I often discuss how the “design” of your website is far more than how it looks. The structure and process of getting around the site, as well as how the content itself is presented, are more important parts of design, in my opinion. It’s quite common, when talking about the design of their site to marketing managers (and almost inevitably with MDs and CEOs) to hear things like “the problem with our website design is that it’s too dark” (or too hard to read, or in the wrong font). Usually, the real problem isn’t the paint job, it’s what’s under the bonnet. What’s holding the site back is the absence of background articles, blog or case studies, and no way of easily finding what is there.
However, I’m not suggesting you should accept a website which doesn’t look good. Readers of Malcolm Gladwell will be aware of the argument that most people make up their minds about something in a blink of an eye, and then try to justify that decision with their subsequent actions. If visitors to your website take one look, and think: “cheap and nasty”, then your content is going to have an uphill task to convince them otherwise. They won’t be comparing you to your competitors; they’ll be comparing you to the websites they visit every day, like the BBC’s, and you need to look like a company with a progressive outlook.
What many companies don’t realise is how easily the looks of their existing website can be updated. If you’ve got a content management system of any kind, there’ll be templates for the pages, and colours, logos, fonts and text sizes can be updated in moments. But even if your website is just a collection of loose HTML documents made in Dreamweaver or some other page design application, it can be quite straightforward to make sitewide amendments. One company recently asked us if it was possible to update some outdated information and links across a 500-page website, and we got it done in a few hours. If your website is an unattractive white on black, or cramped into tiny pages for 1998-size PC screens, it might be easier than you think to give it a new coat of paint. A full redesign isn’t always necessary.
Does your site look barely any more modern than it did ten years ago? Take a look at the Internet Archive. Compare other sites, then and now, to see how they’ve changed.