is successful.
How well do you understand your current website users? Is their intention clear once they arrive on the website? Can they easily find your product or service pages? Getting this information first-hand from your users will simplify the design process. In short, we're looking to understand what problems they're facing. Solving these issues will provide value to current users and make way for newfound success and engagement post-launch.
Tools such as heat-mapping, eye tracking, and tree testing can be applied to understand user interests and challenges.
Your competitors may have already solved some of your most difficult challenges. By reviewing their websites, brand strategies, and customer behavior, we can find problems they have uncovered and solutions used to accommodate their users. Spend time studying your top competitors’ websites and analyze their designs in detail before you begin to formulate your value design.
The value of UX design
Although there is an abundance of recommended techniques for uncovering your business needs and users, we suggest following Nielsen Norman Group's Discovery Phase in the UX guide as you begin your audience and objective research. Nielsen Norman Group explores the unknowns in UX design and provides recommendations for discovering user problems through a variety of workshops. The insights you can uncover with your team will drive the design, thus increasing your site's value.
Summary: Research your audience and their objectives before kicking-off your design project. Insights you uncover will help you solve user problems and enhance their experience.
How does a design make you feel?
Much of how a user perceives a company is baked deeply into first impressions and "gut feelings." A study by the Google user experience research team states that when visiting a website for the first time, users create judgments (positive or negative) on a website's design within the first 50 milliseconds. Based on this finding, it is safe to assume that poor design compromises every other aspect of a site.
A negative first impression of a website has a high likelihood of leading to one of two adverse outcomes:
The user leaves the site and searches for other options or
The user continues to explore the website but with a lowered sense of trust in the brand they are reviewing.
Either outcome leads to decreased user interest and, inherently, fewer sales. Speaking in design terms, the value of design is non-existent.
When reviewing your own website, step into the shoes of a new user. How do you feel when you first land on the homepage? If you didn’t know anything about this brand, would you be open to making a purchase or sharing your contact information?
When considering the value of your design, prioritize these three virtues:
1 - Simplicity
Complexity is the enemy of good website design. When a design is simple, it inherently prioritizes whatever is displayed for the user. The more complex a design is, the more likely a user is to be overwhelmed and disinterested. Since most users skim content and do not thoroughly review websites, we must remain focused.
2 - Consistency
Creating consistent designs can be difficult, but this is necessary to maintain the value of the design. Consistency helps users quickly digest content and find the information they need to move closer to purchasing.
3 - Intentional Variation
While it may seem to contradict my last point, some variation and lack of consistency can attract the user's attention. When used intentionally, breaking flow or breaking consistency can be a helpful technique. The key, however, is to practice restraint and implement inconsistent design elements sparingly.
Solving problems to create value
Good design should solve a problem. Most users visit business websites with the intent to complete some sort of tasks. Research a firm to handle an issue, compare multiple products, get support, the list is endless. One of the most important factors in designing for the web is understanding the problems that users have and that you intend to solve. Once we’ve established the problems to solve we can begin some exploratory tools that can be used before trying to create an aesthetic for a website.
Based on the research we collected above, it’s time we switch our attention to solving direct issues that our audience is experiencing. Utilizing our list of exploratory tools to evaluate the value of design, we can begin to solve problems related to navigation, aesthetics, experience, and more:
1 - Problem Statements
Problem statements, also called user-need statements, are a tool for documenting the user's problem and why it is important to the user. Problem statements help teams communicate the issues that the design is intended to solve. When creating problem statements you should follow a three part format; a user, a problem, and a goal. For example: John, a project manager, needs to be able to thoroughly compare options for task management platforms in order to feel comfortable leaving his existing platform.
2 - User Journey Maps
Creating a user journey map is a useful tool for organizing the steps that a user may take to complete their transaction, find an answer, or get directions. Documenting the user journey before designing the website is helpful, ensuring that important tasks that a user would perform are accounted for and are as simplified as possible.
Example of a user journey map. Image: NNGroup
3 - Sitemaps
A sitemap is a visualization of the website's content architecture and how it will translate to pages. Creating a sitemap before designing will ensure the content is organized logically and easy to access. As websites start to scale in size, it becomes apparent when a website lacks a consistent and logical content architecture.
Example of a site map for our own site made using Flowmapp
4 - Wireframes
Wireframes describe a type of design prototype that allow teams to collaborate quickly on the layout and priority of the content on a website. Typically, a wireframe is a simplified version of a website using only grayscale boxes and lines to depict areas for content, images, and other pieces of information. Wireframing a website dramatically increases the probability that the end product will serve the user's needs.
