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Good Design is Not Optional

By Nicole Heymer | Feb 6 2015

Design is not optionalI had a conversation with an acquaintance recently about DESIGN. Among the things that were said: “I’m not interested in improving the design of my website because I really just care about function.”

She feels that her website exists, “works” and therefore does the job.

It doesn’t have to be unique. It doesn’t have to be pretty. As a person who “values function over form”, that doesn’t appeal to her. Of course, the subtext here is that design is the frivolous icing on the cake. An extra layer of pretty that is nice for people who care about that sort of thing. Basically optional.

Here’s the problem with that way of thinking…

Design can feel a bit shallow if we think of it as decoration, so I understand how she came to that viewpoint. But that’s the thing: Design is not decoration.

  • It’s the difference between “easy to use” and “difficult”. Which leads to the difference between “staying on a web page” and “leaving”.
  • It’s about looking professional, established and not like you made it yourself. That helps visitors to trust you and feel like you’re legit.
  • It’s the art of appealing to a specific target market. You want to speak their aesthetic language so they’re attracted to the site and want to stay for awhile.

There are basic rules to design and they’re pretty much dead serious. We’re not talking about, “Use the current Pantone color of the year!” or “Circles are totally better than squares, y’all!”

The standard rules of good design are not really that subjective. They’re about pleasing the human brain.

For example…
Designers will generally use a grid layout because that prevents visitors from feeling…vaguely uncomfortable.

Using appropriate text alignment is about keeping things legible and not making people work too hard to read a bunch of words. Legibility prevents headaches and annoyance. And people who are not annoyed and don’t have a headache tend to stay on a page longer.

White space isn’t necessarily white, but it matters. It’s the fresh air around objects on a page that feels soothing and modern. Also, a lot of white space around something indicates that it’s important.

That kind of thing. These are just random examples.

And, yes, Mrs. Function. It IS also about style.

Guess what? Having a website is kind of like getting up on stage in front of an audience. You’re being judged. If you’re speaking at a conference, it’s not shallow to wear something clean and appropriate to the general mood of your audience. It’s sensible.

If you’re expecting any traffic to your website, it’s not shallow to dress it up in a style that is clean and appropriate to the general mood of your audience. It’s sensible.

And your style should be specific. Featureless isn’t good.

An internet full of featureless websites is like a room full of people with paper bags over their head. Blah. Get me out of there. I want to see your face so I can decide whether I like it. Also, I need something to remember. Some kind of visual hook.

It doesn’t have to be flashy, but it does have to be purposeful. Some customers arrive at a website with a sexy, minimalist style and feel like they’ve found their home. They trust the website. They’re comfortable spending money there because everything is in their visual language.

Others respond to bright colors and a super young energy because that’s what they LIKE. Or maybe they’re looking for a service that’s decidedly corporate and a site that falls into that visual category will feel familiar and trustworthy and like a good place to buy something. This stuff matters.

In short, it’s NOT just “the pretty”. It’s about making people feel comfortable.

Are we all on the same page on this? Great. Now, for those who are building their own sites…this is not a manifesto about how you MUST hire a professional. (Although that’s an option.) You can use a good theme and do it yourself. The point is this: Every tip that you add to your repertoire will make your site design a little better. You don’t need to study design in some serious way. But, if you’re doing it yourself, you may want to take an interest. To categorize it as optional is a mistake.

(14) Comments
  • Iris
    | 6 February 2015

    OMG, 100% totally agree. People do misunderstand and undervalue the benefits of “design”, whether your website, home, business, or any other area that is important to you. And you explain it very well that design is not about picking pretty colors, even though it is definitely one of the many many aspects and components.

    • curioelectro
      | 6 February 2015

      Absolutely! As an interior designer, you are definitely working with form AND function.

  • Yep, nodding silently was fun too 🙂
    Totally true. And I can’t wait for next week’s blog post, so that I can re-DESIGN my home page!

    • curioelectro
      | 7 February 2015

      Aaaaaah, I LOVE that you’re looking forward to the home page guide. You’ll have it soon, but not on the blog. It’s a special gift for people on The Curio List.

      • Beth
        | 12 February 2015

        Glad I’m already on the list—I need that guide, too!

        • curioelectro
          | 12 February 2015

          Excellent, Beth:) You’ll have it soon. And please hit reply when you receive it if you have any questions.

  • Leah
    | 12 February 2015

    Seriously spot on, couldn’t have said it better myself. Functionality is important, but design just as much. Most people think of design as art, but as you clearly show…it’s what makes your visitors comfortable, happy to be on your site, connected to your message and want to come back! Great post Nicole!

    • curioelectro
      | 12 February 2015

      Precisely:) Thank you, Leah!

  • Siedah Mitchum
    | 12 February 2015

    Great point! You need both. Some people only focus on style and their website lacks function. Some people only focus on function but lacks style. Balance is key! Xx

  • Robyn Petrik
    | 12 February 2015

    I just recently launched my copywriting website, and when planning it initially, I figured I’d just DIY it. I ended up getting a designer though, and I am SO glad I did. Not only it was it less of a headache for me, she came up with a beautiful design. I love the way you liken it to speaking at a conference… it’s so true!

  • Sara
    | 12 February 2015

    I love this! So many fist pumps going on over here—you totally nailed it. Great post!

    • curioelectro
      | 12 February 2015

      Your fist pumps delight me, Sara.

  • Emily
    | 12 February 2015

    Oh hell, this post just makes me cringe. I give you kudos for not slapping that acquaintance upside the head. I get this same kind of argument in my work around the need for pleasure in business and I think that is no coincidence. Somehow, society has enabled a very large contingent of well-meaning people to excise beauty and emotion from their lives and swallow paradigm convincing them that this approach makes them more “professional” or “adult” or “serious” (aka “good”). And it’s so wrong. And heartbreaking. And counterproductive. As you so adeptly point out, design matters. Aesthetics matter. Pleasure matters.

    It’s what distinguishes us from the ones and zeroes.

    Great post!

    • curioelectro
      | 12 February 2015

      Oh, wow. Your comment makes me think of school systems cutting music/art programs and how counterproductive THAT is too.

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