Web Design Case Study: Design for Your People

I recently got off the phone with an OB-GYN who was interviewing me for his new website design project. We talked about his “customers,” what their issues were, what he specialized in, etc… His patients were usually women who had complications with their pregnancies and births and needed surgery. Or they had a procedure done by another doctor and were unhappy with the results. These women were in a dark place. They were suffering. And he was the “solution.” He was a highly-skilled, experienced OB-GYN surgeon. Women came to him from all over the world for his surgical skills.

It just so happened that I was a mother of 3 children. I had difficult births. I was actually an “ideal” client. So, I could view this project from the perspective of a possible patient.

However, there were two big disconnects.

The first was the doctor’s ego. He spent a lot of time telling me about himself. He kept telling me how old he was. He loved cars and chrome, for example. He was very sophisticated. He loved the number seven. He loved the color black. He wanted this information incorporated into his website somehow.

He also wanted 10 websites with 10 different logos. He wanted to do this to go after various keyword phrases. However, he was very busy and didn’t have much time. 

So, I was trying to imagine a black, shiny website and how a woman who needed help was going to respond to the design. If I were suffering pain and disfigurement in my reproductive area, I would want to see some light. Something beautiful, soothing, gentle, and healing. What do cars and the number seven have to do with me?

The second issue was time. It takes quite a bit of time to thoughtfully design and optimize a logo and a website for a national audience. One website is hard enough when the client has no time, but ten?

The design choices seemed to be:

  1. I design the website for the doctor’s ego. This website would be expensive but not very effective. He would get a low return on his investment of time and money. Women would be turned off by the design and not read further. They would continue their research online and choose someone else to help them with their health issues, even if this doctor was the best on the planet.
  2. Or, I design a website for his “people.” The doctor won’t like the site. He might obsess that he hates the site and wasted his money. But his clients will love the website and will reward him with their business.

After 6 hours of discussion with 4 people at his practice, I was still having trouble reconciling these opposing issues. I was excited about the challenge, but 20 years of experience was telling me we were not a good match. I really want my clients to be happy with the end result. I didn’t see this happening with this particular doctor.

Needless to say, I didn’t get the job, which was a relief. It would not have been a fun project. It would have paid some bills, but at what expense? It would have been expensive for the doctor and extremely stressful for me. And the website might have been a failure after everything was said and done because my professional advice and experience were constantly overridden. I am creative and flexible and have worked with over 400 clients. I can take a lot of abuse. But life is short. Even if the doctor wanted to hire me, I am not sure I would have taken the job.

Some thoughts on what makes a great website…

Don’t get in the way.

Everything on every web page should have a purpose. Be thoughtful about your photos, text, ads, sidebars, and calls-to-action. Your pages should flow well. Too many distractions = poor usability = fewer sales.

More is not necessarily better.

You need enough content to make the sale or get the lead. Try not to overdo it. You should have more text than photos, except for gallery pages. Gallery pages should feature your absolute best work only. Limit your slideshows. People don’t usually watch them.

More websites may or may not be better than one comprehensive website. One thing is for sure: designing, building and managing ten websites is a lot more time-consuming and expensive than designing, building and managing one.

What will they respond to?

Know your customer. What is their issue? What problem are you solving? What products do they want to buy? Make sure your photos are compelling and appropriate to the topic of the page. Make sure your information is organized so they can find answers to their questions quickly and easily.

Where are they?

Where do your people hang out? Make sure your internet marketing materials are branded well across many platforms.

What kind of devices are your customers typically using?

Are your perfect customers sitting at a desk in front of a PC? Or are they always on their phone? Are they sophisticated big-city professionals using big monitors with high-speed internet or folks in rural settings with slower connections? Make sure you are designing for the main devices your customers are using.

Empty space is OK and may not be usable space anyway.

Reading web pages is not easy. The glare from monitors and screens is fatiguing to the eyes. Planned white space eases eye strain and makes online reading a more pleasant experience. Also, empty space on either side of a website is a standard “boxed” design choice. Those areas are not safe or usable for important web content.

Design for your people, not for yourself.

Design your site for the people who are going to give you their money. They should like your website and reward you with their hard-earned cash. You should like your website, too. It should be a practical, time-saving marketing tool that shares your information 24/7. However, your customers are more important.

Design for humans, not search engines.

Don’t get so caught up in SEO that your content (text) sounds like crap. Write for your people. They are going to read your text, and if they resonate with your message, they will become your customer. Search engines are not your customers. They will not give you any cash. SEO is good. Just go easy on it.

Charlotte Howard is a master at web site design. She sees your project through fabulous design eyes, as well as from SEO orientation, attention to your message, and call to action. I highly recommend her services. Professional and a pleasure to work with, Charlotte rocks!
— Linda L. • Author and Entrepreneur

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