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What is a Design-led website?

Phil Hatfield

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Design-led website

Many website companies pride themselves on being ‘design-led’ but what actually does this mean?

Just lately I’ve had several prospects finding this phrase in their quotations and asking me, “Phil, I’ve seen a few website design companies saying that my website will be ‘Design-led’, but what does it mean and do you also do it?”.

It’s becoming overused, (wrongly used in the case of a new website) and easy to misinterpret phrase which is why I try not to use it to clients in the early research phase of the buying decision, but rather try and give a better understanding of the new website design process.
However, this is insufficient to define the technicalities of being ‘Design-Led’ for an existing website, which is basically the customer-led, user-experience trialling of a smaller detail of that website before going all in the whole hog.

Conversion Rate Optimisation at its best

Effectively it can be thought of as a ‘Testing’ mechanism. Similar to the concept of split testing, where a webpage can be shown to 2 sets of audiences with, for example, slightly different, colours, fonts, layout etc, and then measuring the visitor behaviour to see which version effectively converts the most leads.

See this excellent article by Lauren Broomall – What it means to be Design-Led? Where Lauren expertly explains… “Design-led organizations are willing to test ideas before they are fully formed. They try out the smallest, lowest fidelity product, service, or technology before making the big investment to launch at scale. Testing ideas and assumptions early reduces risk, and we learn our way forward to delivering a bigger impact for the smallest investment.”

So who will use the ‘Design-led’ concept?

At various levels it’s a concept all existing website owners can use. By measuring visitor behaviour with something like Google Analytics, over time you can see what difference, for example, a change of font might make to the visitor’s journey through that page.

This can be tested in days rather than weeks, and for high traffic websites, you might detect a measurable difference in behaviour in a few hours.

You can also measure a visitors journey around a page of your website by using excellent products like Crazy Egg – by inserting a small piece of code on your page header, Crazy Egg has a variety of tools to produce Heatmaps, Scrollmaps and Click Reports that can monitor and trace the exact visitor movements around that page, reporting to you what was interesting, what wasn’t, and what held the visitors attention the most and increased that all-important ‘Dwell time’ (a great Google ranking signal). Compare that then to a similar page you’ve recently updated and spot the difference.

Changing your perception

Although it’s a nice thought that every one of your visitors will see your website just as you do, a thing of beauty, it’s also good to remember that you can’t please all of the people all of the time. Therefore your best option is to optimise your design to please the most amount of people you can, and unfortunately, this may not be what you personally prefer, but if it means customer satisfaction, everyone’s a winner!

Bear in mind that a successful website has to be a collaboration of great design and great coding, and more importantly excellent, informative content to offer an all-around positive User Experience for visitors. That said, if more visitors convert to leads because you change a button from green to red, then change it to red!


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