Anyone that knows me is well aware that one of my favorite bands is the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I guess in a way it should be fitting that one of my favorite musicians ever, Michael “Flea” Balzary, the band’s bassist, follows what should be a more prevalent philosophy among musicians. Basically, whatever he does on bass serves the purpose of the song. I managed to turn his philosophy about composing music to a philosophy that I can use when designing web sites and/or graphics.
Instead of being artistic and playing numerous notes a bar like he had been, on the Chili Peppers’s breakthrough album Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991), Flea focused more on playing fewer notes and utilizing more melody instead of just driving rhythm. Vocalist Anthony Kiedis became the album’s rhythm section by himself; Flea, guitarist John Frusicante, and drummer Chad Smith were on melody. It is one of the most remarkable musical achievements ever.
But back to “serving the purpose of the song”. As designers, our central focus is problem solving — in other words whatever design that we develop, from looks to functionality, should solve the puzzle of making all of the elements fit to where it looks good and functions well, but actually makes sense. However, good looks and good functionality may not necessarily serve the purpose of the site and in truth, the finished product, as good as it looks, may make zero sense.
Below is an automotive site that I did for an independent repair shop here in Houston. For some, it might scream — “Wow, this looks so 2010”, but it was honestly deliberate.
It is designed for the visitor to quickly access the information he or she needs to make a value judgment. The content is geared to build value in the services that Southside Performance provides. This is essentially Web Design 101, but so many designers (and I include myself in this) are guilty of trying to blow away the client with the site design instead of impressing the client with a design that looks good and actually fits their brand and their target customer base.
I did a site earlier this past summer for the Hypnosis Group. I wanted to be impressive. I wanted to make a statement. I wanted to translate the experience that a client has in a hypnosis session to the website itself. So I designed a site that was focused on being flat and beautiful. Unfortunately, the bounce rate soon skyrocketed. (Note: I did not take a screenshot of the website before I redesigned it earlier this month).
I began to look at why and I had an epiphany. I designed a great site, but that site was not going to be something that his target market (well-off and wealthy individuals roughly age 40-60 years of age) was going to appreciate. The flow may make sense for someone like myself that is 27 years of age, but for someone twice my age, it would be a total turn off.
I decided to redesign it and I took a lot of cues from his previous versions of the site that he felt were more successful for him. The redesign is only a week ago, I still have to go back and manually reindex the pages, but the site flows better and it actually — gasp — serves the purpose of his business and his target demographic.
The bottom line: make it look good, function great, but make sure it actually serves a purpose. We should avoid trying to do too much in regards to design and functionality that actually creates liabilities than assets.