Building Trust Through Good Design Principles – Because Confused People Don’t Buy Stuff

If making more sales online (or offline, too) is your goal, you need to follow these tried and true simple design rules. While this post will be mostly centered on how to build a website that is designed to be effective and creates the trust needed to bring you sales, this applies to everything you do to reach your audience.

Every time someone comes into contact with you and your business, they need to experience your message from the vantage point of the “hero”.

Your clients and prospects are heroes. They are the focus of the story. They are the most important player on your roster. It’s all about them. All the time. Starting with the business card you hand them, to the email you send, it’s all about them. Every encounter must be “designed” to create trust.

Ease of use and quick recognition of what you are all about is a big part of bridging the trust gap.

They need to land on your website (or open your email) and know exactly what your offer is and why it will be worth their time and money to be involved with you or, even better, to buy now. And if you want them to “act now” (or someday soon) you will need to make it very clear how to do that. And all of that starts with clean, easy to read, and simple to understand, design principles.

Designing for easy navigation

Right off the bat, pay attention to what I just did. I created a new section by using a header. This helps you sense there is a shift taking place and motivates you to consider this next bit of information with a fresh point of reference. Your website, brochures, emails, and so forth, all need this consistent treatment. (And oh, by the way, headers help google search results, too!)

Imagine a display in a shop window or a display case. Certain elements are grouped so they have more impact. There may be a small sign that says, “Storewide Sale Today” or “New Shipment Just In.”  Your website is like any store. The pages are “departments” or sections where browsing happens. However, there is one very big difference from a storefront on Main Street and your site on the internet: people can drop in from anywhere and land anywhere. They may not even know the name of your business when they click on a google result. They may never see your home page.

There are very successful online businesses that never invite viewers to their home page. Click To Tweet

Some people may spend time looking at your “window display” from the street entrance – the home page equivalent – but many will land inside and start nosing around. However they enter and whatever they are interested in knowing about, YOU are the one who guides their browsing. The “user experience” is YOUR responsibility.

You must guide them to the “sale” rack or point them towards the “new” stuff you just uploaded. Just like a department store, you want to guide people to the various areas and then have those areas be very distinct. If you are a specialty shop – a shoe store for example – then you will break down the “display” areas by categories like boots or athletic shoes.

But what I see many people do is create too many “sub-categories”.

Many people want to make sure that someone who is looking for shoes that are red will be led to a web page where every kind of shoe, boot, or sandal, shows up that has any amount of red on it. Of course, if you are willing to spend many thousands of dollars, you can have built in search engines where people can choose by brand, color, size, style, and so forth. But most of you reading this are not going to put up an Amazon-style site anytime soon. Or never.

And for my artist community reading this, you must resist the temptation to over-complicate things. Too many choices lead to confusion. Keep it simple. Simplicity helps viewers stay focused. And that is even more important when you look at the overall design of your sites.

Easy and enjoyable visits to any website, begins with four designing principles

  1. Minimize the use of color and fonts to help cement your branding – both visually and psychologically. Choose two colors and two fonts. For your two fonts, you will use a different font for the body of your text, perhaps San Serif and have your header text be a Serif style. Sometimes it will make sense to also use one of your branded colors for the header text. Furthermore, your colors should be complementary. You can use a third (complimentary) color for very rare instances for extra emphasize. Think long term on this concept. I branded my business with yellow and blue and for emphasis, I sometimes break out a rich forest green. And not just blue, or yellow, or forest green, but the same exact color – using “hex codes” – everywhere possible.
  2. Create a logo. Your brand is more than just colors and fonts. The major companies you spend money with all have logos. For many, this can be a simple “wordmark” logo. This is easier than you are imagining: Google is a wordmark logo. So is FedEx, Sears, and Neiman Marcus. My logo is a wordmark logo and incorporates my two main colors. However, a graphic/iconic symbol is common, too. Think about Nike’s swoosh, or Target’s target.
  3. Develop “story” standards that will keep a focus on your message. This can be as simple as creating a tagline for your business. Consider the impact that you have – even on an invoice – with a quick one-liner that sums up your intentions or purpose. In addition, I recommend creating a “vision” statement – something that encapsulates your purpose. You may never share it publically in its entirety, but you should try to answer these simple questions: Why are you doing what you do? What might you say to a perfect stranger that will enlighten them to your story? Creating a vision statement is important because all marketing will evolve from this basic foundational vision. If you put out a press release, this synopsis is what ends up in the bio/description section used to describe your business. If you’re featured on a blog, this is the biographical basis for your story. Between your business name, tagline, and vision statement, people should be able to “recognize” you quickly and know what value you offer.
  4. Build design into your deepest structures. You can increase your influence over time by applying every design standard to everything you put out for consumption. Your persona should be felt behind your website, social media, brochures, emails – both personal emails and commercial marketing campaigns. You should brand your packaging and hangtags, too, if those are part of your business presentation. You will gain trust and grow your sales with presentation consistency and appear more professional the more you tighten up your public image, branding, and messaging.

It’s never too late to plan for greater success

However, you might be thinking, “I need all this stuff fixed.” Maybe you just bought 1000 costly brochures and they don’t reflect my website branding or your business cards use a totally different logo.  So now what?

I see this mismatched branding issue all the time. I have many clients who have spent hundreds, even thousands, for a website and it’s just not what was envisioned. Maybe you have a site that you’re not thrilled with but can’t afford to “fix” the things that bother you.

Relax and take a deep breath. The idea that your website doesn’t look exactly how you want it to look is only one part of being successful.

Eventually, everything will get fixed! But here’s the takeaway:

Before you try to fix anything, consider the four elements above. Take time to really work out the design elements. You may discover an entirely different approach – a better way to express your vision.  With some soul-searching and maybe some professional coaching, you might take on a significant re-vamp of your website with a better logo, a new or smarter tagline, and stronger and more grounded sense of purpose. You many even end up doing a complete re-launch of your brand.

In today’s world, building a website (and being in control) is much easier. If you can build an email in Constant Contact or MailChimp, you have all the skills you need to build a website using Wix – my current fav – and now this easy to digest Four Pillars of Design.

So whether you give this thought today, or put in on a back burner, this rethinking must happen to each of us. I have many changes upcoming to my site and my current brochure needs a major overhaul, too. I am constantly thinking about my brand, my image, and how I can impact each of you more effectively.

And, as I continue to learn more about what works best for you – my audience – I evolve new ways to clarify my purpose. My logo may never change, and I rather like my tagline (“get the right words out”), but everything gets scrutinized from time to time. I encourage you to scrutinize your current branding, your objectives, and your approach to your designs.

If you haven’t done it yet, go to and get a free evaluation of your website. How long does it take for someone to understand what your site is about?

Lastly, think about what stands in your way from moving forward or putting changes in place? Ask yourself this question: If someone gave you $500 and told you to spend it on increasing your website’s effectiveness, what would you spend the money on first? Or, if you are happy with your website, what other parts of your business need better branding?

What’s on your list of things to “fix”? You know I always love your comments, so please share!

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