When Beautiful is BAD for Branding: Why You Should Avoid Distracting Designs
Before I get into this post, let me clear something up: I’m not a website usability expert. I’m also not a professional graphic artist. (I do some part time, but that’s neither here nor there). What I do know is marketing; and I have a VERY good nose for smelling when “less” is “more” and a great eye for seeing when “more” is, well…”less.”
I’m going to pick on a website that I stumbled across recently while looking for new and interesting fonts: Letterheadfonts.com. What a fantastic website! They’ve obviously put a lot of effort in to the site, especially the design. However, the first thing that went through my mind was “WOW, that’s a busy header.” And it sure is.
Design Effects Usability
While I didn’t have any trouble navigating the site, I can see how people might have a hard time finding the main navigation links at the top…they don’t exactly pop out. Once you dig yourself into the main content, however, it’s pretty easy to find what you’re looking for. One thing that did bother me was that the “download” links were surrounded by an example of their confection panels, which forced the font to be rendered very small. It’s a minor pet-peeve, but again, for someone new to the site, it takes some squinting to figure out what you’re supposed to do.
This is a pretty clear case of aesthetics being more important than the message, thus preventing that message from being clearly communicated. And in this case, aesthetics WAS the message. How ironic is that?
Elaborate Designs can be a Distraction
For this particular site, Letterheadfonts.com, I can see why they chose to be elaborate with the design. It makes sense. They sell artistic fonts you can’t find anywhere else, along with elaborate “confection panels” in order to create digital “signs” that are themselves a bit on the elaborate side. Don’t get me wrong, the final products are beautiful.
But the design of the site itself is so over-the-top that it actually distracted me from their products. I couldn’t stop staring at the header of the site. Not only that, but when I was browsing through their fonts, I kept comparing each type’s design to that beautiful, flowery, and elaborate website header that I couldn’t stop thinking about! Needless to say, none of them even compared. I wanted my font to look that good. No chance!
Had they gone with a beautiful design that wasn’t so distracting, I probably would have bought a font set today, but alas, I did not…(P.S. I’m still looking).
Simplicity is Branding’s Best Friend
As a logo marketing guy, I can’t forgive the fact that Letterheadfonts.com left no recognizable mark with me. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll never forget the fact that this was one of the most impressive websites I’ve seen in a while; but honestly, If I hadn’t bookmarked the page, I would have had a difficult time finding it again. There’s no distinguishable logo, and the text is lost in a mess of graphics.
Oh, and if you don’t think branding is important for a website, then think again. Sure, the rules are a bit different (you can’t get away with something like the Nike “swoosh”). You need to have text that constantly reminds people where they are. Just look at Overstock.com, Amazon.com, or eBay.com, which have all turned their URLs into trademarked and recognizable logos.
Font Choice Matters
This part might bug me the most (perhaps for the irony alone):
As beautiful as it is, take a look at the word “FONTS” (in the header of Letterheadfonts.com). Tell me that’s not difficult to read! Imagine trying to read that as a 10 point font. Impossible. Imagine just that word (forget the rest of the design) on a promotional pen. Illegible! As beautiful as that font is and as well as it goes with the rest of the header (aesthetically), it took me too long to figure out what this site actually was.
And that’s just my point. Every time Quality Logo Products gets an order for pens and the artwork comes in looking like a logo version of this site, I feel like crying. Don’t do that to us, don’t do that to yourself, and most importantly: don’t do that to your potential customers! You may think your marketing piece (whatever it may be) is beautiful, but if it doesn’t serve its main purpose FIRST, then you’re simply wasting everyone’s time!