Visual Design

While many meals are impressive to look at, once tasted, they can leave a lot to be desired. Meals should always look good, but not at the expense of how they taste and how nutritious they are. It is possible to have your cake look nice and taste good too, but not unless you pay attention on all of these ingredients. While a beautifully decorated website--like wax sashimi--entices people, if your audience bites into it and is not rewarded with something wonderful, you cannot blame them for branding you unappetizing.

While too many sites look marvelous but don't feel marvelous, often just the opposite is the problem. There are many sites-from respected companies even-who look so amateurish that you wonder if the CEO's kids did it. These are often unoriginal and always inappropriate and send a message that quality is not very important. Nothing need look trendy, hip, or cutting edge to work, but it shouldn't look like it was freeze-dried three decades ago and defrosted either. Hire an experienced professional who is capable or helping you communicate visually-something few people are ever taught to do well-and whatever you do don't try to dictate your favorite color to them!

On the other hand, don't let them push you around either. If they are taking you out on an uncomfortable limb and you know it just isn't right for your company, say so. Many visual designers do not know when this or that Kai's PowerTool Photoshop filter is appropriate and when it isn't or when what seems like a good idea just doesn't work. For an example of the former, witness just about any site that uses beveled buttons, blurry text, or uses any KPT filter at all.

At the very least follow your company's identity standards, use the correct version of the logo, colors, and typefaces, and involve those in charge of the "brand." If your company has no identity standards and you don't know what your brand is, then that says it all there, now doesn't it? You don't need a binder-thick identity manual, but even the smallest company should have a few rules about what is and isn't appropriate for your company's image-if for nothing else, for some consistency. Consistency may be a bit boring at times, but it is the stuff great companies are built on. Imagine McDonald's without the arches or Kodak without the yellow.

As for a brand, simply put, the brand is the experience people have when they deal with your company. It used to be that brands were mostly described and managed by visuals, in print, on television, on packaging, etc. But brands have always been about the interaction a company has with its customers. Think about Nordstrom's. What's that typeface again? What's their corporate color? When you think of Nordstrom's, none of that comes to mind. What does is their incredible standard of service, played out in everything from the people who greet you when you walk in the door to the catalogs they send through the mail. Now guess what's going to communicate and extend their brand more online: faithfully replicating their logotype and colors or finding ways of creating innovative interactions that allow their customers to experience their high levels of service online? Wrong. The correct answer is both, but if you had to pick one, the later is about 1 billion times more important. Perhaps that's why Nordstrom's is moving online very slowly. Perhaps they are waiting until the technology makes it possible for them to be the Nordstrom's they want to be.

To summarize:
  • Successful sites have high-quality, professional visual design.
  • Therefore, get a good, trustworthy graphic designer and listen to them.
  • Don't do anything unless it feels like the "right" thing to do (gee, not bad advice for life either).
  • Be faithful to your corporate identity (if you have one and if it is good to begin with).
  • Pay close attention to your brand, or begin to create one around experiences and interaction if you don't yet have one. Also, look for ways to evolve your brand in this medium.

Examples:    

Hip:
Macromedia
Androo

Levi's
movedesign
Turbonium

You Magazine
Absolut Vodka
r a z o r f i s h
Softimage
L I M N
KALIBER10000
Burton.com
NRG

volumeone
m e t h o d f i v e
Sprout Interactive, Inc.
Swoon

Retro:
Chop Scouts

BRAVO20
Spumco
FameWhore™

Saas*Fee
Douglas Coupland
SuperNaturalDesign
Chiat/Day
Swoon

Post Tool design
Bluefly
Atlas Magazine

Platinum Design
evolvedesign
Post Tool design
s p a c e g i r l
Electrolux
tbwa/chiat/day
itch

Cool
Welcome to The CSA Archive!
Welcome to Nexsite
Salvage
Color Therapy
YOU'VE HIT THE BOMBSITE
Debra Solomon
aWarehouse
@tlas
Megadeth
IUMA
Stoli Central
Peachpit
Cake Times
counterspace
Yale Style Manual-Typography
Ascii Art
Ascii World: gifscii
Ascii Art
Welcome to AudioLogo!
DMI Home Page
World3
Drumbeat
Skinny
Ekidna
Turux
Noodlebox
Dennis Interactive
New Media Division
Matinee
Zero 1
NRG
Quiet/Restrained
sublinear
e v o l v e
form studio
beth o'rourke
Discovery Channel Online
NGS - Society
Webmonkey
Packet
WAYPOINT ONE
Emigre
mark stockwell
Armani Exchange
Wow Digital Imaging
dezine cafe
Chris de Heer Design
espritdomain
BigYellow
t y p o . c o m
fear.html
HONDA
SBT Hot Links
match.com
vivid studios
NJ Online
Roach Exhibit
Welcome to CLiCK 1.0
Communications Arts
Hensey Segal Rentschler
Arid LandsNewsletter
Capstone Studio
Levi's

Conservative:
Designscape Media

Peets Coffee
tbwa/chiat/day
IBM AlphaWorks

Vitra Museum
FUSE98
Muller + Company

IBM Think Mag

Corporate:
The Saturn Site
Bienvenidos a Audi

3Com
Accel Partners
Vitra Design Museum

i33 communications
415 productions
Zer0-1
Herman Miller Store

Simple:
Suck Magazine
Kottke

Customizable Systems:
Llitestep (Linux only)
Audion (Mac only)

Experimental:
Launch Shredder
boar

13th Floor
E N T R O P Y 8
Construct
the-living

Art Center College of Design
the remedi project

Marcus Gosling
Zuper!
Dextro

Map of the Market
NIRVANET!
T-26
Welcome to Luaka Bop Records

[ subnut ]
Redsmoke
GRAMMATRON
Shift
Combine.org

Ambient:
Sonicopia
Issey Miyake, London
Vir2L

Jager Di Paola Kemp Design
Gnomist
terrarium

vivid studios
ephemere
Velocity Media
Purus Design

Sophisticated:
Martha Stewart Living
MetaDesign

Hong Kong (Time Magazine)
Fray Magazine
Webby Awards

IADAS
Lazard Freres

American Airlines
Aprilia Area 51 Scooter
bionicarts
Atlas Magazine

AIGAchicago
Oyster Partners
David Trewern Design

image dive
m e d i a l a u n c h
IDEO

Lundstrom and Associates
Audi USA
Ryan McAdam's Portfolio

What not to do:
tomandandy welcomes you
Enormicon
WallOShame
swoosh no more
Pirated Sites

Resources:
Atlas of Cyberspaces

Visual LiteracySite
Communication Arts: Web Resources
Online Resources for Designing Web Graphics
www.perfect.co.uk
MIT's Aesthetics and Computation Group
Advanced Design Institute
American Center for Design

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Copyright 1994 Nathan Shedroff