Good design informs our decision making. It is often the most influential factor when we are deciding what we buy, where we go and what we do. This is because the way objects, systems and services work and look, throughout their evolution and life cycle, are the result of people designing the underlying plans, processes and build specifications.
Our individual experiences with the functional and aesthetic qualities of objects, processes and services, consciously and subconsciously, acts as the basis for our personal benchmark for what is good design. And that benchmark not only evolves because of new experiences, it also changes depending on a wide range of variables, including environment, mood, whether we are working or relaxing, etc. When we are faced with a new experience or a purchasing decision we refer to the logical and sensori-emotional (aesthetic) values we associate with our most relevant benchmarks for what is good design.
This means that there are no hard and fast rules about what makes for good design. There is good design, bad design and ‘that’ll do’ design. However, designing your product and/or service and support systems should always come at the end of the development process, not the beginning. This is true whether you are designing a product/service to sell; logo and stationery; website; brochure; tender submission; etc.
Pre-Design: Research; Evaluation and Concept Development
There are many ways of approaching the pre-design stage of any project but it can be simplified down to three steps: Research; Evaluation and Concept Development. By thinking in these terms you can make the process as straight-forward and fast-moving, or as complicated, as you want.
A good designer/developer will do the heavy lifting for you, and steer you through the process in round table discussions and by asking key questions. If you decide to take it all on yourself, you should find a friend or colleague who can offer you a client’s perspective, and is willing to ask difficult questions, as you progress.
To make the most of the pre-design stage you should use a range of decision making models. Among the most widely know analysis models are ‘SWOT’ and ‘PEST’ but looking at resources like ‘The Decision Book: Fifty Models for Strategic Thinking’ by R. Tschäppeler & M. Krogerus will help you find models that are a good fit for you. By evaluating the existing service/product providers and the service/product alternatives in diagrammatic form you can quickly see shared traits and trends. It also means you can easily update the profiles as products, services and the market adapts and evolves.
As part of the Evaluation and Concept Development steps you should look at Design under two key headings: Functional and Aesthetic.
Under the heading Functional Design analyse how the products/services work throughout their lifecycle. How intuitive, robust and enjoyable in the user experience (UX) from the perspective of the target user? How intuitive, reliable and flexible is the UX from the perspective of the people building, maintaining and evolving the service/product?
If you are looking at Logo Design you should be asking how legible the logos are when reproduced at different sizes, in different contexts and on different materials, and the inherent production costs. If you are looking at Website Design you should be looking to identify the target audiences; how easy the sites are to navigate and, in terms of structure and content, are they optimised for the UX of the target audience or for the site owners and managers.
Aesthetic Design is all too often dismissed as being far less important than Functional Design. This is not the case. Our initial reaction to any proposition is a sensori-emotional one and a negative reaction will inform all subsequent decisions. Research has show time and again that people make their mind up about products and services within seconds, often ending the interaction there and then. An existing relationship with an owner or advocate of a product/service can alleviate some of the negativity but a sense of doubt will linger.
An analysis of the effectiveness of the Aesthetic Design of the products/services under review should look at how their sensori-emotional values compare to those of the products/services that are the most likely benchmarks for the target audience. It is about drawing up a mental model of how people would expect, and want, the products/services to work and then comparing it to how products/services actually work. The analysis should also include an exploration of the visual language, including the underlying semantics, of the services/products.
If you are looking at Logo Design, Website Design, etc. you should be looking at the balance achieved between friendliness, familiarity, surprise and professionalism, with the hierarchy of these traits being informed by the sector and type of product/service. Additional traits such as angularity or roundness, hardness or softness and solid colour or gradients should also be considered.
The attributes of the typefaces used are very important. Do you think the typefaces were chosen because of a then-current trend or are they appropriate for the product/service and the target market? Following a trend can prove to be a very costly mistake. In 2010 the Waterstones launched a new logo, presumably to convey a more modern, dynamic identity. Only 25 of the company’s stores were rebranded before January 2012 when the company launched a new new logo – the pre-2010 logo without an apostrophe – because they realised the sensori-emotional values of the 2010 logo were not in keeping with the company. James Daunt, managing director of Waterstones said: “Waterstones is an iconic brand deserving a capital W, and a font that reflects authority and confidence — Baskerville does just that.” (see http://www.logodesignlove.com/waterstones-logo)
Colour is also a very important consideration as in certain contexts and cultures it can have significant meaning. In some sectors dominant brands are seen as ‘owning’ certain colour, e.g. Vodafone is Red, O2 is Blue and Meteor is Orange. You should also be looking at the tone of the language, use and type of images, the hierarchy of images and text, etc.
