Good Design vs. Great Design: What's the Difference?

Quick Fact: No one cares about how beautiful you think your website looks. If it doesn't help them accomplish what they are trying to, it might as well not exist.

The truth is that your brand page is just another dot in the world wide web. A microscopic speck.

Good Design vs. Great Design

In reality, people have more pressing problems and concerns. Prospects and customers find their way into your online nook to meet particular needs and wants such as:

  • Finding information
  • Joining a community
  • Seeking entertainment
  • Solving a problem
  • Making a purchase

Unless your prospects are designers, no one will gape in awe and wax poetic about your nifty blog layout or cool, new masthead. For instance, it takes 0.05 seconds for users to form an opinion (stay or scramble out) about your website.


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Decision Fatigue

Marketers are still not getting the bigger picture. Horror vacui or fear of empty space is still prominent in most web pages these days. Oli Gardner of Unbounce described it as a curse that impacts homepages everywhere.

"Because your homepage is such a high-traffic location, every department and product stakeholder wants a piece, which leads to a very noisy experience that waters down the impact of all involved," Gardner pointed out.

The experience Gardner described will ultimately lead to decision fatigue among users. A prospect leaves your website because everything in there is blatantly screaming for their attention.

Instead of creating a pleasant user experience, your horror vacui approach is leading them straight into a black hole of decision fatigue. The bad news is that 88 percent of online consumers are less likely to return to a site after a bad experience.

And the end result? Poor attention ratio. Gardner defined it as the ratio of the number of things you can do on a given page, to the number of things you should be doing. The ideal attention ratio in marketing campaigns is 1:1.

Do you want a prospect to subscribe to your newsletter? There should only be one button asking for that. Often, this is not the case though with multiple navigation buttons and flashy graphics.

Breaking Out of the 'Something-Nice' Pigeonhole

Here at Lean Labs, we sit down and consult with entrepreneurs and marketing strategists to come up with a game plan. This is accomplished through an in-depth understanding of your brand's goals. During this phase, business owners will frequently voice out that what they want is "something nice to look at" on their website.

However, we'd be the first to tell you that you need to break out of the something nice pigeonhole if you want to cultivate attention and carve a loyal following.

The answer lies not in your flashy graphics nor clever use of colors in your overall website theme. In his book Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change, Victor Papanek reveals:

Much recent design has satisfied only evanescent wants and desires while the genuine needs of man have often been neglected.

Papanek's book was published in 1972. His words still ring true today.

When Good Design Isn't Good Enough

Haven't we learned from Steve Jobs and the rest of the design folks at Apple? The team showed the world that designers can be strategic too. And it takes more than good design to be the brand that people are willing to invest to, both financially and emotionally.

Alternatively, you have to understand the power of putting the user (instead of your product) at the center of our design strategy. Tim Brown, the founder of award-winning global design firm Ideo, refers to it as design thinking. For Brown, designers have to consider these three overlapping spaces in design thinking:

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  • Inspiration - the circumstance that motivate the search for solutions.
  • Ideation - the process of generating, developing, and testing ideas that may lead to solutions.
  • Implementation - the charting of a path to market.

Brown further wrote that it's not uncommon for all three spaces to loop back - particularly the first two - more than once as ideas are refined or ignored. Design thinking is just another way of calling what great design does.

The Face Off: Good Design vs. Great Design

How can you tell if a website is simply good or excellent?

Good design you can spot, break down, and document both what you like and how it was done.

Great design is almost invisible.

You barely notice the design itself. It's as if you were instantly engaged with the overall experience.

Good design generally elicits the following comments:

  1. That's a cool homepage masthead!
  2. Wow, you have neat navigation drop-downs.
  3. I love that infographic!
  4. The images on the team page are so cool.
  5. Your landing page looks so good on mobile.
  6. I love your blog layout - so easy to read!

Meanwhile, here's what your users will talk about when you employ great design in your marketing toolbox:

  1. I totally get your brand's clear message!
  2. I was looking at your site, but before I knew it, I downloaded an eBook.
  3. How many years have you been refining this site?
  4. I dig your company culture and how you treat your customers.
  5. Your brand is like family to me!

In a nutshell, good design delights the user. Great design, however, is a step ahead of the former. It engages, converts, and forges a connection between your brand and users.

The Case of the Sticky Customer

Over the years, several studies reveal that too much information can impair decision making. Upon closer examination, it's obvious that good design fuels decision fatigue while great design puts down the fire.

Patrick Spenner and Karen Freeman's research sought out what makes customers sticky, or who are more likely to follow a brand, make repeat purchases, and recommend it to peers. After evaluating 40 variables such as price and customer engagement, the results were:

The single biggest driver of stickiness, by far, was decision simplicity -- the ease with which consumers can gather trustworthy information about a product and confidently and efficiently weigh their purchase options. What consumers want from marketers is, simply, simplicity.

Therefore, the answer is clear: Great design is intuitively straightforward. Good design doesn't accomplish this because it aims to impress.

Want proof? Check out Apple's website and previous marketing tactics.

Final Thoughts on Website Design

Gaining an intuitive understanding of your users (needs, preferences, motivations, environment) before diving into the whole process of website design is what sets great design apart from good design. Here at Lean Labs, each project follows a similar trajectory of gaining customer insight, exploring various solutions, and road-testing each path.

Are you ready to implement great design into practice? Get in touch with us and we'll show you how growth-driven design can bring value to your brand and your customers as well!


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