The internet has been around long enough that businesses no longer question the need to establish an online presence. Many don’t stop with a company website but extend themselves into the social media front. This gives them greater reach and the ability to communicate with a wider audience.
Amid all these efforts, though, companies might be lacking an awareness of the far-reaching influence of experiential design in the virtual realm.
Starting with the website
The static business website is a relic of the past. You don’t pay annual hosting and domain registration fees for what amounts to an online business card. That’s just poor ROI. It has to offer more interaction than that.
Even in the age of social media, your website is often the first official point of contact in a customer’s journey. People look you up and head there to find out about your products and services.
If your site also has a storefront function, that’s where conversion happens. Odds are you’re at least using the site to post news updates and industry-relevant content, which can add value to the time they spend there.
Thus, website design has a critical role in shaping your customer experience. Knowing this, companies can intentionally design their websites for accessibility and ease of use. Having a clear layout and a one-step checkout process makes it easier for users to navigate and ultimately convert into sales.
But that should only be the first step of design’s involvement with your website. For a brand that truly wants to craft a seamless online experience, every step of the customer journey matters.
A better marketing approach
Yet people don’t limit their online activity strictly to the official sites of brands they support. Nor do we always find products and services of interest through a direct search.
Digital marketing is proven in its effectiveness, reach, and cost-efficiency. Through ads on social media, a company can be present on the screens of millions of users who’ve never heard of them before, let alone visited their website. By paying for data analytics, that company can tap behavioral insights harvested from those same anonymous users.
This ability to wield influence outside the context of a personal relationship gives companies a lot of power, but it still leaves an impression on the user. Using design in these endeavors can swing that in your favor. Failing to do so can result in undesirable experiences.
For instance, paying for intrusive ads or cookies that effectively stalk people’s online behavior doesn’t go unnoticed. It’s easy for people to make the connection between previous unrelated online activity leading to your ad showing up unbidden on their feed. Similar unpleasant experiences can arise when you try to buy followers or pay mercenary influencers.
With growing concerns about online privacy, you can avert such negative associations with your brand by designing a better digital marketing strategy. If authenticity is the goal, try cultivating organic influencers from among your satisfied customers.
Or pay for higher-quality native ads, which are designed to fit the host site’s layout, and often presented as part of content that’s tailor-fit to a specific audience.
Avoiding ethical concerns
Issues like privacy are intertwined with the matter of ethics in design. A large part of our interactions takes place online, even before the pandemic. Internet access has already been considered a human right by the UN.
Yet the way users experience the internet is heavily influenced by its design. The major players like Google and Facebook determine which sites show up in search queries or what appears on your recommendations.
Likewise, businesses are responsible for their own content and how it’s presented, whether on company websites or as part of ad campaigns.
An emerging issue of contention in terms of design ethics is the use of dark patterns. These include misleading language or steps that make it difficult to opt-out of activities like tracking or targeting.
Many companies design experiences with dark patterns when they make it difficult to cancel subscriptions, use misleading “call to action” prompts, or tactics such as “confirm-shaming.”
There’s currently a lack of industry regulation in this area, allowing businesses to get away with unsavory design practices. But even as legislation plays catch-up, don’t assume that consumers are going to be duped forever. They will come to resent those brands that demonstrate a willingness to flout the ethics of designing positive and free internet experiences.
Your online presence brings power, but be mindful of how you use it and design the experiences you really want consumers to have with your brand.