Concept Development: Setting the Design Brief
As part of this final pre-design step you should review your evaluations and map out the desired Functional and Aesthetic traits of your product/service. The resulting Design Brief should establish guidelines that you believe will ensure your product/service will appeal to your target market while at the same time differentiate you from your competition.
A guiding principal is that you strive to compete on your own terms while ensuring the payoff to your target audience, from their perspective, is at least equal to the payoff they get from your competition. This applies to all stages of the interaction between you and your audience, starting with the payoff they’ll get for giving you their time and attention.
The Design Brief should set guidelines and minimum standards for the Functional Design of your product/service. How do you approach delivering an intuitive, reliable, flexible and enjoyable UX for all stakeholders, within the constraints of your budget? What is the realistic lifespan of your product/service? What aspects of the functional design can you carry through to other products/services to help you move people from being product/service advocates to being brand advocates, open to other products/services?
When deciding on your approach to the Aesthetic Design of your product/service you should look at the pros and cons of designing to your audience’s mental model of how your type of product/service works and the visual language, including the underlying semantics, employed. Challenging these preconceptions so as to create a sense of surprise and personality can work to your advantage. It can establish a reputation of being ahead of the curve, not following it, and – as in the case of Apple, Google and Facebook – allow you to make changes without needing to firstly get the buy-in of focus groups. At the same time, the majority of products/services rely on communicating an impression of ‘responding to the market’. As both approaches work you need to decide which is the best fit for you and then just go for it wholeheartedly.
The Design Process
All design projects are subject to constraints but leveraging Functional Design and Aesthetic Design has been proven to pays dividends. Throughout the Design Process you should alternate between focusing on developing and testing the functionality of the component elements and building in the desired sensori-emotional triggers, until you have achieved the optimum balance possible.
Enthusiasm, inventiveness and attention to detail will ensure the Design Process is enjoyable, and the resulting sense of achievement can be immense, if you trust yourself and your approach. And remember, there are no hard and fast rules. There is good design, bad design and ‘that’ll do’ design.
This is a guest post by Derek Traynor of AllMoto.ie, an IIA Member Company, republished with his permission from his blog. In it he writes about a subject dear to our hearts in the IIA: online retail and the knock-on effects of reputable online business for the economy. If you would like to ramp up your own online retail business, don’t miss our upcoming conference, 8 More Ways to Sell Even More Stuff, designed especially for retailers, whatever stage of the online game you are at.
OK firstly let me explain – this isn’t a story about my personal ‘Bedroom Efforts’ (I’ve another blog for that 🙂 ), it’s my opinion, as an etailer (online retailer), on the damage that small, online, bedroom based efforts cause to industry in general.
What I mean by ‘Bedroom Efforts’ is someone sitting at home, on a laptop, listing products on ebay, Amazon and similar, and ordering in stock as it sells. However, let me clarify, my issue isn’t with the sleepy entrepreneurs but rather with the suppliers who decide to sell product through them.
I’ve been harping on about this pet-hate for years now and I’m “happy” to report that in just the last month I’ve had three suppliers contact me with concerns over it – way to get with the times guys – but at least they recognize the problem. These suppliers are eventually requesting minimun retail prices on their products. I’ve no idea where they stand legally if challenged about anti-competition legalities but…. well who cares about that for the moment.
I’m sure a few people are now thinking, “but sure you’re a online shop – who are you to talk?”, but this is where most people are missing the difference: I’m a reputable online retailer, adding value to a customers experience. I do this by providing:
- product knowledge. We’re experts on what we sell and use this knowledge to only sell product that is good.
- product support. If our customers have difficulty with a product we’re there to help by phone, email and often in person at events.
- product backup. Did a purchase break or fall short of what a customer expected? We always repair and/or replacement based on the circumstances.
- stock off the shelf. When a customer buys something it gets shipped within 24 hours (over 85% of the time in my shop).
- a unique user experience. The customer always subconsciously relate to their experience of the product.
- a physical store where people can drop into in person if they want to.
Bedroom Efforts generally damage a product having little or no technical knowledge, no repairs, no returns policy, no parts backup and NO stock. The customer ends up waiting longer, buying ill advised and losing all if an issue arises. What is not seen here is the damage to the brand that was sold. Note to suppliers – one way to lose repeat business is to allow a terrible customer experience in the initial purchase.
The hidden damage goes further though. These bedroom efforts often make almost no margin and that’s fine as they’ve almost no costs. But the damage arises in the lost sale the ‘real’ retailer has lost. Don’t be misled, reputable online etailers have almost as many costs as your local shop (Google ads, website development, online presence maintenance, customer support, STOCK, rent, taxes, to name a few).
