It can be the most frustrating thing in the world when you have a wonderful looking site that doesn’t perform as well as the competition.
From an aesthetic perspective I hate Balsamiq’s site. I don’t even want to try out the software because I see the site and it just looks generic to me. I might not be a lone in this, but it seems that I might be part of the minority because they have reported over $2 million in sales over the past 18 months.
Their website isn’t pretty, but it does its job of converting and there is a good chance that your site doesn’t. That is the only difference.
Have you ever asked a friend why they like someone? Be careful if you do because they will try to get very intellectual and come up with a bevy of reasons to justify their infatuation. You don’t want to hear all of that. You want them to get to the point. You want them to point to the big, giant, red box that says “Reason” and tell you what it reads.
As generic as “click here” is, do you understand why it is so successful? Because it is telling a person what to do. Put a giant red button in the middle of the screen that says “click here” and you think people won’t click? They won’t even know what is about to happen, but they will click. It is human nature and sites with poor aesthetics, but wonderful conversion rates know how to manipulate human nature like a mound of clay.
Designers have a knack for over thinking or only seeing with the eye that wants to witness something beautiful. To an owner of a business beauty is in the revenue. They want to see sales. They want to know that when a person comes to their site they are purchasing whatever they are selling. If the site gets recognized in some design galleries then that is a very minor pat on the back for them.
If you are a designer and you fear people using themes to build their own websites then you need to get on board with the idea of designing sites that draw the eye to calls for action and not sites that draw the eye to pretty. This doesn’t mean you should jump on board the ugly train, because you never should. But you creating a beautiful website doesn’t mean you did your job. You are not creating masterpieces to be framed, you are designing sites to help businesses.
You will never go to an Amazon or eBay product page and wonder how to purchase the item. You might have some trouble figuring out other things on the site, but handing over your money is not one of them.
When I come across an ugly site that is doing well then I know the person that created the site is probably the owner as well. When they are designing the site they don’t think in terms of gradients, drop shadows and noise. They are thinking to themselves they want a person to buy their product and how they can make them do that. They don’t think how cool it would be to add a jQuery effect, they want to know how many “Buy Now” buttons they can place on a page before pissing someone off.
You can make fun of the people that create their own horrific websites in Frontpage all you want, but there might be a good chance that their version will convert better than any version you come up with.
Rarely does a designer have the luxury of having an IA or UX guru around to do all the user testing. These people excel in testing design prototypes with users to see how they convert. Most freelancers on the other hand tweak a site till it looks pretty and then wait for their client’s approval. If artists attempt to create beauty and designers are out trying to solve the problem of increasing sales, then unfortunately most designers are in the business of being an artist.
If you design websites for people and part of your job doesn’t include showing the site to users and finding out how well the site converts then how much of your job are you really doing? The majority of designers out there have to be their own information architect and their own user experience guru. If you can become that it will make your job easier for when the client wants to use that ugly green instead of red for the button. At that point you can tell them you tested the color and red converted better. That will get them to finally listen and if it doesn’t, at least you did your job.
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