The debate rages on. There are two schools of thought.
These folks insist that design is secondary to content and that strategically placed inbound marketing elements are the only vital components of any website or other marketing medium.
These people know that design sells and that people are attracted first by the senses, not by the intellectual. Great design begets interest and leads to content consumption, not the other way around.
Well, I would argue that the Stylists are right. Why are the iPhone and iPad so popular? There are plenty of smartphones, and the tablet PC has been around for years. Yes they both have cool apps and plenty of functionality, but it's the design that grabs you and won't let you go. It's the way apps and websites look that gets your attention and holds it. This shouldn't be a surprise. Our instinct is to evaluate everything we encounter with our senses first. We do this for a variety of reasons - to sense danger, to satisfy hunger and to find necessities. With the Internet, it's mostly visual. We instantly and subconsciously rate everything we see. Is this website, e-mail or social media interaction valuable to me? Just like in real life, we are attracted to beauty and repelled by ugliness. We have developed a finely tuned sense of good and bad based on visual cues, and they have a strong emotional impact upon us. When you walk into a beautiful house or check out the lines of a sexy new sports car, you say something silly, like "wow", but it's much stronger than that.
We are guided by visual and other sensory experiences. We choose a mate, buy a house, get a job, buy a car and feed ourselves based in large part upon what we see and how we make ourselves more attractive to others. It's completely subjective, but there are general rules derived from thousands of years of living together. We have a pretty good idea of what well-groomed looks like, or messy, or sleek or traditional or modern. We have images of these things in our head. So when we encounter a website or blog, we formulate a first impression in a second or less. We know what you're about before you have a chance to open your mouth, based entirely on your design. We either connect with you or we don't based on what you look like (first). We may give you a second chance by reading your stuff, but probably not. You're in or you're out. Think about that when you're surfing.
I could cite a lot of research about human psychology and marketing, but why bother? We already know this stuff. So why are we debating about whether or not your Web content should be stylish? Of course it should, unless you just don't care if anyone finds it and subscribes to it. But what constitutes stylish? Ahh, there's the rub. Clearly, your design should convey something important about you. If I went out and dressed like Lady Gaga, I might attract attention, but it wouldn't be about me - it would be about her. The other consideration is what other people want. Yes, you have to design for your audience. You must anticipate who they are and what they like. This requirement has kept advertising agencies in business since forever. Finding that design balance between you and your customers is crucial to marketing.
Pay attention to your design - it's the all important first impression. Then work the content and relationships. Weave the design through all that you do. If it's a great design, it will reinforce those good feelings and instill loyalty. Don't be afraid to change your design periodically. People love that. Right now people are waiting to see the new 2011 car designs before they will buy. There's a reason for that.
Good, bad or ugly? How does your design impact your visitors?
Photo credit: pixeljones