and how it can hurt your small business
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of web design
In days of old, not more than five years ago, one could find all kinds of websites on the net. Smaller or bigger, well designed or not so much, professional looking or my-younger-cousin-made-it, there were more than meets the eye. One thing was certain: there was enough variety to go around. For better or worse, the next different thing was just around the corner.
Sure there were categories of sites, like the ones mentioned above, or even the now almost extinct Flash site category. Although some of them looked like the were made from the same mass production factory, the web was a colorful garden with all kinds of flowers in it, some beautiful and some not. So what happened? How did we come to talk about the death of web design?
Primarily, mobile browsing happened. With the spread of mobile devices in later years, a new user experience emerged, that the old web design just couldn't cope with. The old websites had to be shrunk to fit the smaller screens, and the user had to zoom parts of them to be able to read the information. It didn't look good, it wasn't functional, and a new solution was needed to bring the browsing experience to the new age.
That solution is responsive web design: the process of adjusting the position of site information, in relation to the size of the device screen, usually based on a grid. That eliminates the problem of having to shrink the web page, as it separates its data in modules and places them one under the other, to create a seamless viewing experience on any mobile device. The bad news is that by fixing one thing we are in danger of breaking another, equally important if not more so.
Down the assembly line
The introduction of grids in web design, and the crowd of templates that are based on them, created a new phenomenon for the web as we know it. A lot of sites look so similar to one another, that they could all be selling the same product or service, and no one would be able to tell the difference. The information is there, it is clear and easy enough to get, but in so many cases there is no character to support and distinguish it from similar offerings coming from the competition. To achieve usability we have lost the unique personality every brand should have to stand out from the crowd.
The truth is there are so many options out there: blogging platforms and the countless templates for them, Content Management Systems, do-it-yourself platforms, tools that automatically adjust a design for mobile devices. All these bring everyone and every business, one step closer to making their own website a reality. The one small detail is that most of these solutions create results that look like inbred relatives.
But if your website looks almost the same with your competitor's, how can a visitor make a decision between your offerings? If your online image can't project the value of your products or services, what will get you the job? Your site's texts that claim you are the best, just like everybody else does, or the prices you will have to bring down to beat your competition?
Still, thousands of mostly smaller businesses choose a ready-made solution for they web presence. The templates are decent, even downright professional in some cases, and that is enough, right? Probably not.
The price is (not) right
If the need for a universal website building process is the one main factor to blame for the state or web design today, the need to cut costs is the other. They say that the best things in life are for free, and there is some truth to that, but it doesn't apply so well when it comes to websites and of course branding in general.
Today you can get an up-and-running website for $300; you can even get one for $5 in some online marketplaces, so why bother paying more? If you just look at the numbers, it makes perfect sense. But usually, when it comes to building a strong brand, numbers come second in importance, just after the feelings and ideas people have about it. If your visitors leave your website, seconds after they landed on it, because they didn't receive an interesting and valuable projection from it, you might as well have thrown these $5-$300 out the window.
Honestly, no one likes cheap. You probably don't and your site's visitors, and prospect clients don't either. People would like to get something with less money, or even for free, but they would prefer it not to look and feel cheap. Would you wear a suit that looked cheap for a critical business appointment? Or do you consider the business you can get from your website visitors less important?
It is true, times are difficult and budgets are running low. Still, "affordable" is such a better word, and concept, than "cheap". Although it is not clear in many business owners' minds, offline as much as online branding is an investment for their company. One should make it as long as it can pay back for itself, and then keep on making money. Its cost should be relative to the dynamic a business has to take advantage and make a profit from it. And like most investments, it is on a fine balance between throwing money away and not giving enough to create a competitive advantage that will return the investment.
Web design can be bad for your business
But why is this design related matter, a potential threat for you and your business, especially if it is a small one? After all, the survey said people don't care much about design, didn't it?
In the way the market is set, regardless your business type, the basic rule is that the big fish will eat the smaller ones. The more money you have to invest in your business, the more competitive you can make it and the more chances you have to become a bigger fish. Smaller businesses start with a disadvantage in this, as in many cases by the time they feel it is time to invest, they have been eaten or faded away. There are exceptions to this, but exceptions usually just prove the rule.
The one thing a small business usually has over a bigger one is its truth. The sincere wish its owners have, to provide value to their audience and the genuine products and services they have to offer. Then we hear all those success stories, where someone started in their basement and ended up being funded for millions.
And here is where design comes in the picture and affects your business. Web design can be the primary, most appropriate tool to convey that truth, to an unlimited online audience through your website. By creating a unique web presence, custom-designed and tailor-made for your particular needs, you can control the image you project online, so it is not like any other face in the crowd. Bigger brands and businesses have a head start in this game, as they have money to invest in their image and its promotion.
The good news is that there are affordable - not cheap - solutions out there, and they can make a big difference in how your website works for your brand. The trick is not to look at the numbers first, but at the value these solutions provide and the advantages they offer to your communication efforts.
The David vs Goliath paradigm
Web design isn't dead, although it has seen better days. Businesses and their audiences will always need, well-planed visual communication to exchange their messages, no matter the medium. It is a good time though, for smaller businesses to take advantage of this gap in online presence and overtake bigger competitors. You know about the value of your products and services, without doubt better than anyone. If only you could let other people see, let them know about the truth in you proposition.
Investing in your online presence and finding the right balance in how big, or how small, that investment should be, can provide you with a competitive advantage, and give your business the dynamic to stand out. Affordable is always better than cheap and it can equip your brand with the tools that will write your story of success. Wouldn't it be nice if we could create an opportunity out of a potential demise?