Designing in a Recession

Whether the worst is behind us or yet to come, we know for a fact that people’s spending habits have changed and won’t be changing back for some time. Everyone is watching their wallet and pinching pennies – making every dollar count. So what does that mean for us as marketers?

We still have products and services that people want and need, we just need to make sure our website visitors understand why they still want what we’re offering – tight pockets or not.

This is where effective website design becomes essential. A successful design will highlight the relevant benefits of your products in a way that creates an immediate (and sometimes subconscious) understanding that this product is something you need.

I was presented with the following question this week: “What qualities should I look for in a designer?”

As many of you know, I come from a graphic design background. I went to art school. I’ve designed websites for years. One could argue that the artistic ability of the designer would be the most important quality.

But I would say that in today’s difficult economic times, the designer’s understanding of marketing should outweigh his knowledge of traditional artistic elements. Especially on the web, and especially during this time, your site’s design must lead to conversions.

Whether you define a conversion as a sale, a lead, or simply getting the user to make a return visit, if you’re in business on the web, your website design must be focused on accomplishing your business goal. In order to be a good designer, you need to understand what it takes to get users to engage.

When designing in a recession, the big design questions should not be what colors to use or what layouts to select. Instead, designers need to ask what products to feature and what benefits to highlight.

Take Target, for example. Over the years they have created a reputation for having great design, both in their marketing and on their products. In a typical market, they promote their designer products with names like Michael Graves, Anna Sui, Alexander McQueen, and Rachel Ashwell. What did I see on the cover of this week’s circular? A crock pot, blender, and toaster oven for $15 each, none of them looking particularly chic. And no designer name dropping.

Why the change? People today aren’t spending the money on designer products. Even though Target strives to offer great designs that everyone can afford, there is still a perceived price premium with designer products, so shoppers tend to assume that they are not getting the best price. Their design had to change or their advertising would no longer be relevant to their shoppers.

Simple Steps
In this economy there are three factors that shoppers are asking themselves: Is the product or service a good value? Is it something I need or will use on a regular basis? Is it relevant to me? A good design will inherently answer all those questions. When considering your next design project, make sure you hit the following three points.

Focus on Value. Even if your prices aren’t the lowest, or if you only sell high-ticket items, focus on the value that customers get when purchasing from you. Value doesn’t mean inexpensive or cheap, but it does mean that the money they spend will be worth it. Maybe the product will save them money in other ways.

Take the new LED televisions. Because they are relatively new technology, you pay a premium on the price. To offset that, retailers are touting all the energy savings you will experience over the life of the television.

Is your product or service more reliable? Longer lasting? Does it have multiple uses? Find the reasons why a user will get every penny out of their purchase and push those reasons in your design.

Emphasize the Everyday. The average consumer today is trending away from “luxury items” but even expensive items can be positioned in a way that emphasizes how they can be valuable essentials. Even a $200 dress shirt can become an essential to someone who frequently attends high-end business meetings. Find the feature that makes your product a necessity.

If you sell lots of products, you may want to update the design of your site to feature those everyday products more prominently than you would in a strong market. While they don’t always have the highest mark-up, these essential items are more likely to be purchased in a slow economy, and you can work on upselling when users are at your cart.

Target to a Niche. Even for items that may not traditionally be niche products, finding a way to target them to a niche may help overcome objections within that demographic. When visitors feel like your product or service is made especially for them, they are more likely to purchase your product over another that doesn’t speak to them directly.

At the end of the day, your product marketing should dictate the design. This is the prime reason why pre-made template-based websites typically perform poorly when it comes to conversion rates. While these template-based sites may look nice, your product has to be pushed into a pre-created design.

In these times, the art of design is more about merchandising and messaging than colors and layouts. As long as your designs are built with that in mind, you’ll see strong conversions even in these tough economic times.

Design Makeover
Would you like your website to be the topic of a future edition of a By Design makeover? Send your name, company, contact information (phone, email, etc.), a brief description of your busines and its goals, and, of course, your URL to Please put “Revenue Performance’s By Design Makeover” in the subject line.