The Best Websites Are Built Like Homes, Designed Around Brand
A marketing colleague of mine stopped by to see our new office in Chicago. After I gave him the grand tour of our open, collaborative and creative space, he smiled and said, “I feel like I’ve just walked through your website.”
More than high praise from a respected and insightful expert, he made me rethink the meaning of terms like “information architecture” and “user experience.”
Yes, your website must be simple, intuitive and easy to navigate. However, your site is more than the world’s fastest and most convenient repository for your company’s information. For many prospects, it’s their first interaction with your brand. Why risk the chance to start a lasting relationship by allowing them to lose interest inside something that’s sterile, cold, heartless and cookie cutter?
There’s No Place Like Home (Page)
Think about your site as if you were inviting someone to come visit your home. Your home page should be treated like your front door. Does it have curb appeal when driving by? Does it stand out from all the other homes on the block and invite visitors to stop, knock on that door and step inside for a nice, long visit?
“Websites should function just like well-designed homes,” says Josh Stauffer, director of digital strategy at Blue Flame Thinking. “Users expect navigational elements and other artifacts to appear in logical, expected places in order to perform the tasks they need to do on the site. Imagine how difficult it would be to navigate a home where the front door was on the side or the kitchen was upstairs next to the garage. It seems common sense, but far too often, companies forget about their site users and make decisions on a site based on their own organizational structure. This leaves users confused and frustrated with your brand right at the point in time that you want to start them down the sales funnel.”
Rachel Guthrie-Maynard, user experience architect and Web developer for Sq1, explains their process of planning, “We begin by devising an information architecture that facilitates the path of our users to conversion—each page of a website being comparable to the room of a home. Next, an engaging content strategy that is relevant and valuable to our users—copy, images, and video filling up the pages of a website like furnishings filling the rooms of a home.”1
Building the Experience, Pixel by Pixel
The best way to design and decorate your site is to define its style based on your brand. Is it casual and creative or more precise and polished? If you’re not sure how to articulate your brand, get help from a brand architect long before you start picking paint colors and looking at the fabric of your content.
Jerry McLaughlin, co-founder and CEO of Branders.com, builds a strong case for the power of branding, “Having studied the profitability of many companies across industries, as a venture capitalist, a corporate lawyer, and an entrepreneur and CEO, I am convinced that brand building is the biggest lever most companies have to improve profits and protect themselves against competitors.”2
What I’m suggesting goes far beyond the “About Us” page on your site, which might not be opened or given much time and attention. A user needs to get a good sense of what you stand for from your home page to contact information to job openings. That is, from the front porch to the living room and even down into the basement.
Put Out Your Digital Welcome Mat
Act like an architect or interior designer and make your website visitors feel right at home with your brand. Welcome them in with open pixels and a comforting hug of information and inspiration. If you do it right, they’ll come back for many visits.
Here’s a simple blueprint of how to build a welcoming and well-branded website:
- DEFINE YOUR ARCHITECTURAL STYLE: Think about your brand as a foundation for the look and feel of your website. Is it vintage, traditional or contemporary? If you’re not sure what architecture reflects your brand, look for design cues in how your office is decorated or what your people wear to work. The last thing you want is a site that’s Frank Lloyd Wrong.
- SOFTEN THE EDGES: Buildings can be cold, sharp and structural. So can a site. Templates and rigid information architecture can literally force you into digital boxes. Soften the sharp angles with warm colors, inviting images, compelling graphics and simple, conversational copy.
- ADD YOUR PERSONAL TOUCHES: It’s the photos, mementos, souvenirs and unique touches of personality that make a house a home. Decorate your site with natural light, open space and warm reflections of your company culture. Yes, give users the facts and figures they’re looking for, but do it in an inviting way that also captures the chemistry of working with your people and processes.
Looking for the right architects to convert your story into leads? See how we did it for this leading craft brewery here: http://bit.ly/1XhceUK.
 Rachel Guthrie-Maynard, “Why Planning a Website Is Like Building a House,” sq1.com, posted March 7, 2014, retrieved Aug. 11, 2014.
 Jerry McLaughlin, “The Power of Brand Building,” forbes.com, posted Dec. 8, 2011, retrieved Aug. 11, 2014.