Why Visual Design Should Come Last: 6 Steps to a Conversion-Focused Redesign

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why visual design should come last


Everyone has a visual opinion because 90% of the information coming to our brain is visual, and 50% of our brain hardware is designed to process visual information.

So, everybody feels that they’re qualified to opine about the design of your page or your site. Remember, though, that prioritizing visual design is similar to deciding what color to paint your bathrooms first when you’re remodeling your house.

You should, instead, focus first on framing up the page and building it to be functional and structural based on what it’s supposed to do.

1. Understand the Business Goals and History

Your first order of business is to understand your goals and your place in the ecosystem and to diagnose the current state of the site from the user perspective.

During a comprehensive kick-off meeting, review an extensive list of questionnaire designed to ensure that you understand the business background to the level that you need for a successful project. Ask questions about …

  • marketing,
  • the external environment
  • the technology platform you’re on
  • your internal organization
  • your goal, and
  • your key performance indicators (KPIs).

Then get your style and brand guide and web analytics, and deep dive into those.

2. Develop User Scenarios & Grade the Customer Experience

The only perspective that matters is that of your visitors. So, your next task is to identify the problem by creating scenarios that represent common tasks performed by important classes of website visitors. Then, create narrative user experiences and score using grades.

Instead of designing from the company outward to the audience, consider your audiences’ baggage and misconceptions, lack of attention, and apathy about what you do. Consider the following questions:

  • What are they looking for from their site experience?
  • Were they able to accomplish their goals?
  • How easy or frustrating was it?

3. Create Wireframes and Information Architecture

Present the proposed new information architecture or page flow, along with wireframes for important pages. It’s best to start with the homepage wireframe because that establishes your high-level navigation.

Consider the layout of the page, functional elements, the important labels, text, navigation, and page titles that are on it. Lay them out functionally, so you can take the visual design part out of the process.

This is crucial because if you can’t agree on the purpose of your page, then talking about how you’re going to decorate the page isn’t going to get you any further along. So, you first need to decide if something is appropriate use of real estate and if you have the right kind of controls on the page.

4. Create Rough Visual Designs

Based on the developed wireframes, create rough visual designs.

The main purpose is to indicate the appropriate visual emphasis and relative importance of page elements in order to support the conversion goals.

Your rough visual designs are not necessarily polished art - it’s guidance on visual priorities on the page. Identify what the most important page elements are and what elements you should intentionally make boring. You ultimately want visitors to look in the periphery of the page (the left navigation or the top navigation) if they don’t get what they want from the body of the page, but the body of the page is the one that matters.

5. Hand over Photoshop Files

Deliver mockup designs in layered Photoshop file format to developers.

From the wireframe, put a shaded box to the right of the image. You won’t see the background color of the box, or how much the color of that CTA button pops, for example, because it’s the only red thing in the body of the page.

You need to talk about relative visual emphasis and use that as the starting point. Talking about whether there are some branding elements on the page or the RGB value is fine, as long as you don’t undermine the functional purpose of the page.

6. Keep a short leash during development

Frequently touch base during development to ensure that the design is properly interpreted and to address any questions that arise during implementation. Do not allow significant deviations from original plans. Be a bit of a purist, and put your foot down to avoid having distortions and minor hijacking by the web development team.

Make sure designers and developers understand that embellishments that do not support the intended CTA shouldn’t be on the page.

Put Visual Design Last

When doing major redesigns, have a formal process for improving conversion. Spend more time on the stuff that you can’t see and focus on constructing the psychology of the visitor experience. Remember, conversion and visitors are at the heart of this. Don’t get stuck, especially too early, on the visual layer. And don’t let designers run the show, unless they have a strong emphasis on the user experience to begin with.

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