Jeffrey Zeldman over at Happy Cog wrote a post recently about how it’s our responsibility to design websites that are better than good. As he wraps up, he asks an interesting question:
“Engaging sites and apps have that extra something that commands our loyalty without demanding our constant attention. It isn’t a showy opulence, and it isn’t a technology—bragging that your site is built with HTML5 and expecting users to care is like Certs hawking Retsyn. So how do we set our sites and apps apart? What ways of thinking and working lead to the details and touches that aren’t just special, but are special in a way people care about, and to which the right customers will respond?”
To me, it’s all about story. All the whizzy CSS3 and HTML5 stuff, all the killer layouts and so forth don’t mean a thing without it. If you’re designing a website and have a solid understanding of your client’s story, you’ll be inclined to make design decisions that enhance and support that story. Sort of like how Zeldman’s ceiling moldings and sweet hardwood floor enhance, support, and define the space that is his NYC apartment.
The best stories are true. Certs hawking Retsyn feels weak, and possibly untrue. I mean, I’ve never seen that drop of Retsyn, and it really feels like an artificial device created by a copywriter. However, Altoids do indeed feel curiously strong to me. That story resonates, because it feels true. Curiously enough, Altoids’ marketing (online and broadcast) is decently well designed to support and enhance their core story. Certs doesn’t even have a website, anymore.
Now, yes, we do a lot of video over here, and I do live in Hollywood so I’m a little inclined to want to yell “story!” like a psycho wants to yell “fire!” in a theater. But most of the website redesign projects we’ve undertaken need a lot more than a new design. They need a real rethinking of the project from the ground up. Done right, that starts with a clear and solid understanding of your client’s story.
Without it, all the whizzy stuff just doesn’t matter.