“The Lexus vs The Web Site”

by Stephanie Darenkamp

SAN DIEGO, November 4, 2005 – According to my business cards, my job title is “Designer”, but I am often asked the question “What kind of design do you do?”  I cringe at the thought of telling someone that I am a web designer because now a days the term web designer carries about as much respect as paper boy.  Graphic designer is not an accurate description either because it over-simplifies my hard work.  While working on some recent projects, I came across the realization that I was designing tools for corporations.  Tools that were selling products and services.  Tools that were communicating a brand.  Tools that were interacting with the online community.  Was my career moving more towards industrial design?

Industrial designers develop products. They combine artistic talent with research on the use of a product, on customer needs, and on marketing, materials, and production methods to create the most functional and appealing design that will be competitive with others in the marketplace. 

Graphic designers plan, analyze, and create visual solutions to communications problems. They consider cognitive, cultural, physical, and social factors in planning and executing designs appropriate for a given context.

The “creative process” for both industrial design and graphic design is quite similar. Both include planning, designing, development, distribution, and certainly measure the results on the form and function of the product.  On the functional side, you have to make sure your website provides a positive user experience.  On the other hand, the ”form” (creativity) of the website is equally important because without the latest technology, a visually appealing interface, and a marketing differentiation – your product will not stand out among the competition. 

To clarify, compare the creative processes for both graphic and industrial designers – using the case of developing a Lexus car for the industrial profession and a corporate site for the graphic profession.

Discovery & Planning
A web project starts with a goal – just as any manufactured project does.  There is plenty of researching the competition, plotting a target audience, choosing a theme or style (color and fonts vs. paint chips and engines), features (e-commerce vs fuel efficiency). 

Sketches, coffee, and an eraser.  Anyone who has ever worked in any creative industry knows what I am talking about.  These are the long nights of comps and prototypes, trial and error, revision after revision until at last you reach a solution… or run out of coffee. 

When the design takes shape (and gets final approval) it moves into the development phase.  The web site design is sent off to the tech-geeks, just like the car prototype is sent to the engineers.  Programmers plug-in the latest technology in content management systems - while the scientists work on their navigation systems.  The end result is rewarding and now the fun part – the test drive.

Launch & Distribution
Finally – the launch!  Oh, how I wish it were that simple.  We must now focus on marketing our products.  Web sites need visitors that turn into sales, and Lexus cars need sales so they can visit a happy home. 

Measurable Results
The goals behind a successful design - whether website or Lexus – is ease of usability, appealing design, quality, and market reach.  A website needs to be user friendly, warm and welcoming, and provoke an emotional tie with the end user – the same thing we want in a car!  Craftsmanship and attention to detail go hand in hand.  Web Standard Compliance (clean code) is the stitching that binds your site together.  This assures that search engines can easily place you at the top of Google when a related search is made by an end user.  What’s so important about that?  Well, this brings us to market reach.  The more traffic finding your site and browsing your products – the more exposure your company is getting.  Remember – building a rapport with a customer takes more than just getting them to purchase a product.  You want the market reach to be viral.  Your customers will not only purchase more products from your company, but they will send their families and friends too!  

Now that we have compared the two and filled the gap between my name and address on my business cards, it is time that we move on to what this “web product” can do for you.

Consumers have emotional ties with the products they purchase.  They are very willing to spend more for the latest technology and today’s top trend, but when it comes to a web site – some are not making the emotional connection and too often try to save a buck. Shelling out money for a space on the net can be a hard idea to grasp because… well… you just can’t grasp a website.  There is comfort found in purchasing an item that you can brag to your friends about - for example – the brand new Lexus we were discussing earlier.  It has the latest navigation system, awesome stereo, flip panel TV …  you get the idea, but what some miss is that a website can have the latest technology in content management systems, mp3 player, and play videos too!  How often has your new car, iPod or sleek Razr cell phone put money back into your pocket?  A website is a tool that not only builds your company’s credibility, but it builds your brand, markets your business, builds relationships between you and your clients, and says a whole lot more than merely handing someone your business card. It puts money back into your pocket, and who wouldn’t want a high-tech gadget that does that?