📂 Doing away with award winning web design

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Today's newsletter is written by my Conversion Factory cofounder, Zach Stevens.

He's the best designer I know and has deep experience with SaaS.

If anyone is a patron of the arts, it’s me.

I regularly visit art museums, indulge in calligraphy and photography in my spare time, and I’m a designer of 9 years for cryin’ out loud.

I RELISH good design and believe that diving into the chaos of unbridled creativity is good for everyone. It shows us what is possible and brings us closer to the divine, to quote Jordan Peterson.

What I’m not cool with, though, is the obsession with form over function in the context of website design.

Within the SaaS industry, this has become increasingly prevalent and it sets a standard that I don’t think is healthy or beneficial to the teams expecting their websites to garner new users and brand awareness.

There must be a balance.

Why the uprise of crazy, experimental web design?

Awwwards and Dribbble (funny, I never noticed that both of these portfolio repositories chose consonant trios within their names until now. Weird. Anyway, back to business), demonstrate beautiful websites and user interfaces on their platforms.

They are loaded with astounding animations, great color usage, photography, the works...

The work is beautiful. No one can argue that. And I believe it is good that designers push themselves to achieve this level of craftsmanship.

But, in the context of creating a conversion-optimized site for a complicated, difficult-to-explain SaaS product, a Site of the Day badge provides little value apart from bragging rights.

Not every site on these platforms qualifies for what I’d deem excessive design, however almost all of the sites and products getting serious amounts of attention would.

And that’s the problem: social pressure to obsess over vanity metrics like being featured on Awwwards versus a site that informs users of the product’s potential, is on brand, and drives revenue.

Merging the fork in the road

As I said, I’m a patron of the arts, and the creative power infused within these sites is jaw-dropping. It’s worth mentioning that I’m not advising designers to forgo experimentation and shooting for the moon in web design, I’m advocating that it be done in the proper context.

Crazy experimental design and functional design can play nice together while driving brand awareness.

Here’s how:

Different websites for different functions.

Yes, I’m advocating for not one, but multiple sites that do different things to become standard within a SaaS’ marketing arsenal. And as crazy as that sounds, I think it’s the best solution for SaaS brands desiring the prestige of experimental UX and the benefit of a well-designed marketing site.

The marketing site

All SaaS brands need a functioning, easy-to-use, branded marketing site.

This website clearly explains the benefits and features of the product, who it is for, pricing, a blog for content marketing, contact pages, and other utilities needed that give prospective users a reason to sign up and use the product.

It should be well designed, on brand, and give subtle reasons to be delighted by using it (a well-designed thank you message after submitting a form, good copy, and supporting graphics that feel intentional). Shit, it can even have some animated icons that help tell the story of the brand.

It should not be so overly designed and animated that the utility of the site is diminished.

Brand awareness sites

The time and place for crazy experimentation is on websites built for brand awareness. These are sites that exist to tell stories, present boring data or reports in an interesting and beautiful way, or detail the release of new features, to name a few reasons.

Effectually, they are hype machines designed to drive users to the marketing site so that they sign up for the product, join a waitlist, or some other kind of funnel activation.

These sites are the best place for those crazy experimentations that put your brand in the spotlight.

Webflow, a web design tool of all things, is a good example of this approach.

They create crazy websites for the launch of new products/features, but retain a standard marketing site that is less experimental.

Here is the site they created for the release of Interactions 2.0. The excessive animations and kooky nineties web design helped tell the story of interaction design on the web and why their new feature was important.

Compare that to their marketing site, which is still well-designed, but more utilitarian.

Why take the position of one or the other when it comes to experimental design and functional design?

You can do both and treating them as different projects with different goals is the best way to do that.

If a state-of-the-art web design software (whose target audience is picky, detail-obsessed, designers) takes this approach, there’s no reason your software can’t do the same.

What did you think?


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