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Issue #5 • May 2017

How to Design Your Website if You’re Not a Designer

Digital Marketing

Did Chase's video get you revved up to tackle design? Then you just might love Craft + Commerce, our conference coming up this June in Boise. Chase is one of our main stage speakers and will be joined by other top thought leaders like Mariah Coz, James Clear, Nicole Walters, and Seth Godin to share stories of what it actually takes to be an online creator. If you're ready to renew your commitment to creating great work every day, this conference is for you! Find out more at convertkit.com/conference

Today I want to talk to you about your website, specifically, I want to talk to you about designing your own website. There are more tools than ever today for being able to design your own website. Entrepreneurs all over are doing it themselves. Your products need to sell and the people who land on your site need to trust you. Your message needs to resonate with them. This all happens through the design.

So how can an entrepreneur without any training in design do this by themselves? That’s what I want to talk about today. I’ve got a few ideas I want to walk you through and then some practical tips.

What design does

There’s a lot of things you want for your website and a lot of things you think you need. These principles are going to help guide you, center you, and ground you in what really matters for your website. These principles will help you understand what good design actually does.

Design builds trust

When we talk about what design really does, you have to start with trust, because design builds trust. When I land on your website, I want to tell in a second or two if you’re trustworthy. You’re used to seeing this across the web.

You land on a site and immediately know that you don’t like what you see and you don’t ever want to give them your email address let alone your credit card information. That is communicated through the design and through the message.

Design helps resonate with your audience

Design should help you connect with your audience. It’s the difference between losing a reader or having them track with you. That is resonating. When you get someone on the other side of the Internet landing on your website and they’re begging you to tell them more. We need our web design to help us resonate with our audience.

Design helps your audience take action

We need to nudge our audience toward taking certain actions. This is how our business survives. It might be getting on your email list or it might be purchasing a product. Different businesses have different goals and different action that they’re asking their customers to take. But on your website, you will want people to take action. Good design of your site will help nudge them toward taking that action.

Simplicity is more effective for your website design

Now, I’ve been a designer for a long time and I’ve designed a lot of different kinds of sites, but I will tell you this– your web design (the trust, the resonance, the action that it’s going to help people take on your site) all of this is about the effectiveness of your site.

It’s not about the fanciness. It’s not about the prettiness. It’s not about the sexiness or anything like that. When it comes to design, choose effectiveness every time. I just bring that up because a lot of people are trying to make their websites look a certain way and they have no clue how it’s going to work. I want you as an entrepreneur to be thinking, “How is this going to work? How effective is this going to be?”

Now, of course you want the design of your site to look amazing. But simmer down on that because, yes, while you do want it to look amazing, you don’t know how to do that yet. Can you stomach that for a second? As a young business you don’t have the funds to pay for someone who can make your site look amazing. And you might also not have the design skills to make it work.

Because of all this, I want you to focus on simplicity.

Clutter is confusing. When you want your website to look amazing you tend to start adding more stuff to it. But this clutter is sending all sorts of visual cues and you’re probably signaling a lot of confusing things that visitors are trying to understand and they’re not resonating. So I want you to focus on simplicity in your design.

Now I know some of you are thinking, “If I go too simple, how am I going to stand out from my competition?”

It’s a great question because standing out from the crowd is one of the most important elements of modern business and the truth is you’re going to stand out with your message, your unique selling point. Your compelling reason why your reader would buy your product instead of the others that exist is because your messaging will hit home with them.

It’s about your message and that’s where you’re going to stand out.

Tips for an entrepreneur building their website

Now that we’ve covered what design should help you accomplish, let me tell you how to make that happen for your website.

Use a clear, simple template that won’t require much customization.

Squarespace, WordPress, Shopify– all these places have templates. Normally there’s many different templates to choose from, but what I want you to find one that you can use. It doesn’t need to be perfect or what you want your site to look like in five years. It just needs to work for what you have right now.

One of the reasons why I like this so much is because people who know how to design things are oftentimes designing these templates. That means the design across your site will look relatively similar and consistent– this is one of those things that matters with trust.

Because you want simplicity and clarity, these built-in or premade templates are all you need. They make everything on your site feel like it goes together. But what’s really important here is that you find something you don’t need to customize too much. I don’t want you fiddling with this thing. All you need is your logo, your images, and your copywriting. You need to get your website out into the world without deliberating over all sorts of stuff.

It will also help you go straight into the things that matter more like whether or not your product is really meeting your customer’s needs, or talking to customers, or following up with people who have purchased your product.

