March 5, 2010 0

Be Excellent, Dude

By in Design, Web Design

I recently saw an article by the owner of a company that sells Website design and marketing services to accountants that offered some sound advice for small business owners and self-employed professionals.

For instance, the article argues that small business Websites should be friendly:

Rather than trying to dazzle the visitor with slick images and stock photos of beautiful people being beautiful, try offering the prospect familiar comfortable images. A picture of a local park, maybe, or main street on a sunny day, kids playing outside the public library… If the initial impression on your site is one of comfort, safety, and best of all, recognition your retention of new visitors will go up more than 30%.

I have to say that I agree with the basic assertion that the Website should be “friendly” and not try too hard to appear to be something it is not as in the case of using slick stock photos of beautiful people.

On the other hand, I disagree that a picture of kids or a local park will lead a client to remember your site. It might help a prospect view you as a local outfit but I doubt it will raise your profile or increase retention. The main problem is that including homemade photos of familiar local places in a willy-nilly manner can quickly cause your Website or marketing collateral to appear amateurish. Friendly is one thing. Unprofessional is another.

The article also says that as a customer buying Web design, you shouldn’t get “bogged down by aesthetics:”

Now is not the right time to indulge in artistic expression. Graphic design changes can drive your costs right through the roof. Trying to find the perfect shade of blue in a world where every monitor on the planet displays colors differently is not an effective use of your time. There are a lot of much more important things that need doing. The site needs to be nice, yes, but the overall look is really a very small part of the design process. In fact, some very effective and profitable websites are just plain ugly. While it’s important for your site to represent your tastes don’t get stuck on creating the “perfect” look. Even if you succeed it won’t be worth the time and money you just spent. All you will have accomplished is creating a site style that appeals to you. This is one of the most fundamental mistakes in advertising. Advertising should not appeal to the advertiser. What you want is a site style that appeals to your prospects.

I like the idea the article expresses of what I’ll call “universality.” That is, your design should appeal to your market, not just to you or to your designer. That is an important principle that trained designers learn in design school.

I also agree that if you are a small business buying custom graphic design you shouldn’t aim at perfection, at least not initially. Graphic design is a process and as it wears on, the design itself improves. Half the battle is just showing up, something that most people in small business understand. And yes, if you are investing in custom graphic and Web design then asking for multiple iterations of your Website or business card is going to start to cost a small fortune.

I do take umbrage, however, in the way the article downplays the importance of aesthetics and that you (or your design supplier) shouldn’t strive for perfection. Aesthetics are important in transmitting your company’s values. In addition, some designs are beautiful, some are just plain ole ugly. Some are in between. Those that are neither here nor there can usually be improved up until the point where the design in question reaches near perfection—in the way the graphics, images and information interact and in the way they obey gestalt principles of design and aesthetics.

Maybe as a small business you can’t afford to hire this kind of design if you are buying design as a service and paying an hourly rate. On the other, I think if you are buying pre-formatted or template-drive graphic or Web design then I think those templates should each be pretty near perfect in and of themselves.

Maybe perfection is not the right word. “Excellence” may be more appropriate because it allows for the idea of improvement over time, a key value in business. But as St. Thomas notes, I want my artist to be pretty darn good at what he does. Ultimately, if I am a small business I want to buy my business identity and marketing collateral design from a company who really believes in the quality of its designs and doesn’t trivialize its importance in the overall scheme of things.

Sure, other aspects of the process are important but if you are buying Web design, then I think you should buy it from someone with a passion for design and his or her own creations.

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