Getting to WOW! : Designing for users

Posted on Saturday, December 19th, 2009

Design Informer Logo Jad Limcaco at Design Informer wrote an interesting article this week about the “Wow” factor in web design. It’s an excellent demonstration of sites that implement interesting and exciting features to solicit a “Wow!” from visitors. The article has received some significant attention, and even resulted in a new client for HutchHouse, who was featured in the article. Jad does a great job calling attention to how absolutely critical it is for visitors to have a memorable experience. But does that mean we need to add clever javascript gewgaws and toys to every site we make?

Design is a plan for arranging elements in such a way as best to accomplish a particular purpose.

Charles Eames

Screen capture of Eric Johansson's siteThe style switchers, decorative novelties, and clever navigation schemes that Jad highlights in his post are all taken from the sites of professional design companies. Like this example from Eric Johansson’s Portfolio. Eric has created a really great little navigation scheme – a scooter ride along the lakeside – that definitely gives his visitors a reason to say “Wow!”. Exciting elements like these show off the talent and skill of a designer.

These elements go a long way toward getting potential design clients to take notice, and sign on for a “Wow!” website of their own. The “Wow!” factor is the very thing that most web design clients are looking for when they go in search of somebody to help revitalize their own online image. On sites like those highlighted in the Design Informer post, the clever elements in the designs serve far more purpose than just decoration. They work to provide a unique selling proposition for the site’s visitors.

Design should never say “Look at me.” It should always say “Look at this.”

David Craib

Where these sorts of “Wow!” elements work on a designer’s website, they may just as easily fail somewhere else. As an example, let’s say that John is going to design a site for Sally, who is a high-priced corporate consultant. Seeking to add a significant “Wow!” factor to Sally’s site, and also, perhaps, to add a little extra hype to his portfolio, John creates a fancy and impressive-looking navigation system. Sally is excited about her super-cool website, and her friends are all really impressed with the neat navigation.

Mary, a CEO looking for a consultant to help manage her executive staff, is less impressed. Mary feels that the flickering, flashing, zooming navigation, while neat looking, is both difficult to use, and slightly unprofessional. She goes elsewhere for her consulting needs.

Sally may have had the “Wow!” factor, but it wasn’t appropriate for her audience. John may have built something clever, but he did so as much for his ego as for his client’s benefit. As designers, we have a responsibility to our clients to design their sites with their users in mind.

Designers should always design for users.

It is of tremendous importance that we, as designers, remember this maxim. It is down to us to make sure that our efforts aren’t spent designing for the whims of our clients, the praise of our colleagues, or the padding of our egos. We need to be certain that we are designing for the people who use the sites we build.

It is absolutely crucial that when considering how best to create a “Wow!” factor, we remember that there is an intended audience for the site, and that the goal of any site is to effectively communicate the site’s message. The “Wow!” factor is always important, but the answer isn’t always fancy CSS or Javascript trickery. Often, the path to a real “Wow!” is simply in having done such an effective job of communicating the message, that the client sees a huge increase in their conversion rates, and a massive return on their investment.

That, beyond anything else, is really the “Wow!” we should be striving for.

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3 Responses to “Getting to WOW! : Designing for users”

  1. Design Informer

    December 19th, 2009 at 7:45 am

    Hi Richard,

    First of all, thanks for mentioning the article. I had a fun time writing that article. Secondly, thanks for leaving a well-written comment to the blog.

    About the “wow” factor, you are definitely right and I agree with you. The “wow” factor doesn’t necessarily have to be flash, jquery, or even any type of effect, the “wow” factor can be the content of the site, it can be the images, it all depends on the audience. Like your example, I don’t think I would be using vibrant bright-colored, flashing menus for a law firm, or a hospital. I would probably do so in a Hollywood-type website.

    Another thing, when I mention “wow” factor, I do like the fact that the things that wowed me on these sites were subtle, like the Analog site. Very good points that you brought up in your article and these are all valid points that designers and developers alike should consider.

    Great job on your first post! BTW, I love the post layout. I’m definitely tweeting this article.

  2. Designely

    December 19th, 2009 at 9:02 am

    Because Jad already wrote a nice comment about the post itself, I am going to discuss the other side of the value that this post created throughout the design community.

    This post enriches our design community that Drawar recently wrote about on his blog. It is very important for these posts to keep coming and eventually surpass the number of “list” posts in design blogoshpere, because there are just too many of those.

    Jad’s posts on “Wow” factor sparkled a discussion and created an open topic for other designers to write about on their blogs. And it is important for all of us to keep the discussion flowing and keep adding value for all designers.

    This post, Richard, is providing the value that I’m talking about. It enables someone to learn new things and take a new, fresh perspective when designing the next project for their client.

    As for the “Wow” factor – it is one of the most important, if not the crucial point when it comes to brand originality, standing out from the crowd and making difference.

    That being said, I would like to give a small advice to web designers:
    When working on a project, ask yourself – Did I created a “Wow” factor here? Does something makes it stand out from the crowd? Or is it just another design, similar to many that lack originality.

    Thanks for taking time to write this post Richard. I enjoyed reading it!

  3. Richard Glover

    December 19th, 2009 at 9:21 am

    Jad and Gennice –

    Thanks to the both of you for your thoughtful comments. I really appreciate them, and I’m thrilled that you found value in this article. Jad, I totally agree with you about the subtlety and the choice of venue. I think it’s really critical that we look at those things when we start thinking about wowing users. And Gennice, I totally agree with your statements about there being far too many lists, and far too little content. I’ve made it a goal of mine to stay away from lists without content.

    I’m eager to participate in a design community that looks toward the WOW in everything they do, and works to create originality and utility for all of our clients and their readers. Cheers!