Takeaways From a Website Design Expert

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Layla Masri, president of Bean Creative, started her presentation about building effective websites with a story. She had to log into the Comcast site recently to make a change. After a few attempts at her password—caps, no caps, numeral, no numeral—she gave up and in anger typed a couple epithets in the space.

"You cannot reuse an old password," it told her.

"Useability is about reducing friction," she said. "It doesn't mean you have to have the shortest text, it's just that you always have to take your viewers' needs into mind... Being persuasive takes practice. A lot of times we get in the way of ourselves. You have to understand their needs and what they want from you, and then design an experience that takes them along that continuum."

Masri said that good website design should not make people think too much. "I should be able to give it to my Mom, and she should be able to [navigate through it]." Here are more takeaways from her talk—and a couple bonus ones:

Make any responses easy. "If there's a form to fill out, make errors obvious [as a person fills it out]," Masri said. "Validating things on a screen is hugely important and easy to do." She pointed to a GEICO site that would only let you enter your phone number and date of birth a certain way. "Green is good., red you need to correct this."

When getting information, you don't have to collect everything at once. "Like a really bad first date, don't try to get too much information out there too quick," Masri said. "Get a little bit of information and keep that relationship going." She praised a site that just asked for email and name. "You can get the rest over time."

Make content skimmable. "People like to skim things so break content up into patterns. But don't be afraid [to use] a lot of content; some people need that to make their decisions."

Use popups before people get to the bottom of a page because they may never get there. Most people don't read to the bottom of their content, she said.

Tell people what will happen when they sign up for something or finish a form. People will wonder, "'When I finish this, what happens next? Will I get an email? Will I have to download something?' They want to know," Masri said.

Use pictures and faces from your community. This has been a resounding theme of late from many speakers. "Showing them themselves is really important," Masri said. "People want to see real pictures." When shown a generic picture of people on a website then another that was obviously the actual members, another speaker shouted, "These look like your members! People like that."

Inform don't sell. She showed two sentences:

  • We specialize in certification training.
  • Earn certification in 2 weeks. 

It should be about the benefit to the customer, thus the bottom one, Masri said.

Address the pain points of your audience. "People buy and make decisions on what to attend from a position of pain," Masri said. "You want to speak to what that pain point is."

Test. Two invites: 

  • Start your 30-day free trial.
  • Start my 30-day free trial. 

"My" received 90% more clicks. "It's all about them." 

"I don't like carousels [the rotating photos or event plugs at the top of a website]," said Keenan Koppenhaver, CTO, Alpha Particle. "I find that I miss a lot of content." 

"Kill the Twitter feed," said Michael Spinosa, CEO, Unleashed Technologies. "[In most cases,] it doesn't add anything."

You don't have to be on the cutting edge of design. You need something that works for your audience.

Color coding is your friend in website design.

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…