18
Sep
12

The Home Page Opportunity (6)

[September 18, 2012]

No matter what else you post on your Web site, know that nothing impacts consumer engagement more than the opportunity presented by your home page. More often than not, however, that opportunity is squandered with flatter-than-flat conventionality, by people sworn to uphold best practice. 

How do you seize this opportunity? Well, it’s complicated. But there’s one thing I do know: recycled debates about false dichotomies—like traditional/modern, simple/complex, or authentic/contrived—will get you nowhere.

What we might begin to discover, however, by looking at two examples, is the thought process most conducive to consumer engagement. Where this process leads is constantly up for grabs—and that’s it’s greatest strength. Side-stepping the determinist pseudo-science of standard UX theory, a truly creative process defines success or failure solely in terms of the facts on the ground. It’s a process characterized by the freedom to improvise. 

Take, for example, the home page of The City 2.0, whose marquee area grabs attention with type-design free of print-design agendas. At the same time, the button-free navigation is a refreshing change from the tech-console mock-up that’s one of Web Design’s many undead cliches.

Here, the navigation captures the mood and spirit of the site as well as to the movement the site aligns with. Before users start interacting with the content, they get the subliminal message: The City 2.0 is about overlapping spheres of influence and their potential impact on the future of urban life.

None of that would matter if the site didn’t confirm that message with clear, thematic headlines. Not, that is, with mechanical wordplay, loftier-than-thou foundation speak or cheeky aphorisms ending in “shouldn’t be.” And to help users engage, the design hierarchy delivers the what, where and why-you-should-care about each article in a single linear process.

Finally, this home page works because it matches the action-oriented spirit of the organization. It’s laser-focused on action. It speaks one message with one voice and wraps itself in a tightly unified design that nevertheless feels free-floating, relaxed, inviting–and human.

Tapping the desire to acquire
Pitched to people for whom shopping is a primary mode of self-expression, the home page of Uncrate.com draws users in from its first pixel. Though displayed with little obvious fuss, the product-shots are crisp and clean—to the point of being seductive. The deft design is inconspicuous, residing in a fine sense of proportion, light, airiness—exactly what you need to make manic impulse-buying feel like the most natural thing in the world.

Another appealing aspect of this home page is the opportunity it gives users to switch from the standard layout to a grid view of its featured products. I can’t think of much that’s more welcoming on any Web page than some input into what users see, read, or hear. It gives consumers the faint hope that they matter to the brand. 

Of course, you can go to BestBuy.com any day of the week and sort product displays by this that and the other criterion. But by giving people control over the homepage, Uncrate’s clear message is Inclusion.

Here again, the button-free navigation is a walk away from the tried and true. Just as understated are the callouts leading to a range of different promotions. Understated, that is, in that they make their points without violating the mood or voice of the page.

Design that says “hello”
What’s selling me on both of these contrasting sites is the sense that somewhere behind the scenes at each brand are people who actually want to make contact. Their offerings are direct, transparent and without gross manipulation; both sites approach users as if they matter as much as the mission statement.

That each site accomplishes this with design as well as copy shows what can happen when these two elements, so often—and so foolishly—conceived as separate functions, are allowed to evolve together. It’s no surprise that such an approach lends both a more human feel. Because, in case you hadn’t noticed, everyday human communication occurs between people who are seamless entities—for whom the boundary between appearance and content simply doesn’t exist.

While psychologists have introduced and promoted the concept of “body language” over the last 50 years, the phrase is essentially redundant. In real-time conversation, language consists not merely of grammatical structures, but of gesture, vocal tone and volume, facial expression, speech rhythm, pacing and even body odor

It follows, that you can’t hope to take full advantage of the opportunity presented by a Web site’s home page without modeling your efforts on everything that happens when people communicate in the real world. Including, I hasten to point out, the realization that you’re not just talking to yourself.

M4FTS5YTG4WX


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY

m.laporta@verizon.net
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