Some say that a website is only as effective as it is beautiful. Others argue that, as long as it’s functional, a website’s aesthetics don’t matter much. My experience is that there is a happy medium between the two.
As a graphic designer, I believe that design is art with a purpose. A website may be a visually captivating piece of art, but unless it meets a business need, it won’t ever reach its true potential of becoming an effective component of a broader Internet marketing strategy. For instance, if a customer visits a website that impresses her eyes, but she isn’t able to find the information she is seeking, her mind – and wallet – will not be inclined to take the action you want her to take.
On the other side of the argument, a website that functions ideally but is not visually appealing runs the risk of being forgotten. After all, we humans judge with our eyes first, even if we do so on a subconscious level. To prove this point, researchers who conducted a study in 2006 about this very topic concluded that, “Unless the first impression is favorable, visitors will be out of your site before they even know that you might be offering more than your competitors.” While this study is several years old, I believe its insight into consumer behavior still holds true.
Don’t believe me? Try A/B testing.
If you want to see for yourself the benefits of balancing aesthetics and function, I recommend A/B testing. This is a type of analysis that allows a website owner to compare the performance of two versions of the site, or even two parts of the site. The owner can compare anything from a page layout to a typeface, or a button color to an image, to see which performs better from a business perspective. Which version keeps visitors on the site the longest? Which converts more users into buyers? Which garners more signups for the newsletter?
After we do A/B testing for our clients, I admit that the version that wins is not always what I would consider the “best looking” of the options. Usually, though, the better design is the one that looks impressive and functions seamlessly.