The other day I was talking to a bar owner about possibly doing his website. When we came to the issue of price he was taken aback. He had expected it to cost a third of what I quoted despite the fact that, in all honesty, my quotes are quite low.
As we discussed things further it became clear that, to him, the look of the site wasn’t that important and he really didn’t want to pay someone to design a site, he just wanted someone to build one so that he could have his events calendar on-line and easily accessible to his customers.
I began to think about the consumer products out there which make it quite easy to create a basic site with much of the functionality required by this particular client and it made me nervous. What if everybody in this situation decided to make their own websites from consumer templates instead of paying for a custom design? Where would that leave me?
Now, if you’re an individual and you’re just using your website to upload family photos or bits of information it really may not matter what impression your site gives to the user. After all, it represents you only in a peripheral manner and exists solely as a practical tool to get your information to your limited audience of friends and family. They’re not going to judge you because your website looks exactly like many others. They’re not going to start looking at someone else’s photos instead, because they have a better website. Your audience is going to stick with you no matter what.
However if your website is for your business, what it looks like and how it functions should be of utmost importance.
You have to consider that your website will likely be the first experience that potential clients or customers will have of your business and how well it works and looks will reflect back on you. If the site looks cheesy, cheap and cluttered the user will think that your business is unsophisticated, cut-rate and disorganized. If the site looks like it was made from a template it will give the impression that you don’t care about details.
However, if the site looks like you put some thought into it, the overall impression will be that you care about how your company is perceived and perhaps, that that care extends to how you do your business.
Much in the same way that a shiny, professionally printed brochure makes a different impression than a black and white photocopy on cheap paper, a well-designed web site can say more about your business than the website’s content itself. This is obviously the thinking behind many restaurant and bar websites. Have you noticed that an overwhelming number of these types of sites use complex jQuery effects or are done in flash and feature music? These flashy sites help convey the impression that the business is affluent, elegant and stylish.
In his article In Defence of Eye Candy Stephen P. Anderson cites a 2002 study that found
the ‘appeal of the overall visual design of a site, including layout, typography, font size, and color schemes,’ is the number one factor we use to evaluate a website’s credibility”.
That alone should make people with poorly designed websites shake in their boots!
When Mint, a service that “aggregates your financial information and requires you to share access to all of your bank accounts” launched in 2006, the biggest concern they had was getting users to trust them with their sensitive financial information. Venture capitalists had major reservations but the company was a great success. Mint attributes this acheivement to good design. As Walter notes:
The care and consideration apparent in the design gives users the impression that equal attention is paid behind the scenes where Mint manages security and privacy. Sure, Mint makes it clear that your information is securely guarded, but rather than having to constantly reiterate the point in the copy, the design says it more effectively.
You’d trust a bodyguard in a perfectly-pressed black Armani suit more than a guy in cut-off jeans and a ripped Grateful Dead t-shirt, wouldn’t you? Appearance can greatly influence perceptions, and we carry that mental model with us when sizing up a website.”
Since your website will be representing your company to a vast number of people, how it looks and how easy it is to use will reflect on your organization as a whole. It’s very hard to get over a bad first impression.
I’ll get my nephew to do it…
Another thing that often comes up is “Why are you charging so much? My nephew knows a thing or two about websites and he could make me one for $500!”
What the question really comes down to, particularly after considering the points above, is Do you want it to look like you paid your nephew $500 to do your website?
It is unlikely that this hypothetical nephew is aware of current web standards and technologies, can ensure that your site will maintain consistency across different browsers or a wealth of other things that a professional web designer is aware of as a matter of course.
I have a real world example that may help explain my point. A few years ago my wife and I bought a house. At first we were extremely impressed by the garden in the front yard and the large deck out back but as time went on we started to notice that some things just weren’t right. A beautiful (and expensive) magnolia tree was, we were told by the house inspector, planted too close to the house and would eventually need to be removed. We noticed that the walk along the side of the house was too narrow to roll a stroller or a garbage container along without two wheels falling off the edge. I did some measurements nearby and could see that our walk was, unnecessarily, four inches narrower than the neighborhood standard. The stones on the walk started to become loose. We took a good look at the garden and began to wonder about the methodology behind where everything was planted. Why were those two bushes all by themselves over there?
As we stood on the sidewalk contemplating our garden our 80 year old neighbor strolled up. She looked at the inexplicable bushes and intoned “Yeah, Jerry did that. He was an idiot.” Other discussions with neighbours pointed to the same thing. They’d all watched as Jerry and his son landscaped the garden poorly.
The story came to us that Jerry and his son had been paid to build the second floor balcony and when they learned that the previous owner needed landscaping they said “We can take care of that for you, cheap!”
But they couldn’t. They didn’t know how wide a sidewalk should be. They didn’t know what type of cement could withstand the test of time. They didn’t understand the relationship between certain plants and bushes or how far away from the house a tree should be planted. They weren’t trained as landscapers and now we were paying the price for the previous owner’s corner cutting.
We’ve subsequently had all the landscaping redone. Something we could have avoided if someone was willing to pay a properly qualified person to perform the work in the first place.