Quality of design impacts our perceptions

St Louis CEOInstead of offering a slew of generic templates, we design our websites individually, so that they perfectly reflect the image and goals of the company with whom we are working. However, when presenting website proposals, I am regularly asked about the value of custom design and why the extra cost is justified.

The interesting thing is that while few of us can articulate what makes one design better than another, most of us can tell the difference.

Case in point: I was at Borders today, browsing the magazine section. I came across a new mag called Midwest CEO. I browsed through it as I drank my chai latte, and one of my first thoughts was that the cover looked great but the inside wasn’t nearly as interesting as I’d expected.

When I paused to consider why, I realized that the ads themselves were the problem. Instead of huge national brands with big marketing budgets, they had ads from smaller regional and local businesses. Clearly, these companies aren’t putting in the same investment in print advertising as their larger counterparts who maintain a national presence. No surprise from a budget perspective – I certainly don’t have that kind of $$$ to spend – but I was surprised at how obvious it was (and keep in mind, I am NOT a designer).

The magazine itself was fine, maybe not quite the same quality as a larger publication, but not too far different. It really was the ads alone that created the poor impression. The result? Even though this should have been an interesting niche for me to read, I browsed quickly and absorbed almost nothing.

It makes me wonder whether the advertisers are aware of this quality gap. Study after study show that we are susceptible to superficial first impressions. I can almost make a case that if their marketing department isn’t savvy enough to realize this, perhaps the rest of the company is equally in the dark…but that’s rationalization, nothing more.

I’m not saying your graphic design budget needs to be the equal of a Fortune 500 company, but when it comes to your website, how do you want to be judged? Visitors will start with first impressions, and those impressions had better be good enough to give you an edge over your competition. People won’t bother diving in further unless you have a really great headline or there’s reason to be extremely motivated.

The bottom line? One of the easiest ways to entice your visitors to learn more about you is to invest in good website design that creates the right first impression.

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