In the last few decades, the design aspect of consumer electronics has taken on more and more importance. Today, people by their technogear as much for its look as any real understanding of what’s going on inside. That’s not surprising really, considering that’s how most people get into relationships and have for countless centuries—all those volumes of chicklit to the contrary.
So in a world more dominated by looks than ever before, it’s hard to understand the discrepancy that occurs so often, between the design of a product and the design of the Web site built to sell it.
“Submitted for your approval,” as the man used to say, are two contrasting sites: BeatsByDre.com and Bose.com. The site developed for Beats is well synchronized with the style of the products themselves, whose clean lines derive from geometric shapes, softened with a biomorphic aesthetic appeal. The flat digital design complements product design nearly perfectly and leaves plenty of light and air for copy to work its motivating magic. That image and text both have room to breathe on what is, essentially, an e-tail site, is an understated triumph I can only wish would be more broadly imitated across the Web.
That this wish of mine is likely to remain in the provenance of magic lamps and the genies who inhabit them is borne out by the site developed for Bose speakers. Ironically, here is a product many people would agree achieves a high watermark in design and technological efficacy. And yet its Web site design harkens back to the deep dark ages of supermarket circulars.
Splattered with price bursts, slathered with iridescent colors and embedded in one of the cheesiest background images I’ve seen in a decade, you’d think Bose products were, in fact, the cheap knock-off version of some other brand. In a prime example of the devastation wrought by Marketing Anxiety, the image on the left depicts the arm and hand of a sedate listener, enjoying a game of scrabble over a glass of wine—while the image on the right depicts a cartoony “bopper,” looking for all the world as if she just stepped off the set of the ’60s TV show The Mod Squad.
Thank you, Bose, for reminding us that the world is diverse, i.e., full of sedate white people and people of color who love to rock out, even at the risk of traumatic neck compression.
The only thing missing here is the “Why Pay More” sticker or “The Perfect Gift for the Holidays,” although the latter is fairly well covered by the unsubtle subliminal snowflake bursts. Red snowflakes, at that.
Now, even if you were to conclude that this is a matter of taste, you’d have to concede that the Bose site suffers from metastasising visual clutter. It’s the classic example of a site that makes users say “Better come back later when I have more time.” And it’s easy to see why. A user’s eyes are drawn nowhere, precisely because they’re drawn everywhere.
To look at the Bose site is to instantly lose a bit of faith in the quality of the product. This is irrational but true—even for someone like me who actually owns and likes a pair of Bose speakers. A site so heavily layered in cheese makes me wonder if I’ve made the right choice.
Why? Because advertising design of any kind, but especially the digital variety, that’s so jam-packed with marketing messages, is inherently manipulative. The site says “Hey, why don’t YOU buy a product, ANY product from us RIGHT NOW?
Instead of giving me a reason to fall in love with the brand, the brand is reaching for my wallet on the first date. Even in today’s “benefit” oriented dating culture, this is not anybody’s idea of a smooth come on.
And that’s the gross error Bose’s marketers have made.
Know that if you shove me against a wall and say, “You want a speaker. Come on, you know you want it,” you’re not getting the sale, even if your product’s all sparkly and shiny.
But if you create an environment where I feel safe discussing my speaker needs openly and without shame, I just might grow to think you’re the best speaker company in the world. I might even come over and help you rework your Web site.
That’s because—hello, pleased to meet you—I’m a person, not a consumer. And until brands get this into their heads, we’ll see more of this garish, loud and demeaning approach, as we slide into the next half-decade of “the millennium.”