June 18, 2013
Today, there’s no more essential vehicle for your brand story than the web. But using the medium successfully requires a significant shift in perspective. Here we outline five strategies that will get you thinking pixels over paper.
1. Think content before messaging.
In branding, we talk a lot about messaging. At its core, a brand strategy addresses getting your message out to the right people at the right time. But a website is an interactive tool. If your site focuses on a single overarching message, users have no good reason to make a repeat visit. Try a strategy that emphasizes content instead: different types, varied frequencies, an orderly hierarchy, and adapting the content for a range of situations.
2. Be dynamic (not static).
With print work, the story is set once the ink dries. The opposite is true in the digital world. Look for opportunities to populate content dynamically, so it shows up wherever it’s relevant, for only as long as it’s relevant. Beyond that, think about how you can use the web to foster conversations and inspire your users to create content.
3. Know that non-linear is the norm.
You read a brochure front to back. You watch a video start to finish. You catch a headline on a billboard left to right. But on the web, a story doesn’t unfold in an orderly way; each page is part of a new “choose your own adventure” novel. This requires a different way of thinking about information design. The best web experiences are immersive, always pointing toward additional relevant content.
4. Expect the unexpected.
In branding and advertising, being unexpected is often the best way to get noticed. But try hiding your site’s navigation in a clever place and see how long visitors stay. Web users are conditioned to look for certain things in certain places. So help them out by sticking with some basic conventions. However: we’re not saying that your web designers should be complacent. When you can skillfully incorporate a bit of the unexpected, you’ll surprise and delight your users and reinforce your brand’s personality in a compelling way.
5. Hope for the best (but plan for the worst).
There’s a reason designers sweat over press checks, paper stock, and color swatches. They can control nearly every detail of a printed piece, to ensure that it lives up to their original vision. Web designers must think much differently. After a site is launched, their work is at the mercy of outdated browsers, screens of every shape and size, and even (gasp!) PCs. Consider how these worst-case scenarios will affect your design, and you’ll ultimately make your product more successful.
BUILDING THE DIGITAL HOUSE
Breaking the process of building a website into manageable steps will leave you with something much more memorable at launch. Here are the basics:
Information Architecture (neighborhood planning)
Good IA maps out what content users should experience, when they should see it, and how they should interact with it. Bad IA—or none at all—puts you on the wrong side of the tracks.
Wireframes (the blueprint)
This is where you start to decide whether the kitchen belongs in the front of the house or the back. Wireframes should determine a clear content hierarchy for your key pages or templates. This is where the decisions about what gets placed prominently on the home page should happen.
User Interface (the interior design)
Even before construction, an interior designer often presents a vision for the fixtures and finishes that will give a house a distinct look. In the same way, it’s helpful to evaluate the visual elements of a website on their own, early in the process. When you design these elements before you design templates, you can have a more effective conversation about web aesthetic.
Prototypes (the model home)
If you could do a walkthrough of your new house before ground was even broken, wouldn’t you want to? By prototyping key interactions, you can set preferences for the user experience, spot problem areas, and make the development process go more smoothly.
Templates (the framing)
This is where it all starts to come together. Template design should give developers a clear, consistent, and detailed skeleton so that they can start building a recognizable structure, using the tools from the previous stages.
Development and Integration (the installation and move)
Does the electricity work? Are all the permits approved? Now, your plans can come to fruition—ideally in a flawless fashion. Allow adequate time to build, test, create and migrate content, test, and launch (then test again).