What also makes me laugh is that these same suppliers then complain about having trouble getting paid by their retailer network. Maybe it hasn’t crossed their minds yet, but, support your network of retailers. Note to suppliers – IT’S EASY TO GET PAID FROM PEOPLE THAT ARE IN THE BUSINESS OF MAKING A PROFIT.
Imagine this outside Victorias Secrets: “knickers, knickers, two for a tenner”
Chanel and Gucci don’t supply someone so they can set up a market stall outside Brown Thomas (Ireland’s exclusive department store) on a busy Sunday afternoon. Why do suppliers continue to sell to people who just list on Ebay, Amazon, etc, and provide no backup on a Monday morning?
Chanel and Gucci understand the principals of brand image and most importantly – making profit.
Thanks to Derek for that heartfelt post! If you are a member of the IIA and would like to share a guest post about doing business online (any aspect: it doesn’t just have to be retail!) please read our guidelines and get in touch.
Dorothy Ryan from IIA Member company Dotwebs is looking for feedback on her blog or DotBlog as she calls it. She puts considerable time and effort into maintaining her blog but she wonders “why visitors don’t leave messages and what I could do to improve it.” Dorothy has been a very active participant in Feedback Friday and has offered lots of great feedback to others since we started the feature so please check out her blog and share your thoughts below and give as good as you got!
Would you like to get feedback on a site that you own or are working on? Maybe you have a new client who wants to redevelop an existing website? Get some FREE net-savvy, design-savvy, SEO-savvy, online marketing and sales-savvy input from a broad range of experts. Contact me, Roseanne, at members at iia dot ie and give it a go!
Well not quite! Channelship have recently completed two sites for a client and would love a bit of feedback before putting the sites to bed entirely. Both sites focus on products and services for fixing cracks and potholes and beautifying driveways and roads. I doubt there’s a person in Ireland who doesn’t know a spot that could use that kind of TLC! But what about the sites themselves? Are they a bumpy ride or as smooth as silk? Over to Fred Caballero Project Manager with www.channelship.ie to tell us a little bit more about what they would like you feedbackers to focus on when looking at the sites:
The idea would be to have comments on the usabilty, general look & feel, Search Engine Optimisation, coding and any helpful comments that people might have, since we are still on time to make a few changes. If you can think of more aspects to cover let us know!
Don’t forget that we have some guidelines when giving feedback and I will be moderating all comments.
www.reverbstudios.ie is the website for Reverb Studios Multimedia and Website Design, a small company based in Co. Leitrim.
I have had many people comment on my choice of dark colours for the website with the general consensus so far being that “it’s too dark” so I’d like people to look at that issue please. Bear in mind that there needs to be a good contrast between background and text colours and in that regard I believe White on black is as good as black on white! Also bear in mind that a significant number of people have said to me that my colours were “different” and it made my site “memorable”. My influence for the design was the iPhone if that’s not immediately obvious!
I’m planning a re-design soon so any comments may be influential!
Here are some other issues I’d like feedback on too please:
- Clarity of purpose.
Thanks to Leon for volunteering. Please don’t forget the guidelines when you are giving your feedback.
If you would like to volunteer your site or a client’s site please email me at members /at/ iia /dot/ ie
Imagine if you have a meeting with a client and you want to highlight the areas on their site that require development how helpful this could be. Do get their permission though!
Have a look at previous Feedback Friday entries to get an idea of how it has worked so far.
Last week we kicked off the Feedback Friday feature with Pressieport.ie. I don’t mind telling you that the post was the most popular on this blog in the last month and the feedback Fred Schelbaum received was second to none. Not long after the post went live I got an email from Fred with the subject line, “WOW!” so he was very happy too. So well done to all the commenters and Twitterers who helped out.
This week our featured site for Feedback Friday is Puddleducks. Aedan Ryan, director of Puddleducks, sent me the following to help you fabulous feedbackers:
PuddleDucks is an online retailer of outdoor clothing clothes for children and adults. Our best selling items are the waterproof dungarees, jackets and suits for younger children.
What I would like to achieve from Feedback Friday is to get feedback and make improvements to our Home Page so we can try to reduce the bounce rate from visitors to the site.
Therefore I’d appreciate feedback on some of the following:
- initial impression of our Home Page
- layout of the Home Page
- is it easy to know how to progress from the home page to start shopping on the site?
- are there any other design improvements we could make to the home page or the product pages?
- any other ideas on how to make shopping easier or encourage visitors to purchase
We’d also like to offer a 10% discount to all readers for any purchases until Sunday 8th Feb. Just use the discount coupon “iia12”. Please note that you need to be registered as a user on the site before you can redeem the coupon.
Thanks very much in advance for your feedback.
Again please keep the guidelines in mind when giving feedback and most of all, thanks very much!