This post explores the meaning and use of conversion centered design and what it means for website design and navigation.
Let me take you back to 1889. An artist is seated at his bedroom window just before sunrise. He looks out and sees the moon, the stars and the landscape before him. He does some sketches and decides to paint it. No big deal. It’s what artists do. They paint. The result is one of the most recognized paintings in the history of Western culture. The bedroom just happened to be located in the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole lunatic asylum. The artist was Vincent van Gogh. The painting was “The Starry Night.” I know what you are saying, “thanks for the art history lesson, but what does this have to do with a website?” The answer is everything, if you wish to inspire action from website visitors.
I recently spoke about on-page navigation as the primary way to navigate a website and in the end I briefly touched on the concept known as “conversion centered design. (CCD)” Which in essence is a design approach focused on creating experiences that drive a single business goal. It is based around 7 principles: Encapsulation, Contrast and Color, Directional Cues, White Space, Urgency & Scarcity, “Try Before You Buy,” and Social Proof. The first 4 are design elements, while the last 3 are psychological elements. If you want to read about them in great detail, I suggest you check out “The 7 Principles of Conversion-Centered Design.” But hmmm… using shape, color, contrast and white space to move the eye through something in order to elicit an emotional response? That’s exactly what Van Gogh did and exactly happens when you look at “The Starry Night,” whether you know it or not.
“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.”
»Vincent van Gogh
A Wide Palette
You see these are no new ideas in the art and design world. Not by a long shot, but for some reason it never really floated over to website design. People got caught up in the technical aspect of it all at the beginning and never let go. Bogged down in the more technical user experience of everything, we gave ourselves odd rules because this was a new medium. You need to hit all these points for this to be considered a “good” website. Your logo goes here. A menu bar looks like this. You need to talk about yourself like this and in this order. Things like that. If you look at any number of websites you’ll see lots and lots of crap yelling at you all at once and they are all saying the same thing. Links and links and links and buttons and buttons and bars and movies and pictures all quietly shouting “CLICK ME!” Somewhere along the line of website design, we forgot about the basic ideas utilized in art. Designing eye movement to gain an emotional response. No wonder there are heat map studies being done. There have to be, we just aren’t logically designing websites like we would a painting through simplified eye movement, color and composition. And like I’ve talked about before, the only way to do that is to simplify the overall web experience.
Happy Little Trees —>
But the main ideas behind CCD do just that. They embrace everything a painter does instinctively. Starting at the top of a webpage and moving down, through a series of specifically shaped imagery, high contrast/emotionally connective color choices and directional cues like arrows, pathways or even a person looking at something, you are able to move the user through the page and have them end up exactly where you want. A specific call-to-action, a form, a buy me button or even a relative/related piece of content. Anything really. Throw in some razzle-dazzle-psychological-peer pressure in some way, and BAM! you have a new customer.
That’s how “landing pages” are supposed to work. But what if you apply that to entire website? What if you use that simplified and designed experience to guide a visitor through page after page by restricting choice and only giving them the options you want them to have? You connect perspective content to people to past experience in a very deliberate manner through their site exploration. Culminating (hopefully) in a conversion. In the end, the visitor feels completely in control of their journey, even though you mapped it out through design and planned interaction. And like I talked about before, you reduce the need for traditional navigation options always placed front and center and give them on-page choices to create a more fulfilling and organic choice. Interesting, isn’t it? This could be the start of something beautiful. Don’t ya think?
It’s almost comical that these techniques are being spoken like it’s some bright and shiny new thing. When in reality creative folk have been applying those same principals for centuries. CENTURIES! Seriously, I want to laugh. Milk-out-the-nose laugh. Artists have always taken inexperienced viewers by the hand and lead them through a painting like a tour guide. The entire time they are whispering in your ear “look here, now look here, now over here. How do you feel? I bet you feel sad. That’s ok, you are supposed to.” Now I’m not sure we should be hiring painters to design websites, at least not yet. But who knows what we will doing down the road… eventually.