Example of wireframes that we've made using Platforma
Addressing these elements of design value
Website projects are typically complex undertakings with multiple stakeholders. It is easy to get derailed by conflicting opinions and priorities. Utilizing my recommended exploratory tools will help your team keep the user in mind and verify that the end product creates value by solving user problems.
Measuring the value of design before and after the launch of your project
The goal of a useful and valuable web design is to positively impact the user's experience. Less friction, more consistency -- it gets the job done. When measuring the value of web design, we need to review the user's actions to determine how they interact with the website.
Ideally, this process of measuring user behavior begins before a site is created or a redesign takes place. Competitor data and data from the existing website serve as benchmarks, allowing us to quantify the added value of new or updated website design.
The tools I’ve listed below are essential to implement today, even if your design project isn’t set to launch until next year.
1 - Google Analytics
Without Google Analytics integrated into your website, it's impossible to know if you have influenced any users to make a transaction, find an answer, or get directions. Google Analytics provides businesses with many helpful tools and insights to measure the impact of web design.
While an improved design may not have a direct impact on how many new visitors a site gets, it can improve engagement metrics (how long they’ve stayed on the site, if they leave right away, and so forth). Using metrics like bounce rate, you can determine if users are failing to explore the site and leaving quickly. Using tools like Behavior Flow, you can see what portion of users progress through your primary pages and explore interior pages. For more information or for guidance on how to set up Google Analytics, we recommend reading through the LinkedIn Learning Google Analytics Guide.
2 - Google Tag Manager
Google Tag Manager is a comprehensive tool that helps you manage website scripts and tags without changing the code of the site. With the proper setup, Google Tag Manager makes it easy to track the actions that users take on a website (data collected is stored in Google Analytics by creating "custom events.") Some of the actions that you can track:
- Form submissions
- Phone number clicks
- Software demo requests
- Resource downloads
- Page scrolls
3 - Hotjar
Wouldn't it be great if we knew precisely what a user does on a website? What pages did they view?How far down the page did they get before moving on? Or did they have an issue that prevented them from converting? Hotjar's heatmap and user recording features can answer questions like these. Implement Hotjar today (they have a free version!) to see how users are interacting with your site and adjust as needed.
Three things you can do today to improve the design of your website
A well designed website has the power to create significant value in your organization and be a tool for growth. Using these three strategies you can improve your existing website and create a roadmap for improvements that will create even more impact:
1 - Get feedback
Getting objective feedback from your customers (or someone who could benefit from your offerings), is the best place to start when evaluating the value of design.. Your customers will be able to approach the website from their unique perspective and provide valuable recommendations. When creating something as complex as a website, it is easy to make assumptions about what our customers want or need, and our personal biases can lead us to make decisions that limit the potential success of a website.
Ways you can start collecting feedback:
- Survey Monkey
- Website pop up with a button leading to a form
- Direct emails to customers
- In-person workshops
2 - Simplify what you can
Designing a great website requires a sense of restraint. Too many font styles, too much color, too many unique layouts -- all of these contribute to a messy design and a poor user experience. A great website requires a sense of simplicity and consistency. Try to create design restrictions, starting with fonts, colors, and layouts, that ensure a consistent look and feel.
3 - Be intentional
Document the needs of your customers and solve them. It's as easy as pie! If your website can address your customers' needs, it can increase conversions and influence business results. Start by using our aforementioned exploratory tools to determine what your customers need and then review the website for efficacy in solving them.
Apply value design in your website efforts
Investing in good design can have a powerful impact on a business, but it takes research and planning to create a website that will be both interesting and useful.
Every business is different, and creating a website that produces results requires a personalized approach. Understand your audience and their objectives by compiling and creating user personas and observing how they interact with your website. Working with multiple stakeholders? Document their priorities beforehand. Do you recognize that your users have issues navigating the site? Finalize your website architecture before starting the new design. Optimizing your website to engage users and increase results is an iterative process but you will be amazed at how valuable it can be.
Partner with Motion Tactic
Motion Tactic is a creative marketing and website design firm in Tempe, Arizona. We specialize in helping businesses create websites and marketing assets that will help our clients reach their goals. If you need assistance evaluating your website strategy or are interested in creating an updated and engaging website, feel free to contact us and learn more about how we can help.