A Website is a Conversation
Have you ever gone to a party, met somebody new and they just bombarded you with information? Or maybe you’ve experienced the opposite and met someone with so little to say that you found yourself bored right away?
There are many ways that people will tell you what makes up a good website. Some will approach it from a technical standpoint. Are your grids correct? Are all the images setup for retina display? What about click rates? Conversions? A/B Testing? SEO? Others will approach it from a visual point of view. Are the colors and fonts trendy? How about cool parallax effects? Photography? Icons? Although all of these things have a valid part to play in web design, sometimes designers can get caught up in these details and lose site of the bigger picture.
A Website is a Conversation
Have you ever gone to a party, met somebody new and they just bombarded you with information? Or maybe you’ve experienced the opposite and met someone with so little to say that you found yourself bored right away? In both situations you probably wanted to get the hell out of there. Visiting a website for the first time is no different.
In the first scenario, a poorly designed website can leave a visitor overwhelmed. Unloading a large chunk of information can make a user anxious, not know what to do, and most likely just leave. Like in life, you can’t tell someone you just met your life story. Or just bring up something out of the blue, apropos of nothing. Like the fact that you played Kurt Von Trapp in a local production of the Sound of Music…that would be super weird. You have to start with bite size chunks of info and let the conversation build organically, letting the interest of the other person help guide where to go. And although viewers of a website can’t reply to you verbally, they do reply with the choices they make.
In the second scenario, sometimes a website has nothing much to say. Like an awkward silence after small talk, some websites just scratch the surface and have nowhere to go. And even if they look nice and well put-together, they’ll probably just blend in with the hundreds of ‘nice and well put-together’ websites you’ve seen and don’t think about ever again.
Content is King
Some people might say “I’m a designer. I don’t want/need to think about content.” And those people are called bad designers. Now that seems a little harsh, but trust me that this is coming from someone who was a bad designer for years. And transitioning to a good designer only happens when you figure out you’re a bad one. Separating content from design isn’t design—it’s decoration. And I’m not putting down decoration either. You have to know a lot to be a good decorator. A large visual vocabulary, knowing how to pair things that match stylistically, or sometimes knowingly breaking those rules, etc. But let’s call a spade a spade here. If you want to call yourself a designer, then you’re gonna have to do a lot more “thinking” than just making things pretty. Design is problem-solving and you’re not gonna problem solve anything by just caring about how something looks.
So ok, content is king, but things still need to look good, right? Right.
Dress for Success
Let’s get back to this conversation thing. Let’s say you want to get medical advice. And if you’re anything like me, you’re trying to not look at WebMD ever again, so you decide to talk to a doctor. So you go to the doctor and you have a certain expectation of how he/she should look if you’re gonna take anything they say in conversation seriously. Your doctor can’t be wearing jean shorts and a scrunchie. They have to be dressed professionally because they are doctors. Also, where did they even get that scrunchie? Make no mistake though, dressing for success doesn’t mean being in a suit and tie. Let’s say I want to talk to someone about getting a tattoo, I’m probably going to trust the advice of someone who has a bunch of tattoos. The point is, you have to dress appropriately for the conversation you’re trying to have.
Ok, so don’t bombard people with information. Check. Have something to say. Check. Dress appropriately for the conversation you want to have. Check. Lastly, be genuine. Having had thousands of conversations with thousands of people, you find out you just have more chemistry with some people than others. And that’s ok. Your website doesn’t have to be everything for everybody. One of my least favorite things is when people who don’t know about something —let’s say sports for example—try to talk like they do, just to fit in. I don’t know shit about football, so I don’t talk about it. Pretty simple. And if I did talk about it, people would immediately know I don’t know what I’m talking about. Conversation is like the opposite of Star Wars, don’t FORCE it.*
Get Used to Talking to People
So how do you get better at having conversations? Have more of them. Observe. Learn. Think about what you can do better and what keeps people interested and it will only help your design.
*I hope it’s clear that this was intentionally terrible.