A website redesign is an ideal time to revisit your branding and website visual design also called “interface design”, in fact, this aspect is the primary motivator for most website redesigns in the first place. Design trends change quickly, so it doesn’t take long for a website to look outdated. This article in our series addresses how to use the opportunity of a redesign to visually refresh your online brand and content presentation.
Before we dig into branding strategy for your website redesign, let’s touch on brand basics “Your brand helps distinguish your company or products from competitors and it should create a lasting impression in the minds of customers” The key word is “distinguish” – any brand seeks to be recognizable and stand out from the competition. The problem with many businesses these days is that they are indistinguishable – from a branding standpoint, from their competition.
Remember that fascinating statistic from the Canadian study that showed that people form an impression of your website in less than 1 second.
“My colleagues believed it would be impossible to really see anything in less than 500 milliseconds,” says Gitte Lindgaard of Carleton University in Ottawa, who has published the research in the journal Behaviour and Information Technology. Instead, they found that impressions were made in the first 50 milliseconds of viewing.
This study indicates the critical importance of how your website looks. Well, what if your website looks the same as everyone else’s? How does that help or hurt your brand?
The examples below show how different businesses tend to look the same if the branding is not well developed. It’s especially apparent when obvious stock art imagery takes the center stage. Not only is the design unmemorable, but it also cheapens the business and the brand, in the mind of the visitor – all this in under a second.
Common medical services branding. How many website visitors see enough difference on the front page to make a decision who to call? Probably less than 10%. Wouldn’t it be better to highlight specific services and authentic patient testimonials?
Common legal services branding. How many law firms use stale images of gavels, scales of justice and the capitol steps? Once again, this does a poor job of differentiating a legal practice from the competition.
Your best rebranding ally is your branding design agency.
Your agency should have experience working with businesses at all levels of brand sophistication. This includes:
- Starups with little or no branding.
- Established businesses that have let their brand become diluted over the years.
- Businesses that are seeking to completely rebrand as part of the redesign process.
What is your web agencies’ focus?
Different types of agencies will prioritize your brand based on their focus. For example, a strong technical agency may not understand the importance of branding. Therefore, they may take the brand as provided, and just mechanically apply it to the new website. A strong creative agency, on the other hand, may want to completely revisit your brand, challenge your brand assumptions, and spend the bulk of the redesign effort on redefining your business.
In our opinion, it is best to find an agency that balances business strategy, visual design, technical skills, and usability best practices. If you are interviewing digital agencies, ask them about their branding process and see how much emphasis they place on the visual design portion of the project. As our generic, legal firm and medical practice examples above show, a successful redesign should not skimp on the visual design effort.
What does your web agency want?
Your web agency needs to understand your brand in order to effectively infuse it into your website redesign. Expect to provide your agency design team with examples, information, and assets that will paint a complete picture of your brand.
The brand handoff and the brand style guide.
The building blocks of your brand should be captured in a document called a brand style guide. A style guide can range from 1 to 20 pages or more of examples and direction. Your brand comprises many, many elements but here are the primary ones:
- Logo or brand mark.
- Color palette: Usually includes primary and secondary palettes.
- Font styles: Typeface and weights for various content usage.
- Supporting graphics or images: Photography style, iconography, etc.
- Brand personality or character: How should your brand be perceived, what words describe it?
The website redesign is the ideal time to refresh your current website style guide or create a new one. The style guide will define the design direction for the creative team, and keep everyone on the same page across all your online channels. It should ensure that the design of your website is consistent with the design of your facebook page, your display ads, your emails, even your printed and video collateral.
Usability and Functionality are also part of your brand.
The user experience or UX is another opportunity for your redesigned website to support your brand. The buttons that you use can be customized to change color, shape and animate. Images on your website can transition in interesting ways. These actions and micro-interactions also contribute to your brand image. Work with your agency to identify interesting ways to infuse your brand into the website interface. The end result will be a more memorable, enjoyable and cohesive experience for your website visitors.
What to give the web agency to start the interface redesign.
In order to avoid potential business conflicts, we recommend polling the website stakeholders within your business and getting their opinion on design direction for the website. Typical website stakeholders are the CEO, CMO (Chief Marketing Officer), CCO (Chief Creative Officer), Art Director, and Director of Business Development. Since this is an online medium, a list of website links that are liked/not liked is a good place to start. Once again, we suggest making a spreadsheet to categorize these websites and provide notes on what aspects of the site are liked/not liked. This will give the web agency a baseline to work from.
Remember that visual design is subjective, everyone has a preference, from the CEO of the company, down to the office interns. For example, stakeholder 1 may prefer traditional colors and images, while stakeholder 2 wants to shake up the industry with an expressive color palette and avant-garde imagery. It is best to resolve these prior to getting your agency involved. A style guide will help mitigate some issues of stakeholders having opposing opinions on design.
Your agency can also explain design best practices to help resolve potential conflicts.
Image resource library.
Provide your agency with access to imagery that is applicable to the redesign. This imagery can be shared on box.com, dropbox, Google Drive, or other online storage application. Types of imagery your agency will find helpful are:
- Logos, ideally in .eps (vector) formats.
- Photos of company management. This is also a good time to redo your company headshots.
- Product images.
- Photos of your facilities.
- Logos of partners and other affiliated organizations.
- Video files. These may be too big to provide, so just provide a list of video links.
- Examples of current company collateral, slide decks, brochures, one-sheets, etc.
At this point, don’t worry about sizing the images for web usage, your agency should be able to size them for you or provide you with specs as the redesign process advances.
The importance of copywriting.
Content is still king. Your best clients will want to read content that they find valuable and relevant. As websites get older, they often pick up new content and edits that stray from the prescribed brand style. Websites become a “Frankenstein of messaging and writing styles”. Once your content for the new website has been determined. It is advisable to have a professional copywriter review it and clean it up.
If you don’t have one in-house, the copywriter should be provided by your agency. Your website imagery is often derived from the text messaging. Strong copy, combined with strong imagery is what will differentiate your brand from your competition. The copywriter will work with the business and the agency to integrate their knowledge of the brand and messaging, into the redesign project.
What if you like the design of your current website?
Sometimes we’ll have a client that is generally satisfied with their current website design. They like their current color palette, imagery, and layout. What they are not satisfied with is the functionality. They are looking to enhance the website by adding features like; ecommerce, blog, social media, membership, mobile responsiveness, etc. These types of projects are easier, and usually less expensive because an agency can lean heavily on the current design styles to inform the redesign. If your business is satisfied with your current level of design, then make sure to communicate that to your web agency. Provide them with your graphic assets and style guide, if you have one, and you should be good to go.
To sum up the branding strategy for your website redesign.
- Get the opinions and support of business stakeholders and provide it to your redesign agency.
- Gather your style guide and other branded assets and make them available.
- Work with your creative team on the brand strategy and how best to infuse your website redesign with elements that will differentiate your business and communicate that strong brand image.
- Your agency will have a process, try to follow that process because it’s built for efficiency and success.
- Work with a professional copywriter who can create compelling messaging to your target clients. The combination of brand imagery and content will make your website much more effective.