To some of today's hottest Internet companies, 'one picture is worth a thousand words' is more than a trite slogan. That's because design is increasingly becoming a driver of success in the business world. Startups are rapidly discovering that great products backed by stunningly designed websites are nearly impossible for users, investors and acquirers to resist. Properly done, a unique or eye-catching design can grab headlines by itself, calling attention to the actual product as almost an afterthought.
Standing Out To Investors
We're all told not to judge a book by its cover, but most of us do it anyway. Investors are no exception. Venture capitalists are bombarded day in and day out with gigantic business plans, filled with intimidating walls of text. Often times, AntiVentureCapital.com's Peter Ireland says, these plans are 'never read beyond the team section' and summarily tossed into the trash.
One reason text sometimes gets ignored is that it has to be endured. The reader must consciously decide to sit down and process every word your business plan contains. It's an intellectual experience - and an intellectual chore. Design, on the other hand, is effortlessly and v_iscerally_ experienced. It makes a powerful impact from the moment it's displayed, with no work required of the viewer.
Pushing Undecided Visitors Off The Fence
Top-notch web design is also effective at pushing undecided visitors off the fence and into your userbase. Mint.com is a noteworthy example of this. Their niche - personal finance & money management - is notoriously seen as 'boring' (and complicated) by most of the public. One of the ways Mint overcomes this resistance is by having a simple yet colorful website with pictures, videos and inviting buttons. Instead of forcing people to read paragraphs of dry text, Mint simply lays out its most appealing benefits and gives visitors immediate ways to start using the service.
A strong case can be made that Mint's design had a lot to do with 1.4 million users signing up in less than five years - and eventually getting acquired by Intuit for $170 million.
Driving Conversions & Powering Sales Funnels
In his classic web usability book Don't Make Me Think, Steve Krug talks about how design can literally make or break your sales and conversion processes:
'As far as is humanly possible, when I look at a Web page it should be self-evident. Obvious. Self-explanatory. I should be able to 'get it' - what it is and how to use it - without expending any effort thinking about it.'
Your use of visual hierarchies, navigation, 'breadcrumbs', colors and font sizes all make it easier or harder for people to subscribe to your blog, buy your products or download your content. Krug (a professional web usability consultant) regularly holds live, in-person tests and finds that even tiny design changes can trigger huge differences in response.
The Warm Gun (a conference on 'designing happiness') celebrates companies like Mint, Facebook, Apple and Twitter for recognizing that good web design isn't just about pretty colors, but making visitors feel confident and happy as well.
A common web design mistake is giving visitors endless numbers of things to click on and countless different paths to take from the homepage. When this happens, design becomes the enemy: confusing and frustrating your visitors instead of simplifying their web travels. Conversely, what you will notice about each company Warm Gun celebrates is that they all lay out very clear, linear 'paths' on their websites. Every one of Facebook's 500 million members joined by being led down the one, specific path Mark Zuckerberg wanted them to take. ReadWrite cites clean design as one of three reasons Facebook ultimately outlasted MySpace (which 'was plagued with the perception of lowbrow tackiness.')
This is no coincidence. While it may seem restrictive to limit your visitors to one or two clearly spelled out paths, it is actually one of the biggest strengths a well-designed website offers. Visitors want to feel confident that they using a website correctly and doing what they set out to do. Linear designs make that possible.
Websites aren't the only kind of design companies are using to attract readers, customers or funding. Infographics (like the one pictured above) are rapidly gaining popularity as a new form of shared content. Unlike articles - which must be read from start to finish - an infographic can be casually sent out to everyone on your contact list and enjoyed just by viewing it for a minute or two. The New York Times infographic shown above is an example.
Infographics also allow companies to put their own unique spin on common topics. If five competitors all write articles about something, but the sixth uses a creative infographic to get the point across, that is more likely to be shared and passed around than the articles.