Monday, January 14th, 2013

Design Lessons From Craigslist

If you sent visitors to your site and asked them to tell you how it makes them feel, what might they say: good, bad, annoyed? What I’m talking about here is emotional design.

Donald Norman has found site visitors have a natural process when they come to a conclusion about how a site makes them feel. It’s prewired and there is nothing they can do about it.

Our visitors are on a trip through our content, and the best trips are the ones that have the right signs directing you to your destination. Let’s start with typography.

Our typography for body copy versus pull quotes versus headlines needs to remain consistent through the site. It helps the visitors understand tone and pacing of the conversations we’re trying to have with them. If we are inconsistent with our fonts, colors, weights, hyperlink styles, it’s like speaking in tongues.

Our sites should be consistent and pleasing visually, so our visitors understand the difference between an icon, button or supporting graphical element. If the site doesn’t have the foundation to apply these styles, a simple reskin of the existing site can be a quick timesaver that can help the visitor feel more comfortable. However, a reskin won’t fix any overarching user experience issues, because at this point, we’re just putting lipstick on a pig, as the saying goes. If your site is having deep experience issues, no amount of lipstick will fix it.

Still, we don’t need a site to look pretty to be successful. We just need the experience to be consistent and intuitive for our visitors. Take craigslist.org, for example. What an ugly-looking site. I mean, really. If I were to ever present a website that looked like Craigslist to my executive creative director, he would think I’d lost my mind. But guess what? It has worked for good ol’ Craig since 1995. It accomplishes all the goals its visitors are looking for, regardless of appearance. They can easily locate their area, find an ad, make their transactions online and store profile information.

You will notice Craigslist does have a standard convention for buttons, body copy, hyperlinking (all praise the standardization of Craigslist hyperlinking) and headers. If we were to put lipstick on this pig and didn’t touch the experience, it would be the prettiest belle of the ball.

Overall, updating your site to have a consistent and pleasing design can help improve your visitors’ experience. From there, it’s just about making sure your site is giving your visitors the right content—and that’s a whole other story.

Frank Lockwood is Associate Creative Director of gyro, New York
Follow Frank @iwillbefrank

Originally published at Ignite Something on the Forbes CMO Network

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