What is Web Design?

Chris Dunkerley
December 14, 2016
Web Design
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What is Web Design?

Chris Dunkerley
April 24, 2018
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Web design is not what most people think it is. In this article, I will try and articulate what I think good web design really is.

Most 'Web Designers' out there think that web design is making something online look aesthetically pleasing to the eye. This is one of my pet hates. Although I can enjoy a beautiful looking website like most, if it isn't designed around a clear purpose then it won't be working correctly. When someone designs for the eye and not the purpose, the website will often stun users and excite them at first glance but very quickly they will be lost in a beautiful world of confusion. I class this as aesthetic design on the internet. I believe that real web design lies in the hands of a designer who understands so much more than just the aesthetics. True web design is not just visual. True web design starts with purpose.

Ask yourself this question - What is the purpose of my website?

The purpose of your site should be foremost in your designers mind. Every design decision made should support the purpose of the site. The purpose also effects the structure and layout of the website. If your designer is not asking questions about why you are building a website and what the website is supposed to do for you, alarm bells should be ringing in your head. They may well be hugely talented when it comes to graphics and visuals but if they neglect the website purpose the finished website may look beautiful but it will not do it's job.

Some examples of website purpose:

  • Increase number of visitors into my physical showroom
  • Increase number of bookings
  • Download as many eBooks as possible
  • Increase number of email enquiries
  • Increase number of actual sales taken online
  • Increase brand awareness
  • Increase number of social media followers
  • Increase brand value in advance of a merger/takeover
So, how do we identify the purpose of your website?

To determine the purpose, you must first decide which type of website you are looking for.

There are 3 main types of websites: The purpose for each is different and therefore the design can be drastically different:

  1. Branding - to promote a brand - the gut feel of your business.
  2. Ecommerce - to sell products directly through your website.
  3. Marketing - to engage with visitors and generate leads/enquiries. 

Branding websites promote who you are and what you stand for. They act as an online company brochure. It is a place to go for your customers to ‘feel’ the business. The majority of branding websites don't even want you to contact them. Take Pepsi for example, albeit a big multi national corporate behemoth but do you think they want you to go onto their website and send them an enquiry. No, they want you to feel something from their website and actually contacting them is exactly what they don't want you to do. They often run branding campaigns to stir up interest in their products. They sometimes do PR exercises like getting celebrities to endorse their brand and product and make you FEEL like you identify and then want what they are selling.

If you are looking for a very simple website with no complex functionality, that simply acts as a brochure/storytelling platform for your business then I would suggest web design for you is a branding process. Your web company should be building a website that represents your company brand and tells the end user a story about who you are and what you stand for. It is a design process based around feelings and how you will be perceived by the world. The main purpose is very different for Marketing and Ecommerce websites.

Ecommerce websites are different. If you are after a website that sells ‘stuff’ online then you require an ecommerce website. A website where people expect to part with their money online in exchange for a product/service. The design process for ecommerce is focussed entirely around shifting as much product as possible - that is the main purpose of the website. There will likely be other less important things to consider but the main call to actions are ‘buy now’ buttons and ‘checkout’ buttons and anything else which serves that main purpose. The design should allow for ease of use and ensure the checkout process is as simple as possible. Removing barriers to purchase is crucial in this type of design. The funnel should always help and direct visitors towards placing an order.

Marketing websites are the most popular type of websites for small businesses and if like most, you are looking to build a marketing website then you require a different design process altogether. This type of website doesn't take payment online and you are likely looking for the website to generate leads that will hopefully lead to a sale. The purpose of this type of website is lead generation. The design process here starts with understanding what the message is and what call to actions are for the website. All design decisions should support lead generation. Common call to actions are: enquiry forms filled out, emails sent, downloads clicked, phone calls made or appointments booked.

So what is Web Design?

Good Web design is solving a problem. It is clear and purposeful design that listens to a challenge and presents a solution. It clearly depends on what type of website you are looking for and what you are trying to achieve. Forget the frilly visuals until the very end. You must have a clear purpose and message. However, I still think beautiful visuals is important but it certainly doesn't come first!

Quick anecdote to make you think:

I once asked a client the following question...

If I changed the call-to-action buttons on your website to a really harsh colour that clashed with your brand colours and looks visually challenging but because of that change, the buttons stood out more and generated more enquiries, would you follow my advice and go through with that change?'

The client said a loud and quick 'no!'. They valued their brand colours above getting more enquiries. Now, this is fine but not if you have told me the priority above all else is to generate leads. It is important that we understand what the main purpose of our website is. It can dramatically effect the design.

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