Fresh Design For Small Business

Last week, Phone.com sponsored  Asbury Agile 2013 , a small New Jersey business conference that focuses on design and user experience. With about 100 attendees and a dozen tech talks, this event did exactly what tech conferences should do—it got me buzzing about the importance of design in small business.

Phone.com's Ari Rabban speaking at the event.  Picture by Cory Asraf/VAMP Group

Phone.com’s Ari Rabban speaking at the event. Picture by Cory Asraf/VAMP Group

Design is Key to Your Bottom Line

We live in a visual society, where images carry great value, and poorly designed or executed anything is enough to spell business failure. I believe we can thank Apple for that. Their drive to make even the simplest element look and feel sexy has raised the bar on good design. Which I think is great because I tend to have nightmares about design, and the fewer examples of bad navigation or poor font choices I have to encounter, the better I’ll sleep!

Take a few minutes to watch this video on the value of design for your small business. It’s produced by the Design Council (in the United Kingdom) but applies to small businesses across the globe.

The Value of Design from Design Council on Vimeo.

 Product Versus Packaging

These days, features aren’t enough to win new customers or capture busy minds. How you present your product and how it is perceived compared to those of your competitors is KEY. How do product and presentation come together to make your offering appear fresh and relevant?

Joe Lifrieri’s talk Designing Your Product’s Marketing Site was for me one of the most interesting talks at Asbury Agile. I spend a lot of time thinking about web design, particularly for our new Phone.com API website—my baby and due out in early 2014!

For online-services companies in particular, your marketing website is one of your greatest assets, and the money and effort you spend should reflect that value. Joe’s point is that you have FIVE seconds to capture a reader’s attention. Knowing there is very little anyone can actually read in five seconds, that first impression will be influenced largely by the visual design and usability of your website.

Learning from the Best

So how do you start implementing “good” design? I meet designers all the time here in New York City, and their talent is both amazing and intimidating. But I choose to try and learn from them. Lifrieri’s biggest tip for non-designers tackling a marketing site? Don’t try to reinvent the wheel!

Joe suggests drawing inspiration from what works and then putting your own spin on it—but not too much! Whether you’re a young designer or a business person managing the development of your website, start gathering visuals that you like, to help guide the design of your site. Venturing out without any inspiration is, in my mind, the biggest mistake a designer can make.

I am a compulsive screenshot collector—my LittleSnapper library has over 4,500 screenshots and you can browse over 2,000 of my Delicious links here! If you don’t already, I  encourage you to start capturing whenever you come across a website or image you like. And I do recommend LittleSnapper, which I’ve just learned is now called Ember!

Here are a few must-see sources to get those inspiration juices flowing:

What’s Working Now?

Also keep in mind that the design world relies on trends, and that following trends and best practices is the best way to ensure your marketing website remains both current and usable. If integrating trends makes sense, based on the nature of your product and your business objectives, then USE them. Common design trends today include:

Keep It Moving!

Hand-in-hand with keeping yourself inspired is staying fresh. I’ve found that working on the same project too long makes it easy to get stuck. Web Design is an iterative process, sometimes requiring a slash-and-burn of your web design every couple years. I’m not saying you have to rebrand every year, but for online companies, testing is vital and tweaking your design should never stop. You’ll be surprised to find that changing even a color here or there will make a difference in your conversion rates. This blog post by 37signals (makers of Basecamp software) discusses how the company redesigned their landing page, and the surprising changes that influenced their conversions.

On the Side

Tim Holman

Picture by Cory Asraf/VAMP Group

Let me switch gears for a moment to talk about Tim Holman (above), who focussed at Asbury Agile on Side Projects. Tim is the perfect example of a developer with a ton of side projects.

I truly believe in the importance of working on side projects to keep your creative juices flowing.  We all know Google is an advocate for allowing their employees to work on side projects.

Tim’s point was that side projects don’t have to be big. Maybe it’s starting a Tumblr related to your business or designing a fun, new app. The process of creating something new will not only build your creative portfolio; it will keep your design skills and understanding of trends up to date.

Most designers are always working on new projects, so for them, staying fresh is easy. At Phone.com we’re constantly working towards better-designed products, websites and user experiences! For others who don’t have that flexibility, I hope you’re working for a company that encourages side projects. And if not at work, then I encourage you pick up something new in your off-hours! Here’s to FRESH design!