confessions of a web designer

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You’ve heard the story of a shoe cobbler who’s children go barefoot; or maybe the one about the successful CEO who can’t balance his checkbook? It turns out that web designers are just like everyone else when it comes to forgetting to practice what we preach.

My personal story is a stunning example of what can happen when you place yourself ‘above the law’.

In this case the law I broke was a most basic web design concept – namely that good web design must quickly communicate the basic message of the website.

Let me amplify: my web design mantra has always been ‘keep it simple and direct’. I’ve told clients for years that web effects, parallax scrolling, image hover effects, and so on, do not positively influence the success of a website. In most cases, they are just confusing.

At times, when industry or audience appropriate, they can be deployed. But only when they aid in delivering the message quickly and in a way everyone can understand it.

That makes sense – right? What’s the point in having a website if visitors become confused and leave after a few seconds?

My strong opinions on this subject often aroused the suspicion that I was unable to do the very things I warned against. When I explained that special effects for websites are easy to achieve, while a simple elegant design takes real skill – they listened.

To give further support to my point, I gave examples of incredible, awesome looking websites that do absolutely nothing for anyone other than the web designer who can use his/her ‘museum piece’ to impress potential clients.

Should I provide examples and embarrass the web owner or designer? I think not. I’m sure everyone reading this has seen a ton of chaotic and incoherent websites.

On the other side of the coin, do I have to show examples of websites that are incredibly simple, but yet highly effective? Yes, probably, and here are two I especially like:

Simple homepagedropbox-business-homepage-design

The point mostly made – to my clients if not me

I had success in getting my clients to understand why being simple and direct is the key to effective web design, but I remained impervious when it came to designing my own website.

My efforts – to put it mildly – were terrible, and no one minded telling me. Clients and friends hated them, and worse,  in spite of getting traffic on Google, I was receiving no calls.

In other words, visitors visited, but they got out of there pronto.

Over the years I did everything I could think of to figure out what the heck I was doing wrong.

I spent hours being trying to be inspired by WordPress websites designed by other web designers. I combed the internet looking at web design agencies, freelancers, and others.

I studied how they presented content on service topics like e-commerce web design and web development. And I didn’t stop there.

I spent weeks literally looked at every WordPress Theme available from Themeforest that was even remotely intended for web designers. I figured those developers would know.

I thought I was ready

Finally, with new knowledge, ideas, and enough ‘inspiration’ to last a life time, I decided it was time to begin the re design of my website.

I started from the ground up, with Twenty Fifteen – the most basic WordPress theme. I figured that starting with a blank slate was the best way to let all the inspiration take effect.

I wish I could say that it did, but the results of my efforts were once again web designs from hell. Amateurish – ineffective – embarrassing.

I was pretty darn depressed by my failure, but my web design business was doing well. I was designed numerous successful websites, and many satisfied clients. But deep down there was a hole.

What kind of web designer can’t create a website for himself? I would stay up at  night thinking about what image to use that really represents my business and skills. I toyed with endless taglines, trying to figure out the magic words that would tell my tale.

The light at the end of the tunnel

I’ve heard that when you totally give up on solving a problem, a solution often presents itself. I believe that is what happened to me. When I least expected it – I had a ray of insight that led to the solution.

I looked at my website after the latest redesign. I suppressed my critical instinct and looked it at as a vehicle for communicating – just as I always told my clients.

There was a large ‘hero’ image on the home page, with the words “Web design and digital marketing service”. There was a button linking to ‘Hire us’. Here in fact, it is:

screenshot-web archive org 2016-07-26 12-53-17

There is nothing exactly ‘wrong’ with this home page. It looks good and it does portrait a professional web design firm fairly well. The problem is that it requires the visitor to take a very important second step with nothing more to go on than the tepid description ‘web design and digital marketing service.’

Is that headline and image strong enough to get you to click through? If so, you are the exception – because few people did.

What I realized

If finally dawned on me that asking for that second step was too much; I was lucky they were there in the first place. They simply were not going to reward an unconvincing effort with a click.

With that realization, the advice I had been giving for years suddenly had new meaning:

Keep it simple and make the messaging direct

My own words came thundering back to me. Could it be that all I needed to do was drop the ‘hero’ image I had searched endless for and present my services so they could be immediately identified?

I sat down in front of my computer and spent an hour or so redesigning the home page. I suspected I was on the right track as I noticed the absence of self criticism. The hour flew by and the result was as it should be – clean, simple, and clear.

Postscript

My associates tell me that people don’t go out of their way to complement web designers on their sites; after all, it’s to be expected, and that has been my experience as well. However, I have been getting responses from Google search. This site is finally converting – and that is the best news of all.

 

 

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