Written by: Jeffrey Staso, Department Director, Web Design Department
Web Design Industry Overview
Over the last ten or fifteen years, the World Wide Web has grown out of its infancy and has transformed into a full-fledged marketing tool.
The internet has become such a large part of our daily lives because users want content and the web is all about delivering content. At its core, a website is a content delivery system. Content may be text, images, videos, or even software, but the technology of the world wide web exists to deliver that content to the user.
Now, brands are not in the habit of spending money to create content simply to make their customers happy. It turns out that engaged users tend to buy more products. Brands thrive on the internet when they give users what they want: Useful, engaging, entertaining, and educative content.
The Customer Journey
So it’s as easy as launching a website and writing 2,000 words every week? Not quite. While content is the cheese that baits the marketing mousetrap, it’s not enough to simply stick a blog post online and cross your fingers that users will start buying your products. You’ve got to start thinking about the pipeline of how the customer goes from having never heard about your brand to buying a product. We call this the customer journey.
The specifics of a customer journey vary wildly depending on the brand, the customer, and several other factors. However, most journeys follow this simple pattern:
- The customer becomes aware of the brand
- The customer learns more about the brand
- The customer becomes attached to the brand
- The customer decides to buy the brand
- The customer reacts to the brand
A Sample Journey
A customer journey might go something like this. One day Sarah sees an ad for Fancy Soap on Facebook. She’s never heard of this brand before but it sounds interesting. Sarah clicks on the ad and is taken to a website that extols the virtue of Fancy Soap. The website moves her further along the journey towards “learning more about the brand.” Maybe it’s a little expensive to buy for herself right now so she signs up for the newsletter which promises coupons. Four months later Sarah is notified of a sale on gift baskets which would be perfect for her best friend’s birthday. Best friend Jessica loves the soap basket and Sarah decides to buy them more often. A marketing fairy tale? Maybe. But perhaps there is something more in the details.
Maybe Sarah is a young mom who likes to buy organic animal-free products. Fancy Soap might be a brand that sells organic animal-free soap in cute packages. Their ad might be a funny video that features cute kids using Fancy Soap in the bathtub and stuffy grandma being horrified that they are using guest soap. A tiny slice of life meme that gets Sarah to relate to the brand and the product. The website features more of the same content that supports the brand’s message and personality. Because Sarah is already interested in this type of product; she’s the perfect candidate to become a customer. Fancy Soap just needed to get the ball rolling.
Web designers thrive when they develop systems that make the journey as easy as possible. They grease the pipeline of the journey and deliver the right content to the right person at the right time in the right place. Building a website is a part of this journey, but so is knowing what questions to ask the client, learning how to use different tools to create touchpoints, and how to gather information about what sort of content excites different demographics.
So how do you determine a customer journey and decide on what touchpoints and content will engage the user? Many brands start by creating a customer persona. They will brainstorm about who is their perfect customer, what touchpoint delivery systems do they come in contact with regularly (e.g., Twitter, Facebook), what sort of things does this customer like, and what other people help influence their decisions. Sarah is a young mother interested in organic and cruelty-free products. Likely she would also be interested in related topics such as reducing her carbon footprint, gardening, or DIY household items.
Another tried and true method of discovering information about your potential customers is through surveys, focus groups, interviews, and one-on-one meetings with both current and potential customers. Retrieving data from sales, website analytics, social media interactions, and other places can give you a picture of who your customers are, what they like, what problems they have, and more. Data can help you plan for new content and gives you new ideas of new markets to nurture.
After learning enough about your potential customers, compile a list of topics they are interested in that match issues your brand can solve. Humans love to be the hero of their own story and positioning your brand as a tool that makes them heroic is the perfect way to get them interested in your brand. When customers see your brand as a way to solve their problem, you both win.
Once you’ve discovered who your customers are, what they like, and what problems you can solve it is time to move from the planning phase to the designing phase. Design is communicating a message and spurring the viewer to action. In this phase, you will decide on what touchpoints will best communicate to the user as well as design elements such as colors, fonts, and images. Your design must answer the question: “What do I do now?”
Each step along the journey the customer interacts with one of these touchpoints. In our example, the research suggested that Fancy Soap customers responded well to humor and environmental causes. Fancy Soap decides to develop a funny video ad, a brochure site that outlines how their product uses only recycled material, and a user-friendly way to actually purchase products. As a web designer, your job is to create a visual storyboard that will represent the final product.
Once you know exactly what you will be building, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and put the touchpoints together. A website is only one of these possible touchpoints but it is very important because a website serves as a permanent location for the brand. Ads, social media mentions, blogs, and other content tend to be fleeting and hard for the user to find later. Websites are also important because they often serve as the facilitator of the actual sale. Having a website that aligns with the customer journey, is easy to use, and delivers on the brand’s promise will promote a great customer experience and increase the number of conversions.
Choosing a platform for your website can be challenging because there are many possibilities. Today, few websites are created totally from scratch. Instead, developers use either a web platform site such as Wix, a Content Management System such as WordPress, or develop using a front-end framework such as React or Vue. The ability to read and modify code is still very important even in today’s framework focused development. No one wants a website that looks exactly the same as someone else and the ability to customize the design to meet the needs of the brand is very important.
Finally, once the website has been built, the content has been added, and it has been optimized for accessibility and SEO, you will want to monitor how well the site is doing. This is achieved through analytics plugins via sites like Google Analytics. Some platforms also have analytics built-in. A designer’s job includes the ability to read and interpret this data in order to adjust the site and other touchpoints and to discover if the client’s goals are being met.
Web design is an exciting career field that melds design sensibility with analytical problem-solving. Designers craft solutions to meet the needs of companies and individuals. Websites can help connect potential buyers to products, raise awareness of humanitarian issues, or simply allow users to communicate with each other. The job of a web designer is to discover, design, build, and support a pipeline that delivers the user to their ultimate goal, whatever that may be.