Get your message to your audience in the right way

Design servers your message and your message is like your business goals. My business goal on fizzle.co is that I want you to land there and sign up for Fizzle membership. That’s the action I want you to take, but in order for you to feel comfortable doing that, I have to show you or talk to you about certain things to get that point across.

For example, I first need to ask if you’re even interested in starting a business, then what your goals are, and then I can start pitching you Fizzle after we qualify each other through a few more questions and I tell you what Fizzle is all about and how we can help you solve your small business problems.

That’s how I get someone to the sale. This means we don’t fit our message into our design, we make our design serve our message because our message is like our unique selling position– and that’s what’s going to resonate with people.

An excellent image can go a long way

We are visual creatures by nature, so having an image that powerfully communicates your message is a must. If you have an image that gets my attention and sucks me in, it can be way more effective than text. However, it can also be more clutter.

I want you to be careful with your images. A lot of stock images can feel very cheesy. I would say err on the side of simplicity and clarity again for your images. Maybe sometimes it’s better to just have a clear headline and use typography to make it seem interesting.

Two quick tricks on using images:

  • Make the image reinforce your message. For instance, I might be selling a baby carrier and could use a picture of a woman holding a baby in the car and my headline would say it’s the most comfortable and safe carrier on the market. You’re making the image and the pictures giving the same message. So your first trick here is you can make the image reinforce the message.
  • You can have the image play off of, or foil, the headline. For example, if I was doing something political, I could use a picture of a group of people, signs, and pickets at some rally  and the headline could be something like, “Does rallying in the streets for political movements really do anything?” Because of the way those two play off of each other, I’m creating interest.

Showcase your action prominently

On your website you’re hoping that your visitors take some action. This is how business works online. You'd be surprised how many entrepreneurs aren't clear enough with the action they're trying to get you to take on their website.

Now, different businesses have different goals and different actions that they're requiring, so you need to think very clearly about what action you're asking your customers to take when they visit your website.

A couple tips:

  • Stick to only one action per page. This might sound kind of strange to you and in some websites it's just not possible. But for the majority of us, it’s totally possible. People want to take action when they see it, and it’s your job to direct them down the right path. By sticking to only one action per page (or your whole site) you’re making it much easier for them to make the right decision and click that buy button.
  • Be very, very clear on what's in it for your audience. You'd be surprised how many people are like, “I wrote a free book and that's over here,” and leave it at that. You need to tell me what the book is, why it matters to me. Be very clear what's in this action for me.
  • Have a specific color just for your action. This works really well. You might have black text, white background, blue logo, blue link text throughout every time you have a link it's just blue, right? But then when you have the one action per page, big orange button. Some colors are just meant for these actions, all right? So we're going to be really expletive with what our action is on our webpage across our website. All right, be very clear with what your action is that you want your visitor to take.

You can design your own website now!

All right, with these four guidelines you can design a website that is effective, that resonates with our audience, and gets them to take action even if you don't have design skills. If you feel really strongly about some image or typography or color, you can break some of these guidelines. But remember, these guidelines are here and that they're put here by someone who's worked on lots of websites and worked with lots of entrepreneurs.

One more thing, countless entrepreneurs just find themselves fiddling with their website. So I want to ask you this one question in closing.

How will you know if your website is working?

Not how will you know if it looks amazing or how will you know if you feel good about it. But how will you know if your website is working?

Like I said, of course we want our websites to look good. We all want to look successful, right? And a website is such a big part of that, but this website has a really important job to do besides making us feel successful, it's being effective. So how are you going to know? Think about it. How will you know if your website is working?

Chase Reeves

Chase Reeves is a designer, educator and co-founder of Fizzle.co where he helps indie entrepreneurs earn a living doing something they care about because, you know, life is short.

Experience this issue your way

Download this issue of Tradecraft as a PDF to read and reference at your own pace.

  • Zan Li

    Great video Chase! Can you spot the typo in the video summary ? 😉 “For instance, I might be selling a baby carrier and could use a picture of a woman holding a baby in the career and my headline would say it’s the most comfortable and safe carries on the market.” Might wanna fix that.

    • Dani Stewart

      Thanks for catching that. Fixed 🙂

    • BarrettBrooks

      Thanks for noticing that, Zan. Just made that change.

      • When we talk about what design really does, you have to start with trust, because design builds trust. When I land on your website, I want to tell in a second or two if you’re trustworthy. You’re used to seeing this across the web.

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