I often talk about how visual design will never make or break a business. Despite our inclination towards aesthetically-pleasing interfaces, visual design is not that important. But those who have been successful growing tech companies can tell you that once you’ve established a solid foundation, adding good visual design into the mix can make a difference.
Good visual design alone rarely results in business success, but there’s something to say about the drawbacks of not investing in it. Poor visual design opens up a way to turn people off, and over time it creeps in to diminish the credibility of your brand.
First impressions matter
Think about the last time a high-street shop left you with a bitter taste in your mouth. Most likely, it was not because the products or the prices. It was how it looked like and how the staff treated you that made you never go back. It’s normal for customers to walk away after a poor first impression, whether that’s the design of a shop or the customer service. Even if the products are of high quality, many people will still choose to leave out of principle.
This also applies online, where products compete in conditions even harsher than street retail. If your platform or website looks outdated, it makes people doubt if they’ll get what your promise. Surely no serious business would look like this, they might think.
In a world of unlimited choices, it’s easy to trigger subconscious thoughts in the minds of potential customers. If your design is lacking quality, they might wonder what other aspects of your business you’re careless about. Does shipping take longer? Is the customer support lousy? Is the quality of your products terrible? There’s no benefit in giving potential customers a reason to not want to do business with you. So why so many companies are willingly walking that path on a daily basis is beyond me.
At the other end of the spectrum, great design and attention to detail communicates professionalism. It’s like a speedy internet connection: you don’t think about it twice when it’s there, but it’s a very big deal when it’s not.
Consumers are willing to spend more money on products that exude quality. German car manufacturer VAG owns many brands, including Audi and Volkswagen. Their models often use the same engines, the same parts, and the quality of the cars rarely differs. That’s why a mechanic certified in repairing a Volkswagen can repair an Audi, a Skoda, or a SEAT just as well.
So why do consumers pay more for an Audi than for a Volkswagen? Because its brand communicates excellence, innovation, and quality. Notice that I said ‘communicates’, not ‘guarantees’. It’s well known that Volkswagen is even more reliable than Audi, but that doesn’t matter to the market. People are willing to spend more money on products that seem to be of a higher quality, and your brand is what influences their perspective. Great visual design helps you do that.
Should we all care about this?
Design is easier to understand in e-commerce, since that’s where we use a solid metric to track our work — the conversion rate. But whether it’s a webshop, a mobile app, or a store front design, this still applies.
One exception has been B2B software, an area that historically ignored aesthetics. This happened because the procurement process didn’t sit with the end-user. Someone high up can buy a piece of software and employees have to use it whether they like it or not. But the success of Stripe, HubSpot, Intercom, or Slack is rapidly changing our awareness of what good enterprise tools look like. Design is becoming a massive selling point in a world known for clunky interfaces.
There are only few examples of businesses that fail because of bad visual design. If your foundation is shaky, design will be as useful as a lifeguard at the swimming event in the Olympics.
But if your product is designed with your customers in mind and you’ve found a market fit, a good marketing team, and your sales strategy is in place, then visual design will likely help you do better business.