January 17, 2021

Putting the art back into design


Question: Is it okay to add an element to a design purely because you think it looks cool?

I saw this tweet the other day that made me laugh, but also made me feel a little sad.

I think it's true for web design too.

In our efforts to ensure design has "a seat at the table", we've leaned a little too far into the data and science side of design and away from the artistry of it.

To demonstrate our value we test our way in to designs so that we can prove our work is having an impact on the bottom line of the business. When we can report back on how one version of our homepage header led to more signups than the other, we're showing the non-designers within a company the impact design can have. And don’t get me wrong, that’s important. But in putting all our focus on usability testing and conversion rates, we can end up testing our way into a design that visually looks very bland. Not because a bland, basic design converts best, but because visual appeal wasn’t deemed to be important and it wasn't what we focussed our design time on.

So many tech marketing websites end up looking very homogenous for this reason.

We’re used to a certain illustration style, a certain clean, modern look, a certain flow through the page. In trying to show everyone that design isn’t just about “making things look pretty”, we’ve forgotten that the affinity one can feel when they see something visually beautiful is powerful too. It’s harder to measure, and its impact likely won’t show up in a heat map or click-through-rate, but it could be the thing that makes your brand stand out from others.

I’m calling myself out on this too. Over the past few years I’ve definitely thought way more about the conversion rates and UX of the ConvertKit marketing website than I have about the beauty of it. I learned a lot about UX and testing and our site functions better because of those learnings. But in a way I also forgot how to be an artist as well as a designer.

My design journey started out on the more artistic side: creating typographic layouts in Photoshop & Illustrator. Choosing the right combination of fonts and moving the letters around my artboard until they fell into a place that felt balanced and dynamic and expressed the words they displayed. I never ran usability testing on my typographic quotes. I never considered them a waste of time because I couldn't measure a conversion rate for them.

Now that I’m leading the Brand team at ConvertKit and we've hired a fantastic new marketing designer on to my team to take over the bulk of the marketing website work, I’m being afforded the mental capacity to think more about the artistry of our brand. It’s been an interesting mental shift, one that was more difficult than I anticipated. But I'm embracing the challenge. After all, great brands have marketing websites that are not only functional and effective, but that show some personality too.

Design is the intersection of art & science. And both sides of that are equally valuable to a business, especially when it comes to marketing design. I don’t know about you, but I needed a reminder of that. I’m looking forward to adding things to our site just because they look cool. And if anyone questions it, I’ll tell them I’m “adding visual interest”...

What do you think? As a designer, do you feel like you need to justify every part of your design from a business perspective? Or can you confidently add something in purely because you like the way it looks? I really hope you’ll send me a tweet and share your thoughts.