True or False: Design is highly overrated on the web in 2018?

Some of the frequent refrains I hear from clients when we do web projects are:

  1. Give me a design that’s stunning and best in class.
  2. The branding needs to be reinforced
  3. We need to get the images right

The fact that these things are important only in so far as you get the customer to buy from you is lost somewhere in the arguments and the thinking. So the sell is forgotten and the ornamentation gets priority.

On the other hand, I do see direct response copy-led websites, with minimal design, and A/B tested for results. 

Many of these make a mockery of how important design is to selling - the fact that they do sell and in numbers that are staggering, is a point that’s missed by even the most astute marketers.

So who is right? 

  1. The clients who insist on great imagery and design 
  2. Or, the clients who combine great copy with minimal design

If you look at the bank balances, it will be the latter. Clients such as Amazon and Basecamp are doing more of the latter and winning.

So is there something that even the most astute marketers on the web are missing?

7 insights that the folks who make money on the web understand better

  1. The web is essentially a results medium. So everything that you say and do should be primed for that single objective
  2. Your website helps your customers buy. It has to be finally judged by the transactions that occur on it - a sale, a download, registrations, subscribes, phone-ins, etc, and nothing else. How long someone stayed on your page might make you feel good but it's important only in the context of transactions.
  3. You don’t need cutting-edge technology, or design to sell. What you need is a good understanding of your customers and the persuasion process, testing of the creative, and running with what sells best, even if results fly in the face of what you hold dear by way of design, branding, etc.
  4. Customers do have a sense of design but it’s not what designers and marketers have in mind. I have yet to hear a customer say things like - the branding could be better, or the imagery is off - he/she doesn’t bother about these things as long as these are not intrusive.
  5. Customers buy because they are persuaded to buy - the persuasion is a function of copy and some design that reinforces the copy. It’s a function of the calls to action, the sense of urgency conveyed, the feeling of tragedy if they don’t buy and stick to status quo, the simplicity of the buying process, etc
  6. The web is more a direct-response medium than an advertising medium. What that means is that the tried-and-tested frameworks in direct marketing work better any from advertising.
  7. Assumptions, and opinions, are just that. These are largely unvalidated and can/ should be tested on the web.

My hypothesis is that design needs are minimal on the web. 

Those who test rigorously have already discovered this.

Take a look at the following websites and you’ll understand what I’m telling you. is the largest retailer in the world today.

Yet why is their Detail Page so spartan when it comes to design? 

Surely, they can afford designers. It’s probably because that their tests show that unobtrusive design is what makes for best buying.

2. BaseCamp is the the highest selling project management software company.

When you sell to 2.8 million users at $99 per month, you should be able to hire the best designers, right?

Yet, their Home Page is understated design. Except at the top of the page where there is a visual that amplifies the pain of the customer, the rest of the page is pure copy, formatted well for easier readability. 

So what exactly is going on here?

10 to 1, Basecamp tests it pages and have found that this page works the best. Who can argue with that?

3.The software products over at JVZoo sell like hotcakes.

They do so because of the two things the sellers there have mastered. One is the art of persuasion using direct marketing copy. The second is affiliate marketing - each seller gets other sellers to write to individual email lists about new products. In return, other sellers get a hefty commission on the sales.

What about design, branding, etc, you may ask?

Well check it out yourself. Take a look at the links on these pages and satisfy yourself.

4. Pour through the website of Dan Kennedy, one of the greatest copywriters in direct marketing, and show me the design.

GKIC makes money through subscriptions, conferences, training, books, and more.

5.See how Ryan Deiss & Co, at Digital Marketer, sells his hot courses, and show me the design and technology used on this website?

Or does it matter?

Ryan Deiss runs a million dollar ecommerce retail business and he has distilled the processes and insights obtained there in the training and subscriptions he sells on Digital Marketer.

So where do businesses and brands go from here?

I think clients who do business on the web need to adopt a new mindset.

  1. Test all opinions - don’t blindly follow it. You’d be surprised how often your assumptions are proved wrong when you test.
  2. When you test, test for high contrasts - over design vs minimal to understated design, long copy vs short, pain vs pleasure, exaggeration vs understated
  3. Understand that persuasion has matured on the web today - there are wonderful models for copy and storytelling. Use these to improve your sell.

Are there persuasion models that we can emulate?

1.  Joanna Weibe over at Copy Hackers has put down a set of working formulas. Use it to your benefit.

2. Donald Miller of the has devised a proven method of storytelling for brands which you can read here.

What you’ll understand from all this is that when you test your design and copy, most of your deep-rooted notions on design will turn out to be untrue.

We have just grown up with these design notions and cling to them for life even when these are outdated and there is enough evidence to the contrary.

What’s been your experience with design? What’s your take on testing? Let it flow in the comments below.

May your garden teem and throng with customers

Pigtail Pundits essences the expertise from 700+ projects in 22 years on the web. Explore digital marketing services that hypnotically draw customers to your business.

Entrust your digital marketing to experts today.

If you need help with digital marketing services, give Pigtail Pundits a call at +91 983 307 1725. Or do write to us here.

We help businesses all over the world get better ROI from their digital spends.untitled.png

We specialise in Pay-per-click advertising, Social Media Outreach, Search Engine Optimisation, Conversion Rate Optimisation, Premium websites that convert, Content Marketing that works, and Awesome Training for your In-house Teams on digital marketing.

Talk to us now.

If you're keen to listen in to digital marketing conversations that answer pressing online marketing challenges, do join our Facebook Group.

Come, share this article and show us some comment love.

If you found this article to be interesting, do share it with your friends. Wish to comment on it with your own observations? Go right ahead and use the comment box.