Sites are like billboards not books

Paul Boag

Imagine for a moment that you are launching a national wide billboard campaign to promote your product or service.

Normally you would go to an advertising agency to do this. One that has experience in bring design and copywriting together, to slam home a powerful marketing message.

However, imagine instead you decided to engage a local graphic designer. You ask him to put together a concept and later you will provide some copy for it. This just wouldn’t work would it? Without the copy and design being produced together and closely linked, the billboard campaign would fail.

Why then do we take this approach with our websites? I think the problem is that we see websites more like books than we do billboards. We see a website as a repository of information rather than as a targeted message.

The design is therefore simply a receptacle for the content and nothing more. Content management systems encourage this thinking because the design templates exist only to drop content into.

However, I believe websites have more in common with billboards than books. Billboards have to be:

  • Visually attractive to grab attention.
  • Easy to take in at a glance.
  • Provide more information and next steps for those interested.

In other words they need to be:

  • Engaging.
  • Usable.
  • Scannable.
  • Have a clear information hierarchy.

Sound familiar? These are the same characteristics found in successful websites.

Perhaps it is time for us to change our attitude towards websites and stop treating them as a container for copy. Design and copy need to work together in order to produce an effective site.