A designer I am not. As a writer, I’ve always had a deep appreciation for the designers and graphic artists who can bring a story to life. While good writing is important, I’m not naive enough to think that words alone will attract people’s attention in today’s on-the-go society and 24-hour news cycle. But my lack of design skill became evidently clear this week as I tried to craft an imaginary Web site for Juan Ana coffee, the Fair Trade coffee sold my the mission I visited in March in Guatemala.
Web sites are a powerful marketing tool. (Duh, right? Surely the Internet wouldn’t have grown like it has if they weren’t.) But an effective Web site is especially important for companies trying to reach out to consumers in other countries, be it selling coffee from Guatemala to Americans or something else entirely. However, for someone untrained in design, it’s hard to say what works and why. I know, for instance, that I like for a company’s name or logo to be displayed in the top left of the page, but why? According to George Cleanthous, it’s all about psychology. A BBC News report indicated that Web users form an opinion about a page in less than a second, largely due to psychological factors. Cleanthous wrote:
“The mind is able to recognise a combination of general human psychological and website design factors (which are not actually independent of one another) at extremely high rates of speed, in the same way that you are able to to recognise several letters jumbled together as a specific word and assign meaning to it. Psychology has always played a part in internet usage, but we are only recently beginning to understand the depth of its effects. When you break it down, web design is simply the manipulation of content and images on a website to appeal to the perceptions of a target audience.”
The key to Web design, it seems, is a basic understanding of what works psychologically for a particular brand or product. For instance, Cleanthous notes that most people prefer reading black text on a white background, rather than vice versa. But that color scheme could — and has — worked for some products, and it’s up to the designer and the marketing team to determine when it can. So while I enjoyed designing my Web site, it was a challenging task that reminded me just how little I know about marketing and design, and how much more I have to learn if I want to succeed in this business.
Needless to say, I’m not a psychologist, either.