There’s nothing like reading self-appointed pundits on the Webs to turn a pleasant morning into a moment of vexation. The latest culprit for the One North team was Ben Huh of LOLCats fame, who at the GROW 2012 conference claimed that people “confuse good design with good product,” implying that no one really cares if something looks good or not.
Now, the general response to Mr. Huh on the Webs hasn’t been exactly kind, and I’ll admit that the idea of launching a serious riposte against a dude who makes a living by collecting funny cat videos seems both futile and, frankly, a little unsporting. However, we sometimes hear variations of Huh’s misconception among our professional services clients, and it’s worth stating exactly why he’s so far off base.
In One North’s recent survey of general counsel, we asked participants to identify the most important features of a website:
At first glance, our survey participants appear to agree with Mr. Huh; only 1% chose “Attractive Design” as an important feature. However, you need only look at the top responses to see that something deeper is happening in the data. As any designer or professional marketer knows, you can’t get the most desired website features – clear navigation, valuable content, and easy searches – without good design.
The crux lies in understanding what “design” really means in the world of interactive marketing. At One North, design isn’t a deliverable or project phase. It isn’t the “skinning” of work done by developers and business analysts. Good design is a comprehensive discipline that encompasses the entire experience that each visitor has with your firm, ranging from first impressions to how people find and use your content. Design requires artists, of course, but it also requires creative collaboration with marketing strategists, technologists, and writers.
So if Mr. Huh thinks that design is just the placement of a logo and the deft application of “corporate blue,” then I suppose his statements make some sort of sense. But it would be hard to find many other professionals who would agree, even among our survey participants. Consider some of the follow quotations from general counsel:
Brand is as important to [law firms], as it is to Procter & Gamble, Nestle or anybody else.
[When] you see a website [that] looks like it was made in 2005 and not appropriate for high-resolution modern screens...it just looks like they're on the cheap side.
You've been to websites where it feels like some high school kid made it in their garage, and you've been to ones that are really professional-looking. It does give you comfort that this company has the resouces to put into their website; they care about their reputation. That does make a difference.
So perhaps most buyers of professional services won’t notice the precise shape of your logo mark, and they may not care about whether your fonts are bold or extra-bold. But your clients don’t have to care – that’s the job of an actual designer. What they do care about is the brand impression and usability that a comprehensive design provides them.
If you’re interested in seeing what happens when people really don’t care about design and lose sight of the brand impression (or if you just want a good chuckle), check out this story.