Having come from a background in print and branding, it’s interesting to me how the web has changed the way I – now a web designer – think about a company’s brand as it relates to the websites we create for them. Thinking back several years, when I began a branding project, I’d start by designing the logo. I'd then move right into developing the letterhead, business cards, and envelopes. Obviously, that’s not the case anymore (anyone designed a letterhead lately?).
Nowadays, in a growing number of cases, the website is the brand. This is especially true for internet startups and online retailers, where the website is the primary interaction point for users to relate to the brand. Or, the web is simply a vehicle for the brand – take Instagram for example. In any case, we know that the web is an integral part of any brand.
So what does this mean for us web designers? It means that we need to think beyond just the visual. We should practice disciplines that will aid us in creating a website that both serves its purpose and supports the brand. Here are a few things to add to your workflow:
Know the Context
This is an obvious one. Spend a little time gathering information about the brand in general. Ask questions in the project brief. Research on your own. At the very least, know the history of the company, who the audience is, what their products or services are, and how they currently market themselves. Ask for a brand standards guide, any brand messaging, or brand mood boards that may have been developed in the past.
Know the Purpose
It’s important to know the primary goal of the site. Is it to have the user call for an appointment? Buy a product? Or simply communicate important content? If you know this, you’re armed with information that will aid in making appropriate layout decisions. Because in the end, if the site doesn’t do what the client wants, you’ll be hearing from them.
Content is King
Get content before you start design. This isn’t always possible, but it’s immensely helpful for a designer to design with real content. Because, hey, our job isn’t just to make a pretty layout. It is to effectively communicate the content. If we have real content, we can make informed decisions on hierarchy and layout.
Second That Emotion
A brand is defined by the emotion that is caused within a person upon their interaction. How do you feel when you interact with an Apple product or wear Nike shoes? Good or bad, this emotion can be communicated in an endless number of ways: visually, through interaction with a customer service rep, or reading content on a website.
It is our job as designers to create a design that evokes a positive emotion. Content and usability contributes to this as well, but from a visual standpoint, it’s an exciting time to be a web designer. For example, the advent of web fonts has allowed us to use typography that is unique and accessible. It’s great to see companies, like Audi, now have the ability through @font-face to use their proprietary typeface (AudiText) on the web without the use of Flash and also on mobile devices.
The point here is that we should use the techniques currently available to us which can help us visually evoke a positive emotion. Not only that, let’s keep up with these techniques as they evolve in the future.
Go Where the Users Are
We must design with a responsive mindset. Let’s build sites that allow users to browse enjoyably (remember that emotion thing?) on their mobile devices. Enough said.
In summary, as web designers, let’s think beyond the visual. Let’s arm ourselves with the information and technology that will help us make informed design decisions. In the end we’ll save ourselves time, money, and deliver a better product.