I think Ben Hunt is the worldwide authority on web design.
A practitioner as well as a great writer, he has his own agency in London called Scratch. He’s also put out a book “Save the Pixel” that I have extensively used, he speaks at a key internet seminar, and his blog is well worth following.
Just as I had completed the first draft of an earlier blog Web Design: the Traditional Model I saw him commit designer heresy in his blog post:
In short he says no one really knows what design will work well. Good designers and clients can take the best guess and hope that it’s the right one. But the better way is to constantly test different components of design, copy and headlines to see which combination best leads to conversion. In his words,
“In fact, graphic design appears to play a minor role in a site’s success (although we like to think it’s vitally important). The real keys to success are more basic, can take far less work, and are accessible to many more people who are not skilled in graphics.”
Then he goes on to outline why measurable results are the best way to design a website
“Whatever success is, the access to improving/optimising it starts with a simple thing – measuring it! You cannot improve something you don’t measure. Otherwise, how do you know it’s improved?
This really is the key to unlocking the secret to successful design. Measurable results open up the possibility of evolving your designs in order to make them more effective.”
I don’t mean to be a harbinger of web design industry doom and gloom! And to prove that here’s your way out. Ben again,
“The trick is to combine two vital techniques: Creative Inquiry, and Empirical Testing.”
And that’s why I’m such a big fan of free testing software called Google Website Optimizer. Designers, website owners and marketers should apply the age old Direct Marketing concept of testing.
For those of us doing it ourselves we should try out different design ‘templates’, headlines, navigation, buttons copy etc. Web designers should offer a point of difference by offering this service themselves over a period of months post launch.