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Visual differentiation helps in online environment

March 7, 2011
An Amazon online bookstore

Website navigation - visual experience is crucial, particularly if books have multifarious jacket designs

Vogele taught us that navigation on the printed page is made easier by different levels of visual cues: primary, secondary and tertiary. The “Dialogue Method“, as he called it, still holds enormous relevance today. Indeed, in the online journey, never has it been more critical.

Visitor “journeys” through a website or via a blog or even in a mobile context are made all the simpler through consistent visual expression. If an offer appears on a website in black reversed from yellow, so the landing page when the offer button is clicked should be yellow and black. As should be further elements in the journey. Including the “thank you for entering” page which confirms submission.

Simplicity in website design has major advantages. However, design – as in direct mail – is not as important as what’s on the page. Too often, publishers can get hung up about look and feel at the expense of delivery. The best designed sites are not necessarily the most visited (after all, it is not a site’s design which features in Google’s algorithms). So it is that a design and the words must intermingle to create the website “personality”.

Now, let’s look at personality. B2B sites such as Lexis Nexis, Westlaw or Kluwer are designed around delivery of a service; in which case, coldness of design, simplicity of colour-co-ordination and navigational efficiency are the personality of the site. It’s not about warmth, it’s about delivery.

But looking at publishers such as Penguin or Bloomsbury and things are less clear cut. Traditional book publishers seem to have an inherent hard-wire to history and the old-fashioned world of fusty publishing “houses”. In environments like this, online navigation becomes confused as the companies struggle to identify what it is they are about.

So in creating an online experience, publishers need to ask themselves “why am I here?” and “what am I trying to sell?“. Laced in with this fundamentally needs to be “how do my site design, brand, words blend together convincingly so that I will be relevant to my customers?

Strategic design is therefore critical in today’s online environment. Strategic design is not about letting everyone in the company have a view on which design works best. It’s not about someone with a strong personality get what they want irrespective of the rest of the website design. Strategic design is crucial to brand understanding, site personality, ease of navigation and consistency of experience.

No one says that strategic design is easy. Or cheap. But in a world where decisions are made in the twinkling of an eye, it makes sense that brands stand out through dialogue. Siegfried Vogele is as relevant today as he’s always